How to negotiate a permanent work-from-home arrangement

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Long considered a perk reserved for company all-stars and senior leaders, the ability to work from home has been introduced to millions of office workers, across all levels, in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Now, as professionals across the U.S. have adjusted to a new way of working, major companies including Twitter and Facebook announced plans to allow employees to continue working from home forever, if they so choose.

That's welcome news for the majority of office workers who report they'd like the option to extend their remote-work arrangement beyond the pandemic. A recent Prudential survey of 2,050 U.S. workers finds 68% of those currently working from home would like to continue doing so to some extent in the future.

If you find yourself in that camp but your employer has already announced plans to return to the office, or they haven't made a decision yet, experts tell CNBC Make It that now is a good time to try and make your situation permanent.

Here's how to make the ask.

Make sure working from home is something you want long-term

First, do some reflection to understand what you really want to get out of working remotely on a permanent basis. Are you a more engaged worker when you have control over how you spend your time no longer commuting? Are you more productive when you have a private space to complete focused work? Are you OK with a work environment where your only interactions with colleagues are virtual rather than in-person?

As you consider your responses, think in the long term, says Heidi Brooks, an organizational behavior professor at the Yale School of Management. "It's important to make your preferences clear, but don't make it situational," she says. Your experience working from home during a global pandemic while everyone else is in a similar situation will be very different from remote work six to nine months down the line.

Brooks also advises you don't discount the importance of your workplace being a source of social connection, which may not translate if you're working remotely while others are back in an office. Of course, this is also situational to pandemic conditions, as you may be fine with your level of social interactions outside of work through your family, friends, interest groups and so forth.

Bring in other members of your household who may be impacted by your decision to work from home permanently. For example, consider if it will change the dynamic of who takes on household or child-care responsibilities, or if you'll need to share the space with others during the day.

Explain how working remotely benefits both you and the company

When you're framing your pitch, get in the mindset that you and your boss are working on the same team to resolve a joint issue, not that you're simply asking your employer for something you personally need, says negotiations specialist Alexandra Carter.

"Concretely define what problem you're trying to solve and what you need from the company," she says. The problem could be that you're unable to work efficiently when your workday is broken up to pick kids up from school or day care in the afternoon. A solution your company can provide would be the ability to work physically away from the office so you can better allocate your time and focus during the day. When you're more engaged with your work, you can help your team build deeper relationships with important clients, complete more extensive research for a product you're building or be more successful in reaching any number of your goals with the company.

Whatever the case, make sure you do your research so you can back up why the arrangement will be mutually beneficial. Carter breaks down the negotiation formula this way: "Here's my request, and here's how we all benefit. Make sure you tie your ask in a way that is responsive to what the company needs."

Be strategic about making the case for your personal life

In many cases, you'll probably be able to find a business case that supports a personal preference to work from home. For example, while you may personally enjoy no longer having to commute, it actually gives you more free time to handle personal matters, which can enable you to be more focused and productive during work hours.

"Think about what you really want before you make your request," Brooks says. "Then, don't make it just from your own perspective. Make the case for effectiveness, not just personal convenience."

If you're hoping to secure a remote arrangement because you intend to permanently move away from your current location, you should make that known upfront, says Jason Fried, founder and CEO of Basecamp, a project management platform with a globally-distributed remote workforce.

For one, some employers, including Facebook, have a policy to pay their employees market rate based on where they live. That means you could expect a pay cut if you move from a high cost-of-living area with competitive salaries to a mid-sized city with more affordable living.

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Also, you'll have a better outcome if you go into a conversation and involve the other person's input in the decision, rather than going in demanding they accommodate you living somewhere else. Come to the table explaining why find your current work meaningful and you'd like to stay with the company, why it makes sense for your employer to keep you on in a remote capacity, and what you're willing to do to make the arrangement work.

If the decision to move is something that will benefit your household as a collective — such as moving closer to family members who can help provide child care to your young kids — that could also firm up your pitch. Depending on your employer and manager, there may be other scenarios where it's appropriate to bring in personal reasons for your request.

