When workplaces switched to remote operations during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many offices planned on the situation being temporary, with a gradual transition back to the office when the time was right. And now that vaccines are available, a lot of employers are rolling out back-to-the-office plans.
But if you find yourself less than eager to return, you’re not alone. Many of us discovered the work-at-home setup to be ideal, and some are even making career decisions based on whether employers offer this option. A May 2020 Prudential survey reported one out of five workers wanted to find an organization that allowed remote work, even if that meant leaving their current jobs.
Fortunately, there’s a growing pattern of employers allowing their staff to be location-flexible. In April 2021, the National Bureau of Economic Research predicted 20% of post-pandemic work days will be remote (compared to only 5% pre-pandemic). And dozens of large for-profit organizations are setting the trend in the United States by moving to partial or fully remote operations.
Chances are, your organization is aware of this trend and your supervisor won’t be taken by surprise if employees make permanent remote requests.
If you’re committed to your job but want to work from home on a long-term basis, or you’re making remote flexibility a priority during your job hunt, you’ll need to prove this decision will be just as good for the organization as it is for you. Here's how to ask to work from home.
Think about organizational priorities
The smartest way to ask to work from home is to present the option as a solution to organizational needs. The arrangement should have benefits for your supervisor and co-workers—for instance, maybe remote work will let you:
- Focus more while on a tight deadline
- Give you time and space to deliver quicker project results and improve everyone else’s workflow
- Allow you to be “on call” during hours that are more convenient for the team
- Open up your availability to meet with donors and clients in another time zone when other team members can’t
Whatever the goal is, it should go beyond your personal needs and preferences, and tie in to what the organization wants to accomplish.
It’s also important to consider how your co-workers may be affected. If your absence from the office will inconvenience everyone else, or make it tougher to collaborate and stay on schedule with the rest of the team, a remote situation is not likely to work out.
According to one report on the future of remote offices, several employers find that collaborative efforts—including mentoring, problem-solving, and building new relationships—are more effective when everyone is physically present. Let’s say you’re responsible for orienting and training new employees; even if you’re very involved in the process remotely, your in-person co-workers may end up absorbing some of the responsibilities simply because you’re not on site.
What you’ll want to do is anticipate potential problems with your remote schedule and think about how you can solve them. If your workplace or team is on the smaller side and you often discuss major organizational issues as a group, your manager may want to loop the whole team in and see what concerns they have.
See if work-from-home policies already exist
Your organization may already have a remote work policy—ask the human resources department if you’re not sure. If a policy is in place, see how flexible it is and what requirements you have to meet. Also, consider whether any of your colleagues were working remotely to some degree even before the pandemic.
The current office culture should give you an idea of what you can request. If your organization discouraged remote work pre-pandemic, it might be less open to your request to work from home full time; you may consider asking for one to two days a week at home instead.
Plan how you’ll stay accountable
Before you officially ask to work from home, put the details in writing as if you’re making a formal business proposal (which you are). This shows you’re serious about your request and you’ve taken time to consider how the arrangement will work.
Mention how often and when you’d like to work remotely—part of the day, a few days a week, one week per month, full time, etc. The amount of out-of-the-office time makes a big difference.
One thing you’ll want your proposal to demonstrate is a plan for maintaining strong relationships with your team. Include details like:
- How you can be contacted (email, phone, instant message, video chat) and what times you’ll be available
- How you’ll supervise anyone who reports directly to you
- How you’ll participate in team meetings and collaborative projects
- When you’ll “arrive” and “depart” work each day
- What times and dates (if any) you do plan to work on site
For your supervisor, and for your own planning purposes, write out the daily schedule you plan to follow from home. Include the hours you’ll keep and the short-term and long-term goals you want to accomplish. Set a time for “check ins” at regular intervals—weekly, monthly, or whatever seems appropriate—with a supervisor and/or the team. This helps assure others you’ll keep them posted on your progress.
And if you’ve been working at home for a while, you probably have evidence to prove you can be just as, or even more, productive remotely. Cite this evidence in your request, including any concrete, quantifiable data that shows increased success in your remote office.
Pro tip: It’s possible you’ll need more tech equipment at home to do your job remotely, and your organization may have concerns about information security.
If you don’t have the right equipment setup to get everything done from home (for example, if your organization uses a specific software program you can’t install on your home computer) your supervisor may bring this up as an issue.
Offer to upgrade and install your own equipment as needed, and to pay any extra costs (if you feel that it's worth the cost to work from home). This makes your request easier on the organizational budget.
Meet with your supervisor
After you’ve written down a proposal, it’s time to ask for a one-on-one with your manager.
Asking to work from home calls for an actual meeting with your direct supervisor. You can and should document your meeting in a follow-up email, but the one-on-one meeting gives you a chance to iron out any potential wrinkles together.
Frame your request to work from home as a suggestion and a starting point for negotiation, not a done deal. Ask what concerns your supervisor has, and answer questions honestly.
Above all, be flexible and prepared to compromise. Your supervisor may need some time to check in with others and think about the arrangement before signing off on it, or they may not be able to accommodate your proposed schedule. Remember, the goal is for your working situation to benefit the whole organization.
There are a few ways you can make the discussion more open to compromise:
- Propose remote work as a temporary experiment that could become permanent, rather than a permanent arrangement from the get-go
- Ask to work from home for a trial period (a few weeks or months) and plan to check in with your boss when the trial period ends
- The structure of the trial period itself could vary; you might work remotely five days a week, or try a hybrid arrangement, like a half day or a few days a week in the office
Whatever you decide, get the arrangement in writing. If staff turnover happens, your new supervisor will have the same information as your old one.
How to ask to work from home if you’re looking for a job
Job seekers who want to work from home can make this option a priority in their search. It’s helpful to have in mind what your ideal remote-work situation would be, what situations you’d be willing to accept, and how important remote work flexibility is to you (a minor preference you can live without, a must-have, or somewhere in between).
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began shutting down offices, most employers are being upfront about their work-from-home possibilities, or lack thereof, in job postings. Idealist classifies jobs as “on-site,” “remote,” or “temporarily remote,” and usually there’s more detail in the job listing itself. You can even search for potential positions based on this criteria.
If you know the job allows distanced employees, you can highlight your work-from-home productivity through examples in your cover letter. And if the letter shows you can communicate clearly and effectively, that’s a point in your favor too—strong communication skills are essential for remote workers.
Once you land an interview, it’s best to save the question for the Q&A period at the end (unless your interviewer brings it up first). Phrase it in a polite way that indicates you want to learn more about organizational culture, not as a personal request; you might ask, “What kind of work-from-home options are available to staff members?” or “Can any of the tasks required for this position be accomplished remotely?”
Even if remote-working possibilities aren’t advertised, the organization may be willing to accommodate you if you’re the right person for the job.
Employers around the world have become much more open to remote work situations since the pandemic, and though a perfect work-from-home arrangement isn’t a guarantee, you might have more luck than you think.
If you’re working from home, what has your experience been like? Do you want to continue? Let us know on Facebook.
Amy Bergen is a writer based in Portland, Maine. She has experience in the social impact space in Baltimore, Maryland, the educational museum sphere in Columbus, Ohio, and the literary world of New York City.