While many companies had embraced flexible work policies long before the coronavirus pandemic forced the transition to a fully virtual workforce, some employers remained fearful that such work arrangements would ultimately decrease employee productivity and collaboration.
However, thanks to this months-long remote work experiment, many more professionals have experienced firsthand the benefits of working from home — and may not wish to return to the commuter life once the COVID-19 crisis has ended.
In fact, a recent survey by TopResume reported that 61 percent of U.S. professionals feel either connected or very connected to their co-workers since the shift to home-working. Significantly, even as the world faces the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, one in four U.S. professionals (26%) would decline a job offer if the company failed to offer a flexible work policy.
While you’re typically in the best position to negotiate perks like a flexible work arrangement when you’re interviewing for a new job, these past few months of social distancing have presented a unique opportunity for workers to make their case to work from home permanently. If you’d like to continue working remotely after the pandemic, I recommend taking the following steps:
Do your research
Review your employee handbook or speak with someone in HR to confirm if there is a policy — or non-policy — for working remotely. Just because no one you know was working off-site before the lockdown began doesn’t mean such a policy doesn’t exist. If such a policy is, indeed, absent, don’t let this discovery deter you.
Instead, conduct online research to find other companies — ideally competitors of your organization or ones that share similar traits, such as the company’s size or industry — that have allowed at least some of their employees to work from home before the pandemic or plan to allow some of their staff permanently work remotely after the crisis subsides.
Also, arm yourself with data on the benefits of remote work. A flexible work arrangement, when properly implemented, can be a win-win for you and the company. Studies have shown that employers that provide work-flexibility options can avoid employee burnout, increase retention rates, decrease absenteeism, improve productivity, and improve overall employee morale. Have this information handy to support your proposal.
Revisit your role
Most employers had to make concessions when they were forced to transition to a fully virtual workforce. For example, managers may have lowered their performance expectations to account for limitations in the team’s home-work situations (ex. unstable WiFi connection, noisy children, poor lighting). However, as some states begin lifting the restrictions of businesses, your supervisor’s expectations might change.
Before you propose a permanent work-from-home arrangement to your boss, have an honest conversation with yourself to determine if working remotely is a feasible option for your role once your company resumes some form of normalcy. Consider the following:
- Which of your responsibilities, if any, had to be put on hold during COVID-19 because they proved to be too challenging or unrealistic to complete while working remotely?
- Are you managing a team that will be expected to return to the office? If so, will your team require your on-site presence?
- Is your home-office space adequate to perform your job well, or have you merely been “making do” since sheltering at home? For instance, do you have a reliable and fast internet connection?
If there are aspects of your role that are performed more efficiently from the office, consider proposing a schedule that would allow you to work remotely most of the time and come into the office a couple of times a week.
Prove your productivity
While studies have shown that remote work can increase a team’s productivity, many employers are still skeptical. If you want to convince your boss to allow you to work from home after the pandemic, it’s important to demonstrate your productivity now. Consider your current situation to be one massive work-from-home experiment. To show your boss you’re on top of things, be sure to:
- Be responsive. Respond to your team’s messages in a timely manner. Evaluate the communication and collaboration tools you’re using to determine if they can be integrated with one another to keep communication streamlined and help you remain organized and responsive.
- Remain present. When you’re on video calls, resist the temptation to multi-task. While you may think this makes you look “productive,” it usually sends the message that you aren’t taking the meeting, or your colleagues, seriously.
- Show, don’t tell. Instead of wasting time explaining to your boss every little thing you plan to do during a given week, offer a topline summary of your assignments. Then, focus on getting them done and reporting back on your output in the form of learnings, insights, and hard numbers. Showing the fruits of your productivity is much more compelling than talking about how productive you’re going to be.
Also, if you haven’t updated your professional “brag book” since lockdown began, now’s the time to do so. Document which of your goals were met or exceeded for the first half of the year and what results you’ve specifically achieved since working from home.
If your manager is still skeptical, remind them that once daycares and schools are allowed to reopen, your productivity is guaranteed to improve. While these past few months have allowed you to test a remote work environment, it’s not a completely fair look at your performance.
As long as you are prepared to make a strong argument for why working remotely is a win-win scenario, then go for it. The worst they can say is no. Good luck!