With some companies still trying to figure out exactly how often their employees will need to be in the office, one thing has become clear: many workers want flexibility.
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While asking for a flexible work schedule is likely easier now than it was pre-pandemic, it can still be uncomfortable to approach a manager with the request.
Some companies that are taking a hybrid approach are leaving it up to managers and their teams to figure out the best balance between remote and in-person work. That means workers need to make their wishes known.
“[Flexibility] is something that’s really worthwhile to ask for,” said Vanessa Bohns, associate professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University and author of the upcoming book “You Have More Influence Than You Think.”
“Most likely, what’s in our head about all the discomfort and the awkwardness of how we are going to be judged is probably overblown. It will probably go better than you think. Regardless, you should get over the short-term discomfort of the conversation because the long-term benefits are pretty huge.”
Here’s how to have a productive conversation with your boss:
Know your audience
Every company has a different culture. Some might be purpose-driven, or emphasize work-life balance, while others might be more customer-focused.
Identify what’s important to your company and incorporate it into your request.
“Come up with an appropriate rationale that works for the person you are asking and the organization and their values,” said Bohns. So if you know your company cares about productivity, she suggested saying something like: “Over the past year I’ve shown I can be productive working like this. I can be even more productive because I have uninterrupted work time.”
Be clear with your request
Be specific. More flexibility to you might mean working remote three days a week, but to your boss it could mean working from home once a week.
“You should be straightforward with your request,” said Debra Wheatman, founder and president of Careers Done Write. “You want to be specific with what the need is and the way you would like to have more flexibility.”
Suggesting a trial period of the proposed schedule, like having a review in three months, can make a manager more likely to agree.
“A trial makes it so everybody can see how things are progressing. You don’t want to draw a line in the sand,” Wheatman said. “It softens the edges by saying: ‘let’s try it out’ and that gives the employee an opportunity to deliver amazing results.”
Make the request in person (or close to it)
If possible, have this conversation in person or over video conference.
Bohns’ research shows that people are more likely to get what they want when they ask in person – but that isn’t an option for many workers at the moment.
“Ask using the richest medium possible,” said Bohns. “This is not the kind of request to make over email.”
Being able to see the person’s response and being able to react and address things as they come up can help create a better social connection and convey genuineness.
“It’s harder to say no to someone in the moment – it’s very uncomfortable. Managers are people too, they have that discomfort and are more wiling to have the conversation than just write you off.”
Address any concerns
Be prepared to address any concerns that might make a manager hesitant about your desired work schedule.
“All a manager wants to know is that their employees can do all the work successfully, are going to meet and exceed their goals and are going to be just as productive as if they were in the old way of working,” said Stacie Haller, career expert at ResumeBuilder.
Focus on your productivity in the last 18 months with specific results and successes.
If you know your manager is concerned about maintaining a strong culture and connectedness, Bohns suggested saying something like: I know we care about the company culture and being connected, and that’s why I will address that by touching base in this way or coming in.
You got a ‘no’….now what?
Getting a “no” doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll never be able to work from home.
“Think of this as an ongoing conversation,” said Bohns, who added that companies are concerned about retention and might be willing to re-evaluate their policies later on.
“Even if you get a no, try something like: ‘Do you think we can revisit this in the future?’ … ‘Maybe we can see down the road?’”