How To Request a Work From Home Situation

How to negotiate working remotely rather than commuting 5 days a week. This article contains advice from two threads on the PSP forums, one in 2012 and another in 2017. 

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Original Poster, 2017:

 "I go back to work tomorrow (Wednesday). I'd like to work from home 1-2 days a week for the summer for a few reasons, and would like advice on how to request this in a way that sets me up for the best chance of yes. Before I left work, my VERY supportive supervisor and I had proposed this to her boss, and she advocated for me hard. But her boss said no, because if he lets me do it, it sets a precedent for others in the future, and because I was already getting lots of time off. I was so upset.
My supervisor advised me to wait until I return from leave to revisit this conversation if I still wanted to. I plan to discuss with her this week when I'm back.
Why I want to work from home and why I think it can happen:
- Saves me stress of commuting. It's almost 2 hours round trip -- by subway and bus both times -- that I could be home nursing, pumping, relaxing instead of rushing frantically out the door. Adds quality to my life and makes me more productive with work.
- I need to nurse -- we've been battling baby's has reflux and a shallow suck, and when she gets lots of consecutive bottles she gets turned off to the breast. Nursing more is the best way to improve this as well as my supply.
- It's doable: Most of the work at this time of year is on the computer. There will be someone else home with the baby to care for her so I can focus on work.
- It's slow at the office: There are no students around for the summer and there will be down time in the coming weeks.
- Additional recovery time: My gastro advised me to do sitz baths 4x/day for 10 minutes each, for 2 weeks. I have to be home to do that. (Note: Not sure if I should share that because it's only for 2 weeks and not the whole summer. But I did get a note from him as proof in case you think it's wise to share.)
I'd like to add that flexible schedules are commonly granted to new moms returning to work. Is that true? Any research or anecdotal evidence to prove this?
My supervisor is in my corner so she's a great resource for me, but will only fight for things she thinks can happen. Please share any advice you have on my request, your experience, and anything that can help my case. I can also provide more info if you have clarifying questions."

 

Consider framing your argument to why working from home is a benefit your employer, not you:

"You have made lots of good points, one thing I wonder if you considered is what benefit will be provided to work?  Which is the hardest question to answer.  But something you should think about especially if the request was already denied and they think they have gone you a favor by letting you have so much time off.  It's a question I am also going to have to answer when I go back to work and want to work my evening at home instead of in the office, unfortunately I don't have good one yet.  Another thing to think about is alternatives to just working from home,  for example working half days in the office or working from home every other week.  I know those aren't ideal but maybe a smaller ask will get you a positive outcome. 
Good luck!  Having a baby has made me realize how far behind the US really is when it comes to maternity leave and child care.  But hopefully we can make these small asks and slowly get changes made."

and:

"I agree with what a few others have said--it's important to frame the request in terms of how it will benefit your employer. When I returned to work in January, I asked to work from home ~2 times a week. My boss was also concerned that I would set a precedent because relatively few people work outside the office. I think he ultimately agreed because I identified specific projects that I would focus on when at home. Much of my work is writing intensive, so I was able to argue that I would be more productive without office distractions. Maybe you can develop a list of specific projects/goals for the summer that you hope to accomplish from home? I also explained that I had full-time childcare so I could be flexible and attend meetings in the office whenever necessary.
When I do work from home, I am extremely responsive to calls and emails from my boss and colleagues. I will caution that working from home has fueled the perception among my colleagues (and possibly my boss) that I am less dedicated to my job since having a baby. I find this unfair because I work as many hours as I did before maternity leave (even when I leave the office/sign off by 5 pm I log back on after she goes to sleep) but for now I am willing to put up with if if it means I can spend the time I would have been commuting with my daughter."

 and:

"I want to echo the recommendation about framing this only in terms of how it will benefit your work. I say this as someone whose request to work from home one day a week was denied by an organization she had worked for for ten years. I would also make the first thing you say be that you will have full time childcare when you're home. Your commuting issue has already been reframed to be about additional work time. Regarding nursing, I'd frame it instead as reducing the amount of time you have to be away from your work to pump. Instead of talking about it being slow, I'd say that doing it during this period won't affect the students, since they won't be in the office."

