As millions of U.S. office workers stretch into their third month of navigating the world's largest work-from-home experiment, business leaders are announcing that remote work is here to stay long after the pandemic subsides.
Some companies, such as Google, have announced that workers who don't need to be onsite can extend their work-from-home arrangement until the end of the year. Others, like Twitter and Facebook , have committed to letting people work remotely forever, if they so choose.
If your employer has made a similar announcement, whether it's for the rest of the summer or beyond, "it's probably worth celebrating a moment of clarity," says Heidi Brooks, an organizational behavior professor at the Yale School of Management. "There's so much ambiguity in the world right now that for some people, just learning what's going to happen, that's worth celebrating."
Of course, making this kind of transition, whether it's working away from the office full-time or part-time, can have a major impact on both your career and your personal life. If your company has said you can work from home through the end of the year or even forever, here's what to consider before making the change permanent.
If you've adjusted well to your new work-from-home routine, or you've been dreaming of a flexible arrangement for a while now, you probably know whether you'll take your employer up on their offer to work remotely after the pandemic. After all, these policies to allow more flexibility are good news for the 80% of workers who say they want to be able to work remotely at least some of the time.
If you're feeling conflicted about whether to stay home or return to the office, tune in to what kind of work environment you feel most comfortable in over the long term and in the best-case scenario. Steele Flippin warns that it might not be helpful to base your assessment on your current experience, since that scenario is likely an extreme due to the coronavirus and will change with time.
For example, maybe you were enthusiastic about your new work-from-home routine for the first month or two, but now social isolation is catching up with you and you wish you could be back in an office. Or maybe you've been unable to concentrate while also homeschooling your kid. If child-care facilities reopen, would you be more productive working from home instead of going into an office then?
"These are really individual choices," says Jason Fried, founder and CEO of Basecamp, a project management platform with a globally-distributed remote workforce. "Some people thrive in a quiet, private, semi-isolated environment. Others crave physical interactions constantly. So you have to figure out the type of person you are."
While it's important to think about productivity, Brooks says to not discount your personal preferences, especially when it comes to your workplace being a source of social connection.
"You don't want to underestimate how important that aspect of work is," Brooks says. She references the "Mistakenly seeking solitude" study from the University of Chicago, which found that while people think they'll be more content with a quiet ride on the train, they actually reported being happier when they interacted with a stranger.
Essentially, she says, people tend to overestimate how happy they'll be alone, and underestimate the joy of even unplanned social interactions.
If you live in a household where another person will be able to work from home, do you have the time, space and flexibility to make the adjustment together?
For example, Steele Flippin says her husband already worked from home regularly prior to the pandemic. But she wasn't aware that usually, after she left the house for her office, he would turn up jazz music, make his morning coffee and move around the house to work. When Steele Flippin started working from home in March, she had to tell him to turn the music down and readjust his routine in order to accommodate her work needs. "Then he would joke, 'but I was here first!'" she says.
"We had to negotiate our schedules so his routine doesn't interrupt my work, and my conference calls don't interrupt him and what he does."
Also consider: If you continue to work from home while your partner goes back to the office, will the dynamic of who takes care of the household change? What about child-care responsibilities? Have an idea of how things could play out over time, and discuss it with other people in your family or household who could be affected.
Now that your remote arrangement could be extended, it's a good time to discuss with your boss what's working, what could be better and how things may have to shift in order to make the remote arrangement permanent.
Have conversations with your boss about what the expectations will be moving forward, Brooks says. Take a step back and discuss what it means to be successful at your company or on your team. Then, think about how you'll set goals with your boss, communicate progress and measure outcomes as you adjust to the new way of working.
Another point to bring up with your boss is whether any processes need to be reworked so you can do them across a team that's a blend of both remote and in-office workers. Your manager will have a better idea of how your contribution will fit into the dynamic based on what your colleagues are planning to do.
If you plan to work primarily from home, Steele Flippin recommends you set expectations around when your boss might want you on location for certain events, such as client meetings, for team brainstorms or periodically when you're handling sensitive documents that must remain onsite.
You may also want to wade into the conversation about whether your compensation will change if you choose to work remotely and end up moving away permanently. Some companies, such as Facebook, pay workers based on the market rate of their location due to cost-of-living factors. A software engineer in the Bay Area may have a higher base salary than an engineer who lives in Austin, Texas, for example. Your manager or human resources contact will be able to tell you if your company has a policy like this in place, or if one may be on the horizon as the business reassesses its workforce.
A lot of people went home in March thinking they'd be away from the office for a few weeks, and made it work with the home set-up they had. But if you're going to make the arrangement long-term, what kind of equipment and technical support do you need from your employer to make it work?
Fried recommends you first think about your location. Do you have the space to work well from home? If you don't have a separate home office, can you work from your kitchen or living room without feeling like your work life is bleeding into your home life? Or perhaps, as cities reopen, would your employer be willing to cover your membership to a coworking space?
After you figure out where you see yourself working in the future, you can turn your attention toward the equipment you'll need to do your best work. This could mean asking your boss if you'll be supplied with an adequate laptop, monitor, keyboard and mouse. If you see yourself setting up a new home office, think about what other items you'll need to be your most productive, such as a desk; ergonomic chair and mat; printer or fax machine.
If you need better internet connection for constant videoconferencing, Steele Flippin says you can ask if your employer will help you pay for a better WiFi package, or provide you a work phone with a mobile hot spot plan. It's also worth bringing up what kind of cybersecurity tools you should have at home, such as access to a VPN, a secure e-signature program for contracts, a designated phone line or even a paper shredder for sensitive documents.
Whatever you come up with on your remote work station checklist, "Ask for these things, don't demand them," Fried says. "Say, 'How can we make this work?'"
For the people who can't wait to get back to the office, a work-from-home extension stirs more dread than joy. If you're in that camp, Steele Flippin says the time to tell your boss is now.
"You don't want to be in a situation where people are making assumptions about your circumstance," she says. For example, if you have kids and have talked with your boss about the trouble of finding child care for the summer, they may assume you would rather continue working remotely, even if that's not the case.
Broach the topic with your manager and say something along the lines of, "While you're working on the return to work approach for the organization, I'd like to have a conversation about how I can help and some concerns I have," Steele Flippin suggests.
Make it clear your intention to return to the office, but approach it by saying you'd like to discuss how you can do it in a way that's safe for yourself and others. For example, if leaders are working on a phase-in policy where your office starts at a 20% maximum capacity, you could volunteer to be one of the first team members to pilot the plan and assess how it goes.
"If your organization isn't ready, then be patient," she adds.
Many companies are only starting to sketch out what their return-to-work plans will be. Organizations could also be waiting to get feedback about what employees want before they start unveiling any new flexible work policies.
If you're not sure how you want to work in the next few months, let alone years, that's OK, Fried says. You may not have to choose one way of working over the other at all.
"We're going to see a lot of hybrid situations if you're local to a company," he says, adding that more workers may go into the office twice a week and work remotely for the remaining three days, for example. "It's the beauty of having options. You don't have to make final decisions right now."
Steele Flippin says you might as well communicate early and often and demonstrate that you're ready for an open conversation when more information is available.
In any case, any company announcement referencing your remote arrangement is a good time to reevaluate your current work environment and what you could do to make it better. Experts recommend you set and stick to a routine; remember to take breaks; connect with loved ones and colleagues; and stay on top of your physical and mental health.