Boss, can I work from home?
Before you ask, decide if it would work for you.
For today's information workers, offices don't make sense. Why commute in rush-hour traffic to sit in a cube and write, research, and make phone calls -- all things you could do anywhere? For many workers, ending -- or at least reducing -- daily treks to the office may be as simple as asking their employer. Especially in challenging economic times when employers can't always offer raises, companies may actually see telecommuting as an affordable way to keep employees happy.
- Bing: The worst commutes
If you have ever considered telecommuting but don't know how to approach your manager about working from home, here's a look at things to consider before requesting a telecommuting arrangement and a way to propose working remotely to your manager in the best possible way.
Is working from home a good idea?
Even in a recession, younger workers "still value work-life balance above all else when listing top characteristics of an ideal entry-level employer, placing it well above other factors such as salary and meaningful work," according to a BusinessWeek survey.
The ability to work from home certainly helps with work-life balance. But as great as working from home sounds when you're stuck in gridlocked traffic or smelling your officemate's leftover fish tacos, there are drawbacks. When you work from home, you:
- Give up social interaction with co-workers.
- Lose visibility with management.
- Must become extremely self-disciplined.
- Blur the line between work and home.
Employees who work from home -- either by choice or because their employers require it -- risk being passed over for promotions. According to a report on executives' opinions on telecommuting:
More than 60% of global executives surveyed by the Korn/Ferry International subsidiary believe telecommuters are less likely to advance in their careers in comparison to traditional office workers. Interestingly, though, 78% of those execs feel telecommuters are either equally or more productive than those who work in offices.
What's more, remote workers may also find themselves working at odd hours; answering e-mails at 10 p.m. or picking up the phone when it rings after 5 p.m.
Given the downside to telecommuting, working from home isn't for everybody. If your career plans involve moving up the corporate ladder as fast as possible, it's best to stay in the office where you'll be in front of managers all the time. Are you terrible at managing your time? Another sign you should probably stay office-bound. If, however, you spend the majority of your workday online or on the phone and still like the idea of working remotely, it's time to make your dream a reality.
Selling your boss on the idea
Before you approach your manager about telecommuting, you need to put yourself in his/her shoes. Even better, put yourself in his/her manager's shoes. As you begin to ponder that, write down the answers to the following questions:
Why do you want to work from home? Obviously it's not because you want to slack off, but if you don't give your boss a better reason, that's what he/she might assume. Are you trying to mitigate the stress and cost of a horrendous commute? Do you want to spend more time with a young child? Best yet, do you feel you can be more productive working at home -- without the distractions of meetings and office gossip?
What's in it for your boss -- and the company? Whenever you want something from your employer (be it a raise, a promotion, or a flexible work schedule), you had better be able to offer something of value in return. You shouldn't approach your boss about working from home unless you believe your contributions to your employer are valued. You should also be able to explain how working from home will enable you to deliver even more value -- you'll be more focused, more productive, and less distracted at home.
How will your boss manage you? Many managers' big fear about letting an employee work from home is losing control. How will your boss know you are being productive? To alleviate the concern, suggest clear ways for your boss to measure your performance working from home. Perhaps you'll set weekly goals and report back on what you accomplished.
How can you compromise? Unless your company is cramped for office space or actively promoting telecommuting, don't expect your boss to say "Great idea! Start tomorrow!" when you ask to work remotely. He or she will probably say "No" or "I'll have to think about it." So be ready with some compromises. See if your manager will let you try out working from home one or two days a week, for example. Or, offer to sacrifice your next pay raise (a great bargaining chip if you're a great employee and the company is tightening its belt in the economy; they'll want to keep you happy, but would love the opportunity to do it without paying you more).
Sample work-from-home proposal
Complete this propsoal, schedule a face-to-face meeting with your manager to bring up the idea, and then e-mail this proposal as a follow-up.
As we have discussed, I continue to make tremendous contributions to [your company name] by [describe your contributions]. In fact, just last month I [give a specific example of something really great you did].
I believe I can be even more productive and deliver even more value to our company with the opportunity to telecommute. Because my position requires work that is solely online or on the phone, I can perform my job with fewer distractions and even more productively from my home office.
Telecommuting will improve my work-life balance and job satisfaction and will hopefully contribute to a long and successful tenure here.
If you will consider my request for telecommuting privileges, I am confident we can establish clear and actionable goals and reporting mechanisms that will allow you and me to work even more productively together.
Thank you for considering my request. I look forward to discussing the possibility further.
I know dozens of former co-workers who have used these tactics to successfully arrange full- and part-time work-from-home privileges -- even four-day workweeks. If you're interested in working from home, I hope they work for you.
What do you think? Did you go from working in an office to working from home full or part time? How did it happen? What other strategies would you recommend for somebody dreaming of working from home?
Related reading at Money Under 30:
- 10 easy ways to simplify your finances
- No credit history? Prepare for an uphill climb to auto, home financing
- What percentage of your income should you spend on mortgage payments?
Published Sept. 28, 2009
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