The pandemic changed a lot for workers, including where they work. A study conducted early in the outbreak showed nearly one-third of U.S. workers were working from their homes — and presumably, some of those workers won’t want to return to the office when their employers call them back. “Working from home can provide employees many benefits,” says Ray Luther, executive director of the Partnership for Coaching Excellence and Personal Leadership at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, “including a much shorter commute time, fewer distractions, and a sense of freedom, that might not come from reporting to an office every day.”
But negotiating a permanent work-from-home arrangement may not be a slam-dunk. Employers have “traditionally worried about employee productivity when working from home,” Luther says, adding some managers may feel they’ll lose control of employees they can’t see in person.
It’s not impossible, though. “Employees who want to make working from home permanent would be wise to put themselves in their employers’ shoes,” Luther says. “What would my employer be concerned about, and how can I show them that those concerns are minimal risks? For most employees, if you can demonstrate high-productivity, accessibility, and still build productive relationships on your work teams, you will have addressed most managers' significant concerns.” Here’s exactly how you can negotiate a permanent work-from-home arrangement.
Demonstrate your productivity.
To be allowed to continue to work from home, employers will want proof you’re as productive at home as you are in an office. “Quantify and qualify the work you've accomplished on a work-from-home trial or mandate,” says Luther. “How productive have you been on your own? How have you worked with co-workers to learn through the new office systems? Where have you helped develop solutions to the challenges that work from home has potentially caused?” You’ll need concrete answers to those questions to convince your manager you can be trusted at home.
Come prepared with proof of your productivity — and kick off your negotiation with hard facts.
Prepare an action plan.
While you’ve already been working from home, you and your manager may not have collected hard evidence of your ability to do so successfully. If that’s the case, Maureen Farmer, founder and CEO of Westgate Executive Branding & Career Consulting, suggests you develop an action plan that will help your manager assess your ability to work from home over a trial period. Talk to your manager about what milestones he or she would like you to reach during the trial — for example, 90 days — and agree to check-ins during that time to see if you’re on track. “The offer of work-from-home must demonstrate value and benefit to the employer foremost,” Farmer says.
“Once you’ve demonstrated you can be productive, show that your employer can trust you,” says Luther, who adds that most managers’ concerns about employees working from home are rooted in a lack of trust. “How does the employer know they can trust you, and what have you done to demonstrate that trust? Are you accessible when they need you?” Luther asks. “Be prepared to make the case for why they can trust you to deliver even if they can't see you in the office.”
One way you might demonstrate your trustworthiness is by proposing a communication plan in your negotiation, says Farmer. Such a plan would “lay out the periodic and regular touchpoints with each of [your] colleagues to ensure projects remain on task,” she says. “The communication plan will offer a guarantee that [you] will be available on-demand throughout the day by phone, email, text or message service. The employee must reassure the manager of their availability.”
Show you’re flexible.
It’s important during the negotiation to “listen to your employer's concerns about working from home and seek to understand any objections,” says Luther. “While these concerns might not be as important to you, they provide clues where you could show flexibility to it doesn't turn into an all or nothing situation.” For example, perhaps your manager would be more comfortable if you came into the office one day a week or for critical team meetings. “Working from home can provide many benefits for employees, even if it's only four out of five days per week,” he says.