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If you fight traffic every day getting to the office, only to spend 8 hours in a gray cubicle, how does this sound… I just got off a call with a client, and I’m in sweats and a t-shirt. At 1:43 pm.
I had always heard the term work-life balance, but it never sunk in until suddenly I was setting my alarm for an hour later.
I was hitting the gas station once a week instead of every other day.
And as I watched my kids on the soccer field, or worked out at the gym at 4:30, I’d think of how I used to be racing home about now.
It took a little convincing in my case, but once my manager agreed to try it, I was able to show her that my productivity could actually go up working from home.
So if you’re tired of the commuting grind, here are four keys to pitching the idea that’ll give you the best shot at getting approved.
So You're Saying There's a Chance?
Even if your office hasn’t offered work from home opportunities yet, don’t assume it’s impossible.
As long as your job isn’t entirely customer facing – whatever part that’s done electronically or on a phone, can be done from home.
Whether you work in a office of two thousand people, or you’re one of three in a construction trailer, there’s only one extra layer of security needed to work from home.
Your office would need to setup a VPN or virtual private network connection. This is something any IT department is familiar with. It’s so common, that many people setup VPN’s at home for their own use.
The VPN just adds a layer of security, so you can log into their network from an external location instead of inside the office. All it means to you, is one extra ID and password.
Companies Have Incentives to Offer WAH Arrangements
Since so many companies offer some form of work at home arrangement now, those that don’t, know their chances of retaining good employees are shrinking each year.
The cost of office space, along with heat, electricity, furniture and security rise every year, so it’s more cost efficient to lease a smaller space. Instead of dedicated desk space for every employee, it’s cheaper to outfit the office with at least some commuter desks.
There’s a good chance also, that companies may get work from home incentives from the state to help reduce carbon emissions.
What's In it For You?
My trip to work was about 45 miles each way. So in my six years at home, I estimate that I’ve saved almost 130,000 miles of driving! And assuming there are 20 work days in each month, I would have spent the equivalent of 90 days in my car!
Not to mention the other benefits:
- You save thousands of dollars on gas, tolls and car repairs.
- You save a ton of money on clothes, lunches and coffee.
- You no longer participate in crazy morning commutes.
- You’re local if you have kids in school.
- If you have kids in in after school sports, there’s a chance you’ll be able to attend.
- You can shower or throw a load of laundry in whenever you feel like it.
- When kids are off for summer, you may be working, but you’re still home.
Getting Permission to Work From Home
Step 1 - Do Some Detective Work
Don’t just fire off an email saying, “Hey, would you consider letting me work from home?“
A typical manager probably gets several hundred emails a day, so they won’t give it the consideration it deserves. Instead, do some detective work first.
- Does the company have an established WAH program already?
- See if you can find out the requirements before speaking to your manager.
- Does it require you to be an employee for a certain length of time?
- Does it require you to already have a broadband connection at home?
- Does your performance need to be rated at a certain level?
Chances are, you already meet the requirements, but knowing them will help you to be prepared when you make your request.
Step 2 - Formulate Your Pitch
Whether your company already has work from home employees or not, the first thing they’ll think about when you pitch the idea is:
“Does he/she have what it takes to succeed at home where someone’s not looking over your shoulder?”
- Your manager may need to justify your request to his/her manager, so dig out any performance reviews that include comments about your work ethic and your dependability.
- Examine your schedule. Are all your responsibilities performed electronically, or are there some customer facing activities too? If there’s a mixture, then maybe a proposal to work at home only a few days a week for now might be received better.
- Anticipate their resistance. Excuse #1 might be, “we don’t have the technology“. But setting up a VPN connection isn’t complicated at all. And maybe your manager could benefit by proposing some innovation for the company.
- Excuse #2 might be, “Sorry, but my policy is that everyone needs to be here.” If he/she is a micro manager that’ll be tough, but I’d emphasize that your accountability can be measured just as easily from home, and maybe they’ll agree to a trial run.
Step 3 - Request a Meeting
When you’re ready to make your pitch, request a sit-down meeting. You don’t want to casually pitch the idea in the lunch line, or via an email they’re likely to skim across.
Ask for a 10-15 minute, private meeting to discuss an issue, and if you can get away with it, don’t reveal the subject. Whether your manager wants to sit down over lunch, or in a conference room doesn’t matter, as long as it’s a dedicated time away from the phone and other employees.