 

Ask for it to be a trial to begin with:

"I think the reasons you are cataloging are mostly why it is best for you, which is good for understanding your own motivations for asking. However, as a manager, I'd want to see only a parallel list of how it could benefit your employer. You have some good points in there - this is a slow time of year for activity in the office so your physical presence will be less in demand to handle walk-ins, etc; your work is computer based and doesn't require you to be in the office. Try also to think about ways your employer could benefit or feel reassured - you could give more hours with your lack of commute on those days, you have a setup that allows for this (equipment, privacy, phone etc), you would make sure you're available via phone for XYZ meetings on those days, you could provide a check-in template to demonstrate that the work is getting done, etc. You know more about your own work (obviously) and can come up with relevant items to add to this.
You may also have more success with asking to do it on a trial basis. See if that makes it more palatable to ask to "test" it over the course of June and July, so that you have the opportunity to demonstrate that it could work for everyone without everyone committing to this as the new normal. Also reiterate that you aren't asking for this forever, just for the summer period as you ease back into work.
Regarding whether most moms have access to a flexible schedule, I'm not so sure about that. I imagine there are some jobs that allow for this, but I would not say it is the majority, not even close. In my own experience, I came back 4 days a week for 6 weeks, and then full time after that. I advocated HARD for this, and they needed me badly in my role (no replacement, hard position to cover, a lot happening) so I think they let me because they had few other options than to keep me happy. However, there was some precedent for this, with a few others working long term 80% schedules. Working from home was never an option, so I felt like 80% as I adjusted was the best I'd get.
Good luck to you, and report back!"

 

Be specific with your request:

"I suggest asking for specific day(s), 1 or 2, as a concrete plan for now, for (say) 3 or 6 months then revisit, to make it more palatable to the person who turned you down before.  (I wouldn't mention the sitz bath as the 2 weeks will zip by anyway)  As someone who has been working flexibly about half of any given week for about 15 years, I would emphasize that you are NOT asking to work part time but to instead take that 2 or 4 hours each week and put at least half of it into working longer hours those days than you could commuting daily.  You also could mention the NYC MTA's rapidly devolving quality of service adding to wasted time and stress.  You can say that you expect to be MORE productive working remotely, not less.
I'm lucky because I work mostly for people who work in my firm's CT office, one of whom actually lives in WI and works from home every day (and has a CT phone extension) - so they don't care where I physically am located - and it's getting easier to work remotely anyway.
I have a friend who is an hourly attorney who set a specific schedule where she telecommutes Wed/Fri, technically she's part time so technically doesn't work those days but she always does - it's just a remote-work thing and she's available if work is busy.  I like that she has set days to be in the office.  I personally like being flexible to accommodate my being busier (meaning I'm more likely to telecommute to get those 2 hours back on a computer) or having to be home to cook dinner for my son on a particular day.
In your case, I think the more specific and short-term (think "trial basis") you can be, the better.  And if you get it, show them you're responsive and diligent and perhaps even more productive from home, early impressions can be lasting ones.
As for precedential value, no offense to your boss but ... that's a lame excuse for a new/nursing mother."

 

Be willing to negotiate and take a day off unpaid:

"Oh I feel you! My boss wasn't into remote working either so I moved my entire family to an apartment 5 min from work so I can nurse on demand. I think its way beyond unbelievable how anyone expects us to raise healthy happy kids without allowing us to have flexibility to handle these first months of the baby's life. So I'lI leave to nurse him when he wakes up from a nap, and I asked for a day off which they ended up giving me unpaid but i took it. I basically told them that medically my baby needed to nurse--he was a preemie and had lots of issues. I dont know if u can take the day off unpaid but perhaps thats a compromise for now. What my coworker did was take a day off unpaid and then they asked for her back and she demanded that it be remotely and they couldnt say no because she was so instrumental. I dont know if thats helpful. But I pray the power of influence is in your hands!"