"If there's anything the pandemic has brought home, it's that child care is a fact and people have competing commitments [of work and family] in their lives," Carter says. "I would treat child care in the same way I'd treat it if I had an ill family member. I'm not looking to make my children my boss's issue — they can't homeschool my child for me. But look, my goal is to move this company forward and to this in a way that's sustainable for me and the people I love. And I've come up with a plan to help get us there."

The Columbia Law School professor, negotiation trainer for the United Nations and "Ask for More" author acknowledges she's generally worked with organizations that are supportive of family-friendly policies and understands not everyone is in that position.

To that end, she says, "I recommend people focus on making those concrete proposals: find ways to show that you, as a flex-time employee or someone working from home, can nonetheless make a tremendous impact on the company."

Use recent history as backup that working remotely can be successful

With millions of U.S. office workers logging on remotely these past few months, it's never been easier to make the case to work from home permanently, Fried says. Use your recent successes as proof that you're committed to staying engaged as a worker, even if you're not physically in the office anymore.

While it's one thing to show you've been able to handle remote work for a few months, you'll also want to make sure to address how you plan to continue being committed, productive and successful within your role at the company in the future, says multigenerational workplace expert Candace Steele Flippin.

"Just like any other conversation, you have to make a business case for it," Steele Flippin says. "You want to make sure you demonstrate you're still going to be accountable and responsive. If everyone goes back to the office and you're still remote, show that you'll be just as productive." 

As you build your case for working from home permanently, think about how you'll set goals with your boss, communicate progress and measure outcomes. Doing this research will show you've thought about how to make this temporary situation effective in the long term, and how it can continually be a good thing for your employer. 

Think about how your decision will impact your team

Your own decision to work remotely will impact your coworkers, so be prepared to acknowledge that in your pitch and have solutions for how to handle new challenges that may come up, says Steele Flippin.

Whether you're an individual contributor or a manager, have discussions with the colleagues you interact with to consider their concerns about a blended remote and in-office team, and hear what solutions they have to offer. These group conversations can empower others to take charge of how they want to continue working in the future, help them bring those conversations to managers and build a solution that considers everyone.

"I advise people to advocate for systems rather than individual discretion," Carter says. "Advocate so your entire department could pull together to figure out a schedule that will work for everybody."

Acknowledge it with your manager this way, she says: "I know this is part of a solution we'll all figure out together, and I'm here to work with the team to make sure it works for you and everybody."

If you don't get a 'yes' right away

Generally, "If you're concerned about going back, you should have an honest conversation with your employer," Steele Flippin says. She cites a number of reasons a remote arrangement could accommodated, such as if you have no other option than to take public transportation to get into the office, if you have an underlying health condition or you live in a household with someone at high risk of serious illness.

Otherwise, as with any negotiation, be prepared to compromise and treat the discussion as a jumping off point for further negotiations. Carter recommends you ask your boss what their concerns are, so you can figure out the barriers and address them directly.

For example, maybe your boss is worried about having enough people on-site to lead presentations. You can come to the table showing you've discussed your situation with colleagues and you know a certain number of people intend to remain on location to handle those issues. And, you may have already thought about digital solutions to be able to handle in-person meetings while you're remote.

If your boss is hesitant about making your remote situation permanent while the office reopens, you might suggest a pilot period of staying remote in the first month of transition. If during that time you can prove, through measurable outcomes, that you're just as productive working remotely while others go back to the office, you may be able to extend the arrangement.

Steele Flippin says you can also think of your arrangement in terms of the business's holistic phase-in approach. If they're planning to bring in 30% of the workforce, for example, try making the case that you'll be a part of the team to stay home as a backup resource. Acknowledge that you're willing to make yourself available to take on the work of others if there is another surge of coronavirus cases during reopening.

Whether you get the green light for permanent work-from-home, or you and your boss agree to a trial period, Carter recommends you get the exact agreement in writing. "This way everybody is clear that the arrangement can go forward no matter who the manager is," she says.

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