What to Do If You’re Not Ready to Return to the Office

There are many reasons not to want to return to the office. If you live in a city, maybe it’s a fear of taking mass transit. Or maybe you can’t line up child care if school is not back in session.

Regardless, what’s the best way to convey this to your boss? “A mistake that people make is coming to managers with personal reasons for wanting to work remotely,” says Laurel Farrer, founder of the Remote Work Association. And while companies are likely to take those into consideration more so now than before the pandemic, accommodating individual desires is “not how businesses make decisions,” she says. “You need to come to the boss with evidence of how this decision will benefit the business and team.” Here’s how to have the conversation.

Remember these three “don’ts”:

1. Don’t apply pressure. This isn’t the time to gang up on a manager with co-workers, or to tell your boss that you’ll sue if you get sick. “People are generally resistant to any requests in those situations,” says negotiation expert Parker Ellen, an assistant professor of management and at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business.

2. Don’t go it alone. Think of this as asking a superior to partner with you in designing a mutually beneficial solution.

3. Don’t get personal. Want to keep working in your jammies? Great. Tell your friends. This conversation is about mutual work interests, not how much your cat is going to miss you. The exception is “if you work for a very empathetic manager or a great employer who really cares about their employees,” says Nora Jenkins Townson, founder and principal of Bright and Early, a human resources consultancy. “Depending on your manager, personal appeals like ‘it saves me time’ or ‘it makes me less stressed’ might work.” Otherwise, skip it, and focus on what’s in it for your boss and team.

Prior to the conversation, feel out your boss by asking how working from home has gone for her as a manager, and for the company overall, says Jenkins Townson. “Get an idea of what objections you might have to overcome.”

Prepare a one-pager with bullet points such as (a) benefits to the company; (b) evidence of how remote work in the lockdown increased your role and value; and (c) the nuts and bolts of how your staying at home will work. “The most effective way to influence someone above you in the hierarchy is to show them why this is a reasonable request,” says Ellen. Leave the plan a little loose, so you can ask for input.

If your company doesn’t have remote-work policies, also include (d) a bare-bones outline that articulates how you will stay accessible, productive, and efficient. “Managers don’t want to be showing favoritism,” says Ellen. “If there’s not a policy, help them draft something so that if someone else came along with a request, it would need to meet certain criteria.”

Start the conversation by saying: “I’ve brought a high level of focus to my job while working from home the past several months, and the team has been productive. I want to maintain this.”

If you’re unable to convince your boss, try to figure out what’s driving the response. “The hesitations of most employers are based on the fear of the unknown,” says Farrer. Does your manager want you available for in-office client meetings? Is it important for her to be able to see employees working?

It might help to suggest a trial run, says Jenkins Townson. Try saying: “If I find myself having to come in a lot or my productivity decreases, I’m happy to return.” Or tap into your boss’s values: “You run an innovative group, and this is a way our team can be on the forefront of recruiting top talent who want to work remotely.”

End with a proposal that speaks to everyone’s interests: “I’ll be happy to come in for team meetings and client meetings and will otherwise continue with the same arrangement as the last two months.” And you probably shouldn’t mention that you wake up three minutes before signing in each morning, nor that you roast chicken during conference calls.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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