“Five percent of [Americans] surveyed said they would actually be willing to divorce their spouse if that meant they could stop commuting and work from home instead.”¹ While the vast majority of us wouldn’t resort to something quite so drastic, more and more people are seeking ways to spend less time commuting and to incorporate more flexibility into their work schedules. However, before you request a work-from-home arrangement, there are some important things to consider.
First, research whether your company has a work-from-home policy. If it does, are there any requirements that you must meet, such as a minimum period of employment? If there is no established policy, ask around to find out if anyone currently has this privilege; this can help you gauge how receptive your company may be to your request.
Next, look at the situation through your own lens. Objectively consider whether working from home is a practical option for you by asking yourself two questions:
- Do I have the discipline and focus to be as productive (or more productive) at home as I am at the office? Working from home presents multiple distractions and of a different variety than those at the office (e.g., the temptation to take more personal calls, to do the laundry and to pick up around the house).
- Can I effectively perform my job at home? Is it realistic given my role, function and product or service? Am I in a leadership position in which face-to-face access is important? Does my role require frequent interfacing with coworkers or other departments?
Then, evaluate it through the lens of others. Complete a comprehensive analysis of the pros and cons from many points of view: your boss’s, your coworkers’ and your company’s. Also take into account your workplace environment and culture. Potential obstacles you may encounter include:
- An “old school” mentality: If working from home would require a culture shift for your boss and company, they may very well bristle at the suggestion because it will make them uncomfortable.
- Productivity concerns: Your boss might worry that when you’re “out of sight,” you will be more likely to spend your time on activities other than work.
- Need for control: Depending on your boss’s temperament, he or she may feel the need to be very involved in your daily work in order to know exactly what’s being accomplished and how.
- Communication breakdown: If you’re physically out of the office, your boss might be concerned that you’ll be “out of the loop” regarding the latest developments or that it will take extra effort and time to help ensure that you are kept informed.
- Fear of making an exception: If your company doesn’t have a work-from-home policy in place, it may be wary about extending that benefit to a select few.
If, after evaluating a work-from-home arrangement from all viewpoints, you conclude that it is a viable option, you should next refine your request by considering:
- During which hours are you most productive? Take into account whether you are a morning or a night person.
- Do you perform better in chunks of time rather than working straight through your day? Are there certain times of the day when you need to be available to your family? If either is true, you may want to request a schedule that allows for two- or three-hour work increments with a break in between.
- Given your needs and your role at the company, how many days a week would you ideally like to work from home?
- What’s driving your desire for more flexibility? Is it to accommodate day care hours? Is it for medical reasons? It’s important to communicate your reasons when making the request.
- What’s best for you individually and for your rest and rejuvenation? In order to best serve your family and your company, you need to pay attention to your own needs and think about where you can create the most time to take of yourself.
Once you’ve honed your request, it’s now time to prepare to approach your boss by determining your strategy. If anyone in your department or company is currently working from home, talk to them to find out more about their arrangement, how they approached their boss and if they have any advice regarding what has worked best for them.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is presenting their request with a self-serving focus instead of an employer focus. Employers are most likely to respond favorably to a work-from-home request when it is very clear how the situation will benefit them. For example, employers are likely to agree to such an arrangement if:
- They think it will help them to keep a crucial employee.
- The employee is well-acclimated to the business and understands the nuances involved.
- They believe that the employee could perform their role at the same level or an enhanced level from home. The employer will be more open to the idea if they think that the employee could get more work done (e.g., because the person will experience fewer interruptions and will spend more time working now that they aren’t commuting).
- They believe it will save them money.
Emphasize how working from home will contribute to the quantity, quality and efficiency of your work, as well how it might save your employer money. Revisit the list of pros and cons that you developed. For the pros, figure out how to present those to each audience in a way that highlights how the arrangement will benefit them and address their concerns. For the cons, be prepared to discuss any challenges that each audience may bring up.
Also, think through the processes involved in your job in order to set expectations. For example, will the communication chain need to change with the new arrangement? If so, detail how you will address it in order to avoid annoyances and promote flow, ease and enhancement.
Are you intimidated by the reaction you might get from your boss? If so, try to determine whether your worries are born out of fear of confrontation or if they are more realistic and based on others experiences with asking for similar types of arrangements. You can help soothe your jitters and set the foundation to make an effective request by factoring in the following:
- Being well-prepared helps to alleviate anxiety. Detail how you see the arrangement working; how you will address any issues or concerns that arise; how you will maintain effective communication with your boss, coworkers and stakeholders; etc.
- Decide what you will say to your boss and practice it out loud. This will help you to refine your presentation and deliver it more smoothly.
- Visualize having the conversation with your boss in order to desensitize yourself physiologically.
- Consider the worst-case scenario of presenting your request. Then, to help minimize your anxiety, bounce that scenario off of others in order to determine if your fears are reasonable.
- Enter into the conversation with an attitude of possibility and positivity, not an anxious or fearful mood. And remember that you’re making a request, not a demand.
- Use deep diaphragmatic breathing right before addressing the topic with your boss; this is the fastest way to reduce anxiety.
- Do your best to ensure that you have a committed listener. Enter into the conversation at a time when you will have your boss’s attention, not when you’re passing each other in the hall.
- Offer context for why you are making the request.
- Suggest a trial run to see how it works. It’s much easier to get a “yes” when you’re asking to test it out than when you’re asking for a long-term commitment.
- Keep in mind that being able to make big requests like this often earns the respect of others.
Now, you’re ready to broach the subject with your boss and one of the best ways to do so is by asking for a three-month trial period. This is especially important if your employer doesn’t typically allow employees to work from home. By asking for a trial period, you aren’t asking for anything official; you’re offering to “beta test” the arrangement so that your employer can make a more informed decision later.
During the trial period, it’s essential to create a continuous feedback loop to allow for necessary adjustments and to keep your boss up to date regarding what you are working on and what you accomplish each day. Be proactive by asking about his or her concerns so that you can actively address them. And if you experience a challenge with the new arrangement, it’s helpful to highlight how you tackled it. This demonstrates that you’re serious about making it work.
Overall, it’s important to spend time reflecting and planning in order to make the best case for your request, but in the end, you”l never know if you don’t ask.
¹Fiegerman, Seth. “5% of Americans Would Get Divorced Just to Work From Home.” MainStreet. TheStreet, 15 Feb. 2012. Web. 09 Oct. 2012.