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How to Ask Your Boss to Work from Home

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. 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 that 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 emails at 10 p.m. or picking up the phone when it rings after five.

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 Letting You Work from Home

Before you approach your manager about telecommuting, you need to put yourself in his/her shoes. Even better, but yourself in his/her manger’s shoes. As you begin to ponder that, write down the answers to the following questions.

1. 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?

2. 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. E.g., you’ll be more focused, more productive, and less distracted at home.

3. How will your boss manage you?

Many managers’ big fears 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.

4. 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 proposal, schedule a face-to-face meeting with your manger to bring up the idea, and then email 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 I to work even more productively together.

Thank you for considering my request. I look forward to discussing the possibility further.

I have known dozens of former coworkers who have used these tactics to successfully arrange full- and part-time work-from-home privileges…even four day work weeks. 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?

About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

Comments

  1. Although I’d love to work completely from home, the logistics of my personal situation prevent me from doing so. I interact a lot with clients on a personal level, and the live interaction of a design team is unfortunately lost through the Web.

    I think, in the end, a combination of working from home and working from the office is about the best I can strive for.

  2. David Weliver says:

    Yeah, it’s unfortunately not the perfect solution for everybody—especially those that need to meet with clients or team members regularly.

    Imagine, though, having a day or two a week to *just* focus on getting things done, and consolidating meetings to the remaining days. This seems to work incredibly well for the people I’ve seen pull it off!

  3. I really like how Tim Ferriss addressed this issue in his book, “Four Hour Work Week”. Maybe a great way to start working from home is just to do it on a trail basis for a week or two without telling anyone, and then take the idea to your boss with proof that it actually could and has worked.

    Sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

  4. David Weliver says:

    You’re right, Hank, if successful, that could work. I’d be afraid it could also *really* back fire. As in “you just decided not to come into the office for two weeks without telling anybody!!!??”

    I’d say trying that would take some serious stones.

    If this has worked for anybody, please weigh in!

  5. Jerry Vandesic says:

    Re: “Do youwant to spend more time with a young child?”

    As someone who manages a large team that mostly works from home, this sounds like a bad idea. I would never approve a request to work at home if the motivation to spend time with their children. If you are on the job, you need to be focused on your job rather than your kids. Anyone on my team that works from home needs to have a written child care plan that covers how someone else will be taking care of their kids. Of course emergencies can come up, but for the most part you need to be doiing your job during work hours.

    • Jerry – If you aren’t commuting 2-3 hours a day then that’s more time to spend with your child. Though that’s probably not the best thing to focus on if you are bringing it up with a manager. My daycare is 2 minutes from my house so I would much rather work from home and go to her when she needs to eat than have to take three 20-minute breaks during the day to pump breastmilk. And if I can get more than 5 hours of sleep a night by working virtual it makes me a more productive employee since I’m not exhausted.