Thursday, 7 May 2015
An employee working for a plumbing company wanted to work from home a few days of the week.
She wasn't sanguine on her prospects: Everything about the firm was old-fashioned, from the formica in the bathroom to the old clock on the wall. She first pitched the idea and was immediately shot down with a "we don't do that here." After talking with Pat Katepoo, founder of Work Options, a coaching firm specializing in advising working mothers, she brought in a written proposal. Her boss took it to lunch, and upon return, said, "Good beginning. I'll talk to the IT guys."
Enjoying the stability of a full-time job but the freedom to work from home is an ideal scenario for many, with two-thirds of workers saying they'd like to work from home. The perk is becoming increasingly common. More and more tasks can be accomplished digitally, resulting in a surge in telecommuting, which grew 80% from 2005 to 2012, according to Global Workplace Analytics, a research firm that tracks emerging workplace trends.
Still only 3% of employees work remotely. How can you become one of the select few? Follow these tips to make a winning argument.
Look for a formal telecommuting policy in the company handbook, so that whatever you propose is in compliance with company policy. If you don't see a policy in there, check with your Human Resources department. If your company has vague language around it, leaving it to the manager to decide on a "case-by-case" basis, then you'll need to come up with a plan.
"Look around your company to see if anyone else works from home, or if there's somebody with a flexible or alternative schedule," says Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, a company focused on flexible work opportunities. "Take them out for coffee. Learn how they got that. Did they get it when they first came into the company? Is it something they negotiated? If so, how did it go? Do they have any tips for you?
For a week, keep a log of your activities and note which you could perform remotely. "It's an exercise to go through because these are the kinds of questions your boss will want to know answers for," says Fell. It helps to be able to answer such inquires with, "I looked at my activities, and these are the 10-12 things I can do, and they represent X amount of my time."
Don't say you want to work from home because you miss your baby. The most persuasive argument is that this new arrangement will benefit the company. Cite some of the many statistics showing telecommuting's productivity and cost benefits, such as that, on average, that more than two-thirds of companies report higher productivity among their teleworkers, and that firms save $11,000 per year per employee who telecommutes. This Stanford study found a 13% increase in productivity, due to workers taking fewer breaks and having a quieter work environment.
"Have a written proposal that details and answers the question 'how will your work get done off site or remotely?'" says Katepoo. Specify which days you'll be offsite (don't start out requesting to work 100% remotely) and what you'll do onsite and remotely and, if necessary, how. If you interact with other team members regularly, outline what technology you'll use to communicate. "The barrier is just not there anymore," says Katepoo. "You can use video chat, phone calls, texts, IM. There are so many tools nowadays."
Propose trying out this arrangement for three to six months. "That makes it way easier to get the manager to say yes, because they have a sense that they have a back door if they don't like it or it doesn't work out," says Katepoo. The trial period also gives everyone a chance to tweak the schedule.
When your boss is happy with your work — maybe you've just nabbed a big client or blown past some goals early — schedule a meeting with him or her. Don't ask after coming off a big failure. "Telecommuting, at its core, is about trust," says Fell, so you'll want to strike when confidence in you is high.
If, after all your preparation, your boss's answer no, see if you can revisit the request a few months down the road. If your proposal is greenlit, treat the trial period extremely professionally. For working parents, that means having proper childcare during working hours. "All it takes is one meeting when your child is crying in the background," says Fell. "It just highlights and emphasizes the fact that you're not in the office."
During the trial period, be sure to communicate clearly with your managers, subordinates and teammates. Then, get input from everyone on what's working and what isn't, to improve the arrangement.
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