 

Talk to HR first:

"I'm an employment lawyer working mama.  Here's my take:
I would talk to HR about this and not your manager.  First, ask HR or check your company's benefits/leaves summary plan description (SPD) for information about a "phase-back period".  Under the FMLA, you are permitted to phase back to work after a disability leave on a reasonably reduced schedule provided it doesn't present an undue burden to your company.  Even if you are outside the phase back window (sounds like you exceeded your 12 week FMLA leave), your baby's reflux and your gastro issues may qualify as a legally protected disability, entitling you to a reasonable accomodation, which in your case is the right to work remotely 2 days a week provided you can successfully fulfill the essential duties of your job with the accomodation (working from home).  Your support for why it is "reasonable" is points 3 and 4 in your email.  You will need a doctor's note saying you need to work remotely.  Doing it this way alleviates your manager's concern about everyone asking for it and basically guarantees a "yes".  Notably, you will only be able to work from home while your medical condition persists, but you might be able to show your boss it is workable and perhaps you will be allowed to do it longer (maybe for 1 day instead of 2).  Good luck!"

 

HIghlight how you would handle workload and be a good colleague/ team player when working off-site:

"Asking to work from home is challenging. What you've outlined are all very good reasons for you to be able to work from home, however, you don't really address why it wold be beneficial (and if not beneficial, at least keep things moving efficiently) for your employer. I would recommend not mentioning any of the reasons you've noted when you initially put in the request (you can always mention them once a decision has been made) - while it's nice to think that your employer would agree for you to work from home based on these reasons, they're right in saying that if they did it for you, it would set a precedent among your colleagues.
Instead, I would outline how you'll be able to handle your workload from home so that your colleagues or workload aren't strained as a result - is it being i ichat or using slack throughout the day so people can easily reach you, can your phone be transferred to your cell on days when you're not in the office so there's no delay in getting back to people, do you have childcare during the days you're working from home so that you'll be fully available on days you're working from home, if you're not in the office for a meeting, how will that be handled, etc.
I would also recommend putting a timeframe around this as well - let's try it for three months and then we can sit down for a formal review kind of thing. Best of luck to you! It's a tough position and unfortunate that new moms have to go through this process."

 

Evaluate work environments:

"I agree with others that flexible schedules are not obviously the norm, at least in my experience. Do you have a private office at work, or would you need to find a room to pump in? If you don't already have a private space at work, you could try to argue that working from home would be easier logistics for everyone than having to set up a lactation room or borrow an office multiple times a day, etc.
My experience is that I was grudgingly granted permission to work from home on Fridays for three months -- by a supervisor, a woman who worked from home and had been working from home almost full-time for the past decade (by this point her kids were in high school)."

 

Emphasize the value of uninterrupted work time:

"Two cents from a mom that works from home on Fridays:
One argument that's really helped is the fact that being home once a week gives me uninterrupted work time aside from the occasional Hangout meeting/call. When I'm in the office, I have a ton of meetings that leaves little time for the actual work to be done. I'm much more productive and efficient on that one Friday I'm home. Hope that helps. Good luck!"

 

Original Poster, 2012:

I'm seeking advice on how and when to ask my supervisors if I can work one day a week from home.
Here's the situation: In January, I will be returning to work full-time after a pretty long maternity leave (nearly 7 months of leave from FMLA + all vacation/sick days). I live in Brooklyn, but my job is in the Bronx and it takes me nearly 1 1/2 hrs. to get there and the same coming back in the afternoon. I would like to work one day a week from home to minimize the number of hours I spend commuting (my son is going to be with a care giver so I wouldn't be watching him and trying to work at the same time).
Before I had a child I tried to negotiate working from home on occasion and the request was met with a lot of negativity from my supervisors. This is a little strange because other departments at my workplace have allowed a lot of flexibility for their employees (it is pretty routine that they work from home at least one day a week), but it seems that just my supervisors are against it.
I am wondering if I should approach my supervisors before returning in January to negotiate working from home or if it's better to get back in the workplace first and then try and broach the issue. Also, how should I frame the issue?
Any advice welcome! Has anyone been in this situation before?
Thanks!

 

 Replies:

 

Focus on the positives:

"I have the pleasure and benefit of working from home 1 day a week and it's terrific; I certainly hope you can get this worked out! My two cents: it's probably best that you not approach them with this request before going back, based on the past attitude towards working from home. If you know this is a company you want to continue building your career with then you can get back into the swing of things before approaching and then find the right time to approach your supervisors. It may be that they're just not interested in going that route, at which time you'll need to decide wheather you want to start looking for work closer to home. When you do approach them, some positives to working from home that I've found are:
- You have more focused time to dedicate to work without interruptions
- If bad weather keeps others from getting to work, you'll already be set up and ready to work, assuming you plan ahead and bring your computer home with you.
I hope this helps!"

