When Salt Lake City resident Alyssa Summers, 28, was ready to move in with her boyfriend, there was just one small problem: geography. Her boyfriend lived in Laguna Niguel, California, but Summers enjoyed her job as an executive project manager for Hewlett-Packard in Salt Lake City and didn’t want to leave it. She decided to ask her boss if she could work from home.
Summers, a six-year veteran of her company, prepared a written document to make her case.
“I was nervous,” she says. “But I knew the worst my boss could say was ‘no.’ Then I’d have a choice to make, of either staying at the company or leaving.”
Yet her boss accepted the proposal immediately – noting that Summers had performed well during an earlier temporary telecommuting gig. Now, for the past eight months, Summers has worked remotely full time, flying out to company headquarters two or three times a quarter.
The number of American workers who call their home their primary workplace grew 73 percent from 2005 to 2011, to 3.1 million, according to Global Workplace Analytics – comprising 2.5 percent of the employee workforce (excluding the self-employed). Additionally, 20 million to 30 million Americans work from home at least one day a week.
“There aren’t very many jobs nowadays where people are working100 percent at their desk,” says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, a site about jobs offering flexibility. “Most people are checking their email on their commute or from home, or they’re making calls on the weekends, or they’re working on a project before or after hours.”
As you look ahead to end-of-year reviews, you may want to score such an arrangement for yourself. If you’ve worked for the same manager for at least a year and are considered an above-average performer, you’ve got a good shot. Here’s how to convince your boss:
1. Find out if there’s an official telecommuting policy, or if anyone at your company works from home.
The policy will let you know what you’re entitled to, but many firms leave the decision up to an individual manager’s discretion. If the employee handbook says nothing but a coworker has a flexible arrangement, ask her how she negotiated it, says Sutton Fell.
2. Identify which tasks you can do remotely.
“Look at the big picture and break out the tasks you can do from home,” says Pat Katepoo, founder of WorkOptions.com, which helps employees negotiate for a better work-life balance. “For some people, that will drive the decision to work home for one day a week or two days a month.”
3. Prepare a written proposal.
Begin by stating that your objective is to create a telecommuting arrangement, and describe how your plan aligns with the company’s mission statement or how it values employees, using language from the handbook, says Katepoo. Then outline your plan, as well as benefits to the company – such as time saved, cost savings, or increased productivity.
- Which days you’ll be off site and what hours you’ll work (making sure you’ll be there for important recurring meetings)
- Where you’ll perform your primary job duties
- How you’ll communicate and collaborate with others, including what software you might use, such as Google Docs or Skype
Be sure to consider how this arrangement will affect coworkers and identify potential problems and solutions. “The technology barrier is gone. The bigger barriers are culture and managers who need training about how to manage remote employees,” says Katepoo.
4. Request a trial period.
Suggest a three- to six-month test run, starting small with just one afternoon or day per week. “The key is building trust,” says Sutton Fell.
5. Leave your personal motivation out of the proposal, though you can discuss it in the meeting.
If you do discuss your reasons for wanting the arrangement, frame it as a way to become more productive. A FlexJobs survey found that the number-one reason people want to work from home, cited by 82 percent of respondents, was interruptions from colleagues. Seventy percentof respondents say their productivity would improve if they worked from home.
IF THE ANSWER IS NO …
Ask your manager if you can rework the plan based on his or her concerns. If possible, try discussing it again in a few weeks, says Katepoo.
Women, in particular, should be prepared to negotiate. A recent study published in the Journal of Social Issues found that women who request flex time – whether for personal reasons or professional development, such as furthering their education – were less likely to receive it than men. This is partially because managers still respect high-status men more than high-status women and because they believe the women may be hiding the true reason for their requests, or that they’d later opt out.
But Katepoo says these aren’t reasons to refrain from asking. “Even in places where there are policies, the boss isn’t going initiate it – so recognize that there are tools to make it work. You already have a ‘no’ by not asking. You might as well take the initiative and ask.”