As we continue to endure yet another year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we still cannot say we are completely in the clear. Folks are still getting sick and getting others sick too. For that reason, many of us continue working remotely as workplaces have still not brought employees back to the office full-time.
Instead, we’re seeing organizations adopt a hybrid model – a couple of days of a week in the office, but otherwise, employees can continue working remotely (from home or anywhere else).
What the future holds is unclear. There was a lot of hype in 2020 that office life was dead and remote work would reign supreme, but we are already seeing how untrue that is. Most organizations will simply not give up their office space and they’re still eager to see employees come in and give some ‘face time’. When things really do settle down pandemic-wise, will hybrid work still be the go-to? What will really stop organizations from asking employees to come in full-time again?
A lot of people have gotten comfortable working remotely. And it’s not just about the pleasure of working in your sweatpants. There are a lot of benefits to staying home with folks discovering the elusive idea of work-life balance is actually possible.
So, what happens when you are one of those workers whose work-life balance has exponentially improved and you don’t see the value of returning to the office, even on a hybrid basis? You would obviously need to confer with your employer to see what your options are.
Here are some tips about how to have this conversation:
- Share with your employer why you love remote work
- Explain why working in the office is not your preference
- Show your accomplishments since working remotely
- Understand why your employer values office time and make accommodations
Share with your employer why you love remote work
Since you’re eager to continue working remotely, I’m sure there are plenty of reasons why you love it. Share these reasons with your employer so they can gain an understanding of why remote work is so important to you.
You may think your boss loves remote work as much as you do, but that’s not necessarily the case. Some people loved being in the office and can’t wait to go back. They want to see colleagues in person to chat and collaborate. They totally hated working from their kitchen table for two years while their kids ran around in the background of their video calls.
Also, some employers have a negative perspective of how employees “work” from home. They might imagine someone stumbling out of bed at 9:01 am to slap their laptop awake, then spending the rest of the day bingeing Bridgerton and ignoring their emails. And maybe there are some employees like that but let’s be honest, it’s not the majority of us. (Anyway, you can’t get away with that kind of behaviour for too long before somebody notices.)
We all have different lifestyles, and for some of us, remote work suited that lifestyle a lot. It’s about painting a picture for your employer so they understand how much life has improved since you’ve been able to cut out your commute and save money on lunches.
Sharing the reasons you love remote work may require you to get more personal with your manager than feels natural. But in the process of advocating for yourself, this is necessary. We are all vulnerable, one way or another, and there’s nothing wrong with being open about your needs. And if you have a medical issue that you’ve been able to manage better while at home, that’s certainly worth disclosing if you’re comfortable doing so.
Any good workplace will recognize they can get the best work out of you when you are feeling your best.
Explain why working in the office is not your preference
Sharing why you love remote work is just one part of the conversation. To really make it clear why you don’t want to return to the office, your employer should also understand what kind of challenges office life presented.
Many employers have chosen to cluster their offices in downtown spaces, which many young people simply cannot afford to live in. Now, with gas prices rising, commuting by car is awfully expensive. And with COVID-19 still around, commuting in public transit isn’t comfortable for everybody.
And then there’s the cult of open office spaces which we have still not broken away from no matter how many studies have shown that it is not conducive to greater productivity. For many people, these spaces have been irritating, and even anxiety-inducing.
It’s exactly the vision of what you’d be returning to that has people feeling like they’d rather stay home. That’s also worth communicating with your employer because it’s something they likely won’t be able to change. Sure, you might be allowed to hide in a private room during the workday but then what’s the point of being in the office if you’re secluded from everyone? You may as well be back home!
There are also accommodations you’ve probably made at home that your employer also may not be able to offer – such as a customized workspace with the ideal chair or a humidifier in the corner that keeps your chronic congestion in order. Or maybe you love to work with a podcast going in the background or your cat purring in your lap.
Do these accommodations sound idealistic? With remote work, they’re not anymore. They’re actually real and it doesn’t seem fair to give all that up to return to an office that isn’t very warm or comfortable. Are we really supposed to believe that people do their best work when the things that make them feel secure, calm, and focused are taken away?
Show your accomplishments since working remotely
Remote work wasn’t warmly embraced by most organizations prior to the pandemic. Employers simply cannot fathom people can do good work without being under their manager’s gaze all day long, in an office branded with the organization’s logo from top-to-bottom. How can people do their work while just sitting on the couch?
After we were forced to do our work from our couch, employers had to accept that it could actually be possible. And we may actually do better work while The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City plays in the background (or is that just me?).
It’s always good to keep track of completed projects and wins you’ve achieved. You might think you’ll remember them but if you’ve got a lot on the go, it’s hard to recall everything.
Pull up this list during your conversation with your manager to gently demonstrate that working remotely has not been detrimental to your productivity. And maybe, it’s actually been really great and, for example, allowed you to be more creative and take the lead on more initiatives. To really hammer the point home, draw a parallel line between your accomplishments and how working remotely helped you achieve them.
It’s especially good here to point out projects that have involved collaboration with other colleagues and departments so you can make the argument that even though it was done virtually, you were able to get great results.
Understand why your employer values office time and make accommodations
If your workplace seems super insistent on getting you back to the office, ask why. Listen to their reasons for why coming into the office regularly is valuable and will contribute to better work.
Maybe they will bring up a point you actually agree with! But that doesn’t mean you have to fall back and meet their expectations.
Looking at it from the employer’s perspective, you can see why they frown upon the idea of employees who seem to never want to leave their house and socialize with their colleagues. In their view, this social interaction is vital to building comradery, respect, and trust. And I don’t disagree – getting to know your colleagues (especially if they’re pretty cool!) facilitates better and happier work.
But there are ways to connect with your colleagues that are actually better than just sitting beside them in an office space. Team-building activities are a great way to get to know your colleagues outside of their working personas and find mutual, personal interests. It doesn’t need to be a team-building activity either – a coffee or lunch date once in a while also works. Whether that happens in a physical or virtual space is up to you.
You can also agree to come in for monthly team meetings or have regular check-ins with your manager or team members in an effort to stay connected. There are a lot of options so figure out what will work best for you and your team.
Then there are those managers who don’t trust you are actually working when you’re at home. If your manager feels you would be more productive in the office, offer to track your productivity. Frankly, this can be quite annoying and you might feel that everything you put down in the productivity tracker will be scrutinized. But really, your manager just wants to feel assured and seeing your tasks and progress written down can help them feel that assurance.
In conversations with other communications and marketing professionals, I have found they overwhelmingly enjoyed working remotely and have negative feelings about returning to the office. I think it’s worth pointing out that many people never enjoyed office life but tolerated it because there wasn’t an alternative. Now that they’ve discovered another way to work, going back to the office feels like this big, awful concession and they can’t fathom how they ever put up with it before.
There’s also an element of guilt. When your colleagues are returning to the office at the behest of employers, how can you argue for different treatment? Well, employers often bet on workers not asking for better treatment and they usually win that bet.
It’s worth having the conversation. While you might ultimately not be successful in your efforts to stay remote forever, you may be able to coax certain accommodations from your employer, such as having them cover your commuting fees or scaling back how many days you need to be in the office.
Start by asking for what you truly need and want, and then see where they’re able to meet you.