 

Be vocal about what you achieve:

"Working from home is definitely the wave of the future. I used to be in the exact same situation as you - living in Brooklyn and working in the Bronx and can attest first hand what an awful commute that is. I agree that it's best to have the conversation once you're back in the office. If you have some leverage for negotiating, that's obviously the best route to take. I've dealt with a boss in the past that wasn't too keen on the virtual idea and here's a few tips:
- Always frame in the positive. You can get a LOT more work done from home without all the interruptions in the office, no time wasted in the commute, etc.
- Offer to create a work plan and update your supervisor on your progress weekly. Transparency is KEY, especially with a skeptical boss. Let him/her know that you will be glad to keep the work plan and keep them up to date on the progress of your projects as often as they would like.
- Be available. Make it known that you welcome calls and emails and that you're in touch. And last but not least,
- Be VERY visible when you're in the office and talk it up about how much you're accomplishing on the days your working from home.
You might have to start with one day but I was able to increase to 3 or more days by the time I left that job. It helps to focus the conversation about how much more productive you could be (that's at least an hour more work you could do sans that nasty commute). Keep the convo on how your working remote will benefit them. And don't use the phrase "working from home" call it being "remote" or "virtual" to maintain professionalism.
Worse case scenario - you ditch the Bronx and go with a more progressive organization...They're flourishing these days. Best of luck to you!"

 

Be willing to come into the office on occasion, and show how being able to work different hours can help the organization:

 "More 2 cents: Several years ago I had to work frequently off-site, and requested a laptop so I wouldn't have to waste a half an hour each way going back and forth to the office in the morning and afternoons, in addition to my commute (this was a newspaper where I had to file daily, sometimes twice a day, so that extra hour before deadline was a big deal). Are there deadlines that you will be able to be more flexible in hitting, such as you could concievably start your day a little earlier if you needed to because you wouldn't be on a train? Or stay later? Also, what made this work for me was regular visits to the office, even when they didn't expect me, so they could see me, and saw I wasn't trying to "take advantage" of anything. So even on a day when I didn't have to come in, I occasionally did anyhow, to show my commitment/willingness to come in if it was necessary (it wasn't, but I tried to make them think that) without a second thought or making a big deal out of it.
Also, if absenteeism is an issue -- I haven't taken a sick day in 3 years, and I think there are national stats to back that up. If I don't have to go into an office and can work in a robe doped up on cold meds, I'm much more likely to work.
Now I work for a major internet firm and only have a home office. Half our staff is remote (Dallas, Pheonix, DC, Raliegh...)."

 

Remind your employer of past examples of when it worked for the organization (e.g. inclement weather):

"This is kind of an aside, but I feel like a lot of places that do not have a strong or defined work at home policy got screwed during the hurricane. My office does not have an official policy and does not encourage it, so none of us are set up to work from home and are not in the habit of bringing our laptops, backup thumb drives, etc. home every weekend. The last two weeks at work have been a real crunch because our office was closed during the storm week and nobody could get the files that they needed. Hopefully a lot of businesses learned their lesson."

and:

"I would add -- since I work from home, and didn't lose power [in the storm], I actually picked up shifts that week to cover for NJ folks who had no power and couldn't make it into the office. It wasn't quite even -- 6 of 8 (including Gowanus) were out of commission, but it certainly helped."

 

Change your language:

"One other suggestion, consider using the term "home office" when you are asking for the day. It's a subtle difference but asking to work from your home office rather than "home" gives the visual impression that you are set up, ready to work and not taking care of personal business. Good luck."

 

Having a home office set up minimizes sick days out:

"Along the sick days line, I have worked many a day here at work almost a full day where if I didn't work from home, I would have lost the whole day not having files here etc. and my boss recognizes that. She has even told me, " Ilse, go to bed!" On top of that, when my son is sick, I still work. He gets to watch a lot of TV! But I get to keep working."

