How to make the case to WFH long term: 7 tips

The ability to work from home has been a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic for some people, including some working parents - and a situation they want to continue. Here's how to ask for flexibility for the long run
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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies of all kinds to allow remote working. This includes very traditional office-based businesses that would never have contemplated it before.

Now, lockdowns are being eased in some parts of the world, and many employers are starting to push to get back to “normal.” In some countries, including the UK, there’s even government pressure to discourage remote working. Deserted city centers are not good for the economy, and are especially bad for businesses such as bars and coffee shops that depend on commuters for trade.

But the indicators are that employees are in no hurry to return. This is not only because the risk of COVID-19 infection remains: People have also enjoyed the flexibility of more time at home, and begun to see how much time, money, and environmental impact is saved by cutting back on commuting.

If you’re a working parent, the benefits of a flexible working arrangement may already be very clear to you. Furthermore, plenty of us are still affected by school closures and a lack of childcare.

So what do you do if your employer isn’t offering the flexibility you want and need? Here are seven ways to ask for what you want.

[ Can you ask for a raise during a pandemic? Yes, read: How to ask for a raise during COVID-19. ]

1. Prepare your case

Going in with a vague proposal could ruin your chances, and you may only get one shot.

Essentially you have to sell what you’re proposing, so preparation is everything. Although the initial discussion may be face to face or over a Zoom call, it’s wise to be prepared to follow up with a formal proposal. This could detail everything from the hours and days you need to work remotely to the duties you accept you will need to visit the office for.

It’s a useful exercise to prepare the framework of a proposal like this before you bite the bullet and ask for what you want. Going in with a vague proposal could ruin your chances, and you may only get one shot – so know exactly what you’re going to say.

[ What can leaders do to support their people right now? Read also: How to lead in the age of newly remote teams. ]

2. Let results speak for themselves

The pandemic lockdown has actually been a gift for people who want to establish flexible working arrangements. It’s probably given you a chance to prove that you still get all of your work done without sitting in an office being micromanaged.

If you’ve already worked from home before, think about the key things you’ve achieved away from the office. If you managed to close deals or complete projects while juggling home schooling, that’s even better.

If you have solid proof that you perform equally well when you’re working flexibly, the onus isn’t so much on you to demonstrate why you should be able to work from home. You’ve already done that. It shifts the onus onto the employer to explain why they wouldn’t allow it.

3. Know your audience

Depending on the size and structure of your company, you may have a choice of who to approach about flexible working arrangements. Making the right choice could be key.

Say, for example, that you have the choice of talking to a childless, young workaholic line-manager, or a family-focused HR manager about your need for flexibility. It’s possible the HR manager will have more empathy for your situation. This is no reflection on the line manager, but those who’ve yet to have a family don’t always understand what a paradigm shift it is.

Chances are, you already know the personalities involved. Think carefully about who and how to ask.

4. Get the timing right

You also need to think about when to ask. Let’s be honest, this means asking when everybody’s in a positive mood and you are in “the good books!”

These requests are not at all uncommon during the pandemic. On one side, firms have governments encouraging people to come back to workplaces, but on the other they can see progressive and high-profile companies making noise about going fully remote.

Don’t hesitate too long either: You don’t want to miss the boat if the decisions are being made in your organization right now.

5. Be ready to handle objections

When you’re working out exactly what you’re going to say, it’s wise to also think about what your employer may say back.

You need answers for any “but what about……?” questions that could arise. This will prove you’ve not just thought it all through, but thought about the business and what it needs from you.

6. Find benefits for your employer

It’s not only employees who benefit from flexible working arrangements. If you work in a large office that sat empty throughout lockdown, the chances are there’s a CFO who’s already worked out how much the company could save with smaller premises.

Not having to commute could leave you with more time, less stress, and a higher level of productivity; Knowing you can consistently be there for your children could make you happier, improve your work/life balance, and make you a better worker.

Even working unusual hours can sometimes benefit a company. Sometimes it can help for certain tasks to be performed before or after the traditional “working day.” Think about some ideas around this if you’re seeking more flexibility around when you work, as well as where.

7. Know your rights

Ideally, you want to negotiate your flexible working arrangement without having to resort to quoting laws and regulations. However, in some countries you do have specific rights around flexible working. It does no harm to brush up on them before you begin this process.

Flexible working has gone truly mainstream now. As such, you are within your rights to seek arrangements that truly work for you and your family.

Our recent reader survey revealed that people are increasingly willing to seek work elsewhere if their employer refuses to play ball on remote working arrangements. Before going into any discussion about working from home, it’s worth determining where you stand on that, too.

[ Are you leading culture change? Get the free eBook, Organize for Innovation, by Jim Whitehurst. ]

Ben Taylor has worked in tech since 2000, following a path from desktop support to Head of IT to freelance consultant. He’s also the Founder of HomeWorkingClub, a resource portal for freelancers and remote workers.

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