As more and more companies announce their return-to-work policies, many employees are pushing back. For example, after Apple announced its new hybrid work model requiring employees to return to the office three days a week starting in September, many Apple employees said they’d quit if Apple doesn’t change its stance (and let them work remotely full time and/or push back their hybrid start date). In addition, according to a recent poll of 1,000 U.S. adults by Morning Consult on behalf of Bloomberg, 39 percent said they’d consider quitting their jobs if their employers weren’t flexible about remote work. Countless other studies, such as a recent one by Hibob, have found that work flexibility was a priority for a vast majority of respondents.
In other words, if you’re looking to keep much or all of your WFH days post-Covid, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, the reality is that many companies want employees to return to the office—whether it’s because companies are spending a lot on their office leases, they feel it’s important for company culture, they’re afraid of change, or they believe in-office work improves performance.
So, what can you do if you’ve come to enjoy working from home but this perk is now in danger of being taken away? How do you ask for this benefit if your company expects you to return to work? Here are some tips on how to negotiate a work-from-home or hybrid schedule with your manager or employer.
1. Consider whom you’re trying to influence
The first thing you need to do is determine whom you’re negotiating with and trying to influence. Is it human resources? Your boss? Your boss’s boss? If you’re discussing it with HR, consider getting a temperature check with your boss first. Your boss may help you potentially influence another department or, at least, substantiate the reasons for a hybrid or work-from-home schedule.
2. Script your argument ahead of time
Often, negotiations are tied to emotions, especially when you’re arguing for something that has a significant impact on your daily life. It’s impossible not be emotional. However, you can control what you do or say in these emotional states if you prepare for them. This is why it’s critical for you to script out different scenarios to see how you’ll respond if the argument goes in your favor or against. By doing so, you’ll avoid any rash decisions or responses.
Most people intuitively will include examples of how they’ve excelled while working remotely in the past. However, your script should go beyond that. Don’t forget to include questions, which will ensure you’re having a two-way conversation. And don’t forget to prepare your optimal responses to objections you might anticipate getting from the other side.
3. Understand the big picture and the other side’s point of view
When scripting your argument, it’s critical that you understand the big picture and the other side’s point of view. Empathy (the ability to understand other people’s perspective) and the ability to change the way you communicate based on how a conversation is going are two of the most important skills you can develop—and two of the most impactful ways to improve your negotiation and persuasion performance.
Think about how different a conversation goes if, rather than immediately asking for four days a week of remote work, you first share the many reasons that you believe the company values office time—such as collaboration, productivity, interpersonal connections, face-to-face communication, and culture. Then, you explain why your proposal might be able to balance your objectives with those of the organization.
Similarly, it’s reasonable to expect questions around precedent (i.e. “If we accept your proposal, what do we do with everyone else that asks to permanently work remotely?”). Thus, any good script should prepare answers to these types of questions as well.
In addition, do your best to work through these conversations in the richest medium possible. If you can have them in person, great. If not, at least have them on a video conference platform. Seeing the other person can help you to communicate more sensitively and better understand the other side’s point of view—and vice versa. Conversations like this (which are complex and have important consequences) are always best done within the richest mediums possible.
4. Negotiate more than just one item at a time
Remember that negotiating over one topic can quickly become a zero-sum game. So, try to negotiate over several topics—number of days, days of the week, specific hours, upcoming promotions, other benefits, etc. This allows you to work collaboratively to come up with a solution that works for both parties, as it’s highly unlikely that both parties will have the same priorities. You might care more about which days of the week you work remotely, while the company may care more about how many days it is—and this allows for a win-win solution.
A final note
If the steps above aren’t enough to convince your employer or boss, don’t give up. Table the conversation to a later date. But, make sure that if you table it, you’re specific about when you’ll pick it back up—otherwise, it can quickly fall into the “it’s not the right time to bring it back up” trap, which may never end.
Remember, companies understand the importance of employee satisfaction. They know that many other organizations have moved to permanent work-from-home or hybrid structures. And they realize that many employees value flexibility. But it can take time for companies to make significant changes, so be patient and stick with it!
Andres Lares is the managing partner of Shapiro Negotiations Institute, which provides negotiation, influence, and sales training to top companies like Bank of America, Boeing, Bristol-Myers Squibb, ESPN, and Verizon. He is also the co-author of Persuade: The 4-Step Process to Influence People and Decisions.