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How to Negotiate a Flexible/Remote Work Schedule With Your Employer

The future of many jobs is remote work. While some roles, such as waiting tables or physically examining patients in a doctor’s office, require a person to be on-site, you can do most 21st-century jobs from pretty much anywhere. Modern technology, such as videoconferencing platforms like Zoom and messaging services such as Slack, make it easy for people to stay in touch and communicate throughout the workday.

The 2020 State of Remote Work survey conducted by Buffer and AngelList found that 98% of people who currently work remotely want to continue to do so indefinitely and that 97% of remote workers would recommend it to others. But there might be one thing standing in the way of a flexible, work-from-home scenario for you: your employer.

Even amid a global pandemic, when people are being encouraged to limit contact with others, some employers remain hesitant to let people work from home or to be more flexible with scheduling. If your company doesn’t currently have a remote or work-from-home policy as part of its office pandemic response plan, you can try to negotiate one.

Although it can be nerve-wracking to be the one to step forward to request a change to your company’s policy, doing so can have many benefits for you and your co-workers.

Why Work Remotely?

Working from home and following a more flexible schedule has its benefits, even when there isn’t the threat of COVID-19 going around. There are a variety of reasons to consider working remotely, such as:

  • Reduce the Spread of Illness. Getting through the cold and flu season in an office can be brutal. Even when companies offer paid sick days, some employees don’t stay home when they’re coughing, sneezing, or otherwise clearly ill. Sick employees on the job, even if they just have the common cold, put everyone else at risk. When you work from home, you reduce the chances of someone giving you whatever’s going around. You’re also less likely to spread your own germs.
  • Improve Work-Life Balance. While you still have to perform your tasks and assignments when you work remotely, it can be easier to balance the chores of daily life with your work responsibilities. I’ve been working from home for over a decade and have found ways to squeeze in tasks like laundry, vacuuming, and even baking bread between work projects each week.
  • Increased Schedule Flexibility. Convincing your employer to let you work remotely can also mean convincing your employer to let you have some flexibility when it comes to your schedule. That can be particularly helpful if you have kids at home with you. You might arrange to work for a few hours in the early morning, then for a few more hours in the evening or at night, based on your kids’ or partner’s schedules.
  • Continue Working Through Disability or Chronic Illness. Acute, short-term illnesses aren’t the only things that can make it challenging to work on-site. If you have a long-term medical condition or a disability, getting into the office each day and staying there for eight hours or so can be impossible. A remote work schedule lets you stay on the job, even if you can’t physically go in.
  • Save Time and Money. Workplace strategy research firm Global Workplace Analytics analyzed data from the 2005 to 2018 American Community Survey to determine that the average work-from-home employee saves between $2,500 and $4,000 per year if they work at home half the time. The savings come from reduced food, parking, and travel expenses. The data also revealed that a person who works from home half the time saves the equivalent of about 11 workdays per year they would have otherwise spent getting to and from work.
  • There’s Less Drama. If you put a bunch of people in the same location day in and day out, there’s likely to be some tension, even if everyone likes each other. If co-workers don’t get along, the likelihood of drama intensifies. When you work remotely, you don’t have to deal with the drama as often. There’s less opportunity for co-workers to gossip about each other and pretty much no chance someone is going to steal everyone’s lunches from the shared refrigerator.
  • Increased Productivity. Although some people joke about binge-watching the current season of their favorite show or shopping online when they’re supposed to be working from home, plenty of employees find that removing themselves from the chatter of office life makes them more productive. An experiment conducted between 2010 and 2011 and published by Stanford University in 2015 found that work-at-home employees of a call center in China were 13% more productive than in-office employees. A 2019 working paper published by Harvard Business School found that employees of the U.S. Patent Office were 4.4% more productive when given the option to work from anywhere.
  • Keep Your Job, Even if You Move. When you work from home, you can continue in the same job, even if you move across the country. If you’re planning to move, talk to your boss about the possibility of remote work. It could be in your company’s best interest to keep you on as a remote worker rather than find and train someone to replace you.

How to Ask Your Boss to Let You Work From Home

Although there are probably many reasons you want to work from home, it’s essential you focus on the needs and concerns of your employer and co-workers when you ask.

Find Strength in Numbers

You probably aren’t the only employee at your company who’s interested in working from home or adopting a flexible work schedule. Ask your colleagues if they’re interested in approaching your boss or human resources too.

Often, if more than one employee asks for the chance to work from home (or makes any request, really), an employer is more likely to consider the option seriously.

Find Supporting Evidence

Numerous studies have examined the benefits of working remotely. As you prepare to ask your company to let you stay home and work, hop online and find some studies and figures that support your argument. The Stanford and Harvard studies mentioned above are just two examples of reports that demonstrate that people tend to be more productive when they stay home to work. Global Workplace Analytics also has plenty of data and statistics that support working remotely.

In the case of a local, state, national, or global crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, you can also use outside sources and research to support your request. For example, in mid-March 2020, the White House released guidelines requesting that people who could work from home do so, even if they didn’t feel sick or have symptoms.

You can also research companies similar to yours that let employees work from home. Appealing to your company’s competitive side by pointing out their rivals let their employees work from home as a perk can also help you.

