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Negotiating your return to the office

Written by: Marc Schultz
Published on: Jul 26, 2023

return to office bike

(Image: Luis Álvarez)

Across the U.S., employers are calling their people back to the office. If you’ve spent the last few years working from home, chances are good that you’re standing by for (or at least on the lookout for) your organization’s own return-to-office plans.

Chances are also good – at least according to recent research – that you’re not particularly enthusiastic to be back in an office. After all, those working from home since the start of the pandemic have proven themselves capable of maintaining productivity while out of the office, and reaped a number of other benefits in terms of mental health, work-life balance, extra time for caretaking, and other “wellness” factors. Even if you’re eager to get back to the camaraderie and routine of in-person work, you may not be up for a full five-day-a-week commitment. And everyone can agree that the costs of a commute – in terms of time, money, and energy – are not insignificant.

So how do you advocate for a return-to-office plan that works for you? We’ve gathered tips from several reliable sources to help you define your needs, pitch them to your manager, and stand firm in your decisions.

Defining your needs

Writing for Atlassian, Executive Coach Patricia Omoqui presents a list of questions to ask in order to better understand what you want. She suggests writing down the answers to the following questions “without too much thinking.”

  • What do I need?
  • What do I want?
  • What do I feel?
  • Why do I feel the way I do about this situation?

After you answer those preliminary questions, Omoqui suggests writing out your “ideal work situation” in response to this final question: “What circumstances do you know you need to be the best, most productive worker possible in this return-to-work scenario, while also keeping yourself and your loved ones happy as well?” This ideal scenario could very well take the form of a hybrid work schedule, a more flexible approach to the workday (ie, something besides the 9-to-5 standard), or a combination of the two.

One big factor to consider: the cost in dollars of a return to the office. Research reported on by Yahoo Finance found that workers who commute must spend twice as much as those working from home – an average of $863 a month versus $432 – to cover expenses like fuel and parking, public transit, child care, meals, and other incidentals. This research makes the case for an increase in pay for returning to the office, perhaps in the form of a commuting stipend.

Making your pitch

Articles in Harvard Business Review (HBR) and Bloomberg provide a helpful framework for taking your case to your manager. Both advise seeing things from the boss’s point-of-view and building from there. Speaking to HBR, flexible working consultant Karen Mattison points out that managers are also experiencing a heavy stress load in this transition, while Bloomberg suggests you “figure out what individual supervisors value most – and what they could do without – and factor that into the proposal.”

If working from home is part of your ideal work situation, focus on the reasons that working remotely has benefited the company. Per Bloomberg, prepare for the conversation by putting together a list of “productivity gains, accomplishments, and other relevant benefits you’ve achieved” while working remotely. Mattison urges you to frame your pitch as a “proposed solution,” rather than a “wishlist of your needs.” Lean into the trust you’ve built with your manager and try to craft a “win-win” scenario.

Standing firm

Try to make it as easy as possible for your manager to accept your proposal – but without giving up on what you need. “Know where you are willing to compromise and where your dealbreakers lie,” says Mattison. If your manager is unwilling to sign on to your proposed plan, see if they will consider it on a trial basis. Bloomberg suggests giving them “a concrete timeline and clear goals and metrics for what success looks like.”

It’s also possible that your manager will be unable to accept your proposal due to the powers that be. In that case, you’ll want to explore your options elsewhere. You’ll be able to find remote and hybrid-schedule listings here on Work for Good by entering the term “Working from home” in the “Location” field when searching job listings. Be sure, however, to make your expectations clear as you move through the application process, and ask explicit questions about workplace policy both in the short-term and the long-term.

Marc Schultz is communications editor at Work for Good.

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