 

Negotiation tips:

"I think you have to look at this situation as any other kind of negotiation. In fact, you could consider looking for a book on negotiation - there are tons of them out there. Here's what I tell my clients:
1) Be prepared with information and data. I would talk to the people in your company who do have the opportunity to work from home and get info from them on exactly how much time it saves them and how much more productive they are. You want to be able to frame it as a benefit to the company by saying, "I will be able to work 2 more hours on these days bc I won't be commuting and get XYZ done faster," etc. and you want to have other people's stories to back that up. You should also ask those other people what they said to their managers to convince them to let them work from home.
2) Anchor high. Think about what you really want and what you will be willing to settle for. In negotiating for a salary you don't ask for $100K if you want $100K. You start with $130K and then see what they come back with so that you know the range. With enough negotiation, you will finally reach their true limit. So with this, I would suggest you ask for working from home for 2 days a week. And then maybe they will counter with 1 day a week and you end up with what you wanted in the first place. They might say no to any days at all but if you start with 2, they might see that they are "winning" the negotiation when they get you to come down to 1. OR, you might even get 2 days!
3) Know what you will do if you don't get what you want. Meaning, will you leave this job if you aren't able to work from home? You need to know that for yourself.   So that when you are negotiating, you will know if you are really negotiating between this job and the next job or if you really plan to stay here and just want it to be as good as possible. it will make a difference. Also, you should have some back up ideas for them such as asking if you can try it for 3 months and then you and your manager will review how it is working for both. or asking for one day every 2 weeks (don't lead with this one - just have it in your back pocket if they say no to everything else).
As for when to do it, I agree with the other folks that you should wait until you are back for a while (I would say a month or more) and have established what a great, contributing member you are to the team. Let them remember why they value you and your expertise so much. And to do this, make sure your boss and others in positions above you SEE you doing something really well. In fact, point it out to them- time to toot your own horn as loudly as possible. After a few of these "public wins", you are in a better position for them to see that they don't want to lose you. It's hard at first in those first few weeks back so focus on substance and depth rather than long hours or face time. Do some good stuff and make sure everyone knows it and then go home!
Best of luck! I am sure you can work this out with some pre-planning like you are doing."

and:

"I also agree to wait until you return, and focus on the positives. I would not compare yourself or cite others who work remotely, but again focus on increased productivity and all the items Celeste highlighted, especially the work from home versus "remotely" aspect. I was able to negotiate this after becoming a mother and though it was challenging, I did it. I went about it differently, which may or not be helpful for you, but may benefit others in this group. Here was my strategy, which was my intention from the day I returned to work:

  • I returned to work
  • I did great work, demonstrated my best invaluable qualities :)
  • I learned to be uber-efficient and more productive in the office, by delegating more work to interns and assistants (which I had never taken advantage of previously)
  • After a couple of months, when I could show my increased revenue figures (I was in business development and sales), I used that for leverage
  • I requested to work on an 80% schedule, and take a 20% pay and benefits reduction
  • After my employers agreed, I maintained the same if not higher revenue than I did on 100% hours
  • After a few months, I requested that they restore my salary with the understanding that I would maintain my revenue contribution and be available by Blackberry on Fridays should anyone need me.
  • At all times, I presented my requests as a win/win, and appealed to my boss (who was a father with a stay at home wife) about the importance of spending more time with my child

Doesn't sound like your supervisors are parents, and it would probably NOT be a good idea to focus your conversations on that aspect in your case. But it worked for me, because I knew it would strike a nerve for my boss and that he would have to agree that having a parent at home would benefit my children, and also my performance at work if I were constantly split between my two worlds.
Another thought for you is that if I were in your position, I would start looking for an alternate employment opportunity now. Not that you have to take any other job, but it is easier both emotionally and logistically to job-hunt while you are still employed. You don't have to advertise on LinkedIn, but maybe now would be a good opportunity to update your profile, request recommendations from colleagues who love you and appreciate your work, and begin asking around discreetly, or simply be "open" to all the possibilities that may be more aligned for you and your family."

 

Show examples, success stories, and evidence from other employers:

"I have been working remotely for almost 8 years. My office is located in DC. When I started doing it, it was pretty rare. Now we have 3 people who have moved from DC to various places and work remotely. Also, I have 2 friend in the federal government Office on Violence Ag Women who work remotely. If the feds are doing it, its not progressive anymore. I would use that argument, too!"

 

From the original poster:

"Thank you to everyone who chimed in with advice, first-hand knowledge, and general support in regards to my call for help on working from home. I'm feeling much more confident and well-equipped as I go back into my job. There are so many nuggets of wisdom that come out of this group, I'm truly thankful for it."