Asking for a sit down meeting will emphasize the fact, without saying it, that you mean business. That your future with the company might hinge on the outcome of this talk.
Once you get in the meeting, here’s what you don’t want to say:
- “I need to work at home because I have a new infant”, or
- “I need to be home when my son gets off the bus”.
Those are valid reasons to want to work from home, but pitching it that way sounds like it’s only a win for you.
He/she already knows that your family situation is the primary reason for your request. Emphasizing benefits for the company will give you a better shot at getting approved.
- Mention your track record of a dependable employee who goes the extra mile.
- Discuss the benefits to the department, like your increased efficiency with no interruptions.
- You’ll rarely if ever, be late or absent on those icy, snowy days when you’re not commuting.
- Note that you’ll constantly be available via instant message (or whatever your company uses).
- Perhaps this could put a feather in your manager’s cap if you can show that your department is blazing a trail with new work/life balance options that will retain good employees.
Chances are, your manager won’t have the authority to approve a work from home arrangement, but if you can get he/she to commit to proposing it, you’ve made progress.
Once you’ve emphasized how it can be a win-win, I’d end with a positive comment about wanting to continue there, and looking forward to the future.
In a perfect world, you’d hear the good news the next day, but the bigger the company, the slower things seem to happen. I’d give it about two weeks before asking whether there’s any word yet.
Although if you need to ask, you can be sure there hasn’t been any word. But ask anyway.
If several months pass, and your performance review comes up, you might want to insert a comment like:
“In April, I proposed working from home two days a week, and I still hope to show that I can be a high contributor regardless of my physical location.”
If the director signs off on your review, you’ll know he/she’s read it. And if your manager gives you trouble about including that, then you might wonder if they ever raised your request.
Step 4 - Setting up for Success
If you’ve got the approval to work from home, even for a day or two each week, congratulations! It’s a big perk, both in money and time. And you never know, one or two days can turn into more.
Here are some tips to make sure you hit the ground running.
First, Setting up Your Workspace
- You don’t need to go out and buy the $600 desk, but you do want to make sure you have a dependable broadband connection.
- Try to have a dedicated space. If you can’t dedicate an entire room, at least have a space where you can put away things that won’t be disturbed, especially if you work under HIPPA regulations.
- If you’re working with a company laptop, even if they don’t supply you with a cable lock, buy one yourself for $10 and lock it to your desk.
Getting Off to a Smooth Start
- For the first month especially, you might want to check in with your manager often and let him/her know things are going good.
- Whatever messaging your company uses, you want to be responsive enough that coworkers or customers can’t tell any difference in your response time.
- Keep a calendar that has space to record any downtime. If there’s an issue with your internet provider that prevents you from working, document the date and time you called, the ticket number, and any followup communication. Most companies insist you let them know when you’re unable to connect from home.
- Sooner or later, you’ll encounter a situation where you need to run out for 30 minutes. Maybe one of the kids forgot their lunch or something. It’s tempting when you work at home, to just run out and hope nobody notices. But it’s best to be upfront with your manager… “Hey I have to quickly run to my daughter’s school, is that OK?” is much better than having something hit the fan while you’re AWOL.
- It’s much better to offer to work through your lunch or work a bit longer to make up for it. Getting caught running out on company time puts the seed in your manager’s mind that you’re taking advantage of your work from home arrangement. And that can be very hard to shake.
It's Possible to Work Too Hard
I used to deal with contractors in India, and due to the time difference, sometimes I wasn’t able to get certain things done during our work hours. So I’d run upstairs at 9pm “just for a few minutes” and end up working an hour or more.
Working from home should enable you to be more productive, but try to walk away at the end of the day. Even working from home, you still deserve a quitting time.
Regardless of the occasional hiccups, the opportunity to work from home can really help to balance your work and home life.
If you have kids in school, you’d be there in the morning and afternoon. And if they’re involved with after school sports, you’ll be able to see at least part of their games.
You’ll save thousands in commuting costs, and hundreds of hours in the car. And when you can shut down at quitting time and just walk down a flight of stairs, you tend to be more refreshed and present for your family.
If you’re planning on pitching a work from home gig to your manager, hopefully this’ll provide some ammo for your proposal. If there’s anything else that’s worked for you, let me know!