Focus on the Benefits for Your Employer

You’re probably thinking of all the ways working from home can benefit you. But don’t focus on that when you approach your employer. Instead, concentrate on what the company stands to gain. There are multiple benefits you can point out, like:

  • You’re Likely to Be More Productive. Without chatty co-workers to distract you or needing to interrupt your work for meetings or phone calls, you’re likely to get more done in a shorter amount of time. Show your boss proof that people who work from home tend to be more productive to support your argument. It can also help to crunch some numbers and show them what that increased productivity can mean in dollars and cents.
  • Your Employer Will Save Money. Along with reaping the financial benefits of increased productivity, your employer is likely to enjoy other financial benefits when you work from home. Depending on how pervasive the remote work program is and how long it lasts, your employer could save on real estate costs, such as rent and utilities. A company that is entirely or mostly remote doesn’t need to rent as much office space and can sometimes forgo office space entirely.
  • Employees Are More Likely to Stick Around. Global Workplace Analytics reports that people who work remotely are more likely to stay at their jobs, reducing turnover and the need to hire new employees. Reducing turnover also helps your employer save money, as the average cost of turnover is $15,000 per employee, according to the 2019 Retention Report from the Work Institute.
  • Fewer Sick Employees Is Good for Morale. If you’re arguing your employer should let you work from home to reduce the spread of illness, it’s a smart move to point out that protecting employees’ health is good for overall morale. Few people want to risk coming to work or working for a company that doesn’t take its employees’ health and well-being seriously.
  • The Company Will Be Well-Equipped for Future Disasters. If your company implements a remote work or flexible scheduling policy now, it will be well prepared to handle whatever disasters come its way in the future. For example, if a natural disaster makes it impossible for people to get into the office, your company will have a work-from-home system already set up, and people can continue to do their jobs even though the office is closed.

Create a Plan

Before you approach your boss to ask if you can work from home or adopt a more flexible work schedule, come up with a plan to demonstrate how working from home will work and that you’re prepared to work from home. Some things to address in your plan include:

  • When You’ll Work From Home. How often do you want to work remotely? Will you be working at home full time, part time, or on an as-needed basis, such as when your kids are home from school due to illness or school breaks? What will your work hours be when you work remotely? Your boss needs to know the details so they know when to expect you on the clock and when they can contact you with any concerns or questions. To start, you can suggest working remotely on a part-time basis for a limited time, such as one month. After a month, you and your boss can evaluate the situation and decide whether to continue, extend the time you spend working remotely, or bring you back into the office.
  • How Your Boss Can Contact You. Make it as easy as possible for your boss to contact you when you’re working remotely. Provide a phone number where they can reach you during business hours as well as an email address (if you don’t have work email) and instant messaging handle.
  • What Communication Software You Can Use. Demonstrate that you’re familiar with software designed for communicating with remote teams, such as Slack or Zoom. If necessary, do a test run (such as sending your boss a message over Slack or having a Zoom call from your respective on-site offices) before you start working from home.
  • What Equipment You Need. Outline the equipment you need to work remotely, such as a monitor, laptop, access to a virtual private network through a company like NordVPN, and web camera. Depending on the industry you work in, it’s also vital you have a plan for security and privacy when working at home. For example, you might need programs that use encryption to keep information secure. If your company wants you to use your own devices and equipment, have the IT department check it over first to make sure it meets security standards.
  • How You’ll Submit Assignments or Otherwise Demonstrate You’ve Been Working. For some employees, the proof of their productivity is in the pudding. They can hand in articles, log specific numbers of customer service calls, or otherwise show their bosses they’re getting stuff done at home. For others, productivity is less tangible. If you fall into the latter category, it’s a good idea to offer to use some sort of monitoring software, such as Hubstaff or Monitask, to provide your employer with proof you’re working when you say you are. Monitoring software captures screenshots of your laptop or tracks your app usage while you’re on the clock.

What if Your Boss Says No?

There are a few cases when your employer can’t prevent you from working from home, as lawyers interviewed by The Wall Street Journal note.

If you have a disability that qualifies you to work from home under the Americans with Disabilities Act, your employer can get into trouble if they don’t allow you to work from home. If authorities consider your business nonessential — that is, you don’t provide vital products or services, such as groceries or banking — an employer can also run afoul of the law if they insist employees come into the office when the area is under quarantine or when people have been asked to shelter in place.

Otherwise, your boss does have the right to deny your request to work from home or change your schedule. If that happens, you have a few options, including using your sick days or other time off to look for a new job. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to stick around or if you’re better off moving on.

Final Word

Before you ask your boss to let you work from home, really spend some time thinking about the pros and cons of remote work.

Then, as you get ready to ask your boss to let you adopt a more flexible schedule or to work from home, approach it like you approached your job interview. Highlight why having you work remotely is best for the company rather than focusing on how it can help you.

The more detailed and specific your plan for working remotely, the more likely your boss will be to at least let you give it a try. Have you considered what it’s like working from home when you have kids? Your boss will probably also worry about other common challenges of working from home. Make sure they know you have a plan.

Why do you want to work from home?

Amy Freeman
Amy Freeman is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia, PA. Her interest in personal finance and budgeting began when she was earning an MFA in theater, living in one of the most expensive cities in the country (Brooklyn, NY) on a student's budget. You can read more of her work on her website, Amy E. Freeman.

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