Because of the COVID lockdowns, the work-from-home option has exploded in popularity. Organizations who didn’t have work-from-home options before have now rolled those out, and the virtual workspace in general went through a massive shift in 2020.
But now, as the world seems to be opening back up, many employers are trying to reel that back in. If you’re an employee who’s recently been asked to return to the workplace, you might be wondering if there’s anything you can do to change your boss’s mind.
First off, we should say that we’re on your side. We believe very much in the power of remote work (when feasible) and we’ve cautioned employers against bringing their workers back into a physical space too hastily.
That said, there are some challenges that your employer might be facing that you’re not aware of. A Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) study published in the summer of 2020 might bring a little bit of perspective to this conversation. Remote work isn’t feasible for every job, and in many cases, it’s simply less feasible than on-campus work. The SIEPR study points out that only 51% of jobs can be done at an efficiency rate of 80% or better.
So there’s naturally some tension between workers who have grown comfortable working remotely and companies who are quite uncomfortable with the concept and want to end it as soon as they can. If you’re struggling with the prospect of returning to a physical workspace, here are some things you can do if you want to try to maintain your current lifestyle.
Be open and honest about your position.
First up, you should make sure you are being honest with your employer. Are there circumstances that are impacting your decision? Your employer should know about those. It’s possible there are factors impacting your decision that your boss isn’t aware of, and by clarifying those, you might convince your boss to reconsider. This is a two-way street, of course (as we suggested in the introduction to this piece), and there might be circumstances you aren’t aware of as well.
The best way to approach this is to share information and see what comes up. Perhaps your boss will be more willing to let you continue working from home once they understand your position. Maybe you’ll be more willing to go into the office once your boss has made their case.
Either way, the very first step in this negotiation process is communication.
Talk to your coworkers.
How do your coworkers feel about this decision? Are you the lone holdout after everyone else has gone back to the workplace, or are all your coworkers reluctant to return as well? If the former is true, you might be on your own. But if the latter is true, you and your coworkers might be able to work collectively to do something that none of you could do on your own.
Think about it this way: If an employer calls everyone back into the office and there’s just one person who refuses, that person looks like they’re being obstinate. This person might have good reasons for feeling the way they do, but even so, from the perspective of management, they look like they’re being a troublemaker.
On the other hand, if everyone feels the same way, and they approach the company as a group rather than as individuals, it becomes clear that this isn’t just a matter of a single person causing problems. This is a fundamental disagreement between management and workers.
As a group, you’ll have a lot more power to negotiate for extended remote work.
Question your company’s policies.
Some companies use policy as a means of nipping an argument in the bud. “We’re sorry, that’s just not our company policy,” they’ll tell you, when what they really mean is that they don’t want to have the conversation at all. This can be a way of shirking responsibility.
But policy is created by people. Any policy can change if enough pressure is applied in the right places.
When you’re asked to go back into work, ask a lot of questions. Ask about vaccine policies. Ask about policies regarding employees who get COVID while at work. Question decisions that don’t seem to be made with your best interest or safety in mind.
While you might not be able to influence a major policy shift, it’s possible you’ll be able to at least get your boss to reconsider some of the policies they’ve rolled out haphazardly. If you can show, for example, that they’ve been careless about vaccination policy, there’s a genuine argument to be made for at least revisiting that policy to see if it can be better.
Policy changes aren’t easy, but at the same time, no policy is set in stone.
Make a strong case.
Now, you want to make the strongest case you possibly can for staying remote. Have you maintained the same level of productivity – or increased productivity – while working remotely? If so, you have a good case for keeping your WFH status. However, if there’s been a drastic decline in your performance, you’re fighting an uphill battle.
Your track record is the strongest case you can possibly make. Some people are just more productive when working from home, and if you’re one of those people, a return to the workplace will inevitably cause a decline in productivity. However, if you’ve taken every opportunity to slack off while working from home, your case is going to be pretty weak.
There are other ways to make a strong case, however. If this is a genuine safety concern, that might cause your boss to reconsider. No company wants to be sued because they were responsible for spreading a disease – that could permanently hurt their reputation.
Quit your job.
If nothing else works, you might be forced to quit your job. Know that you certainly wouldn’t be the first person to quit their job because they were asked to come back into the workplace. In fact, that’s the trend right now. And if enough people leave on-campus positions for remote ones, it sends a powerful message to the working world.
The job market is facing a reckoning right now, and as an employee, this is your opportunity to change the work environment for the better. It’s been a long time since employees had this much power to stand up against their employers, and you should leverage that power to create better working conditions for everyone.
Quitting your job is certainly not for everyone, but if you are considering it, keep in mind that there’s currently an employee shortage. You might have to relocate if you want to truly take advantage of that, but there are tons of options out there for those willing to look.
Ideally, your employer will be amenable to your needs and open to having conversations about those. However, that’s simply not going to be the case for everyone. We hope the advice we’ve given in this article can help you strategize your big ask, and we wish you the best of luck in finding a situation that works out for you.