To say that workers don't like open plan offices is world-scale understatement. After I pointed out last summer that open plan offices were the dumbest management fad of all time, I've received dozens of online high-fives. I can count the number of "I like open plan" responses on two hands and still have a hand left over.
Rather than rehash the multitude of reasons why workers hate open plan, this column explains how to make a case to extract yourself from this noisy and distracting work environment. Here's my take on this:
1. Focus on what's important.
While you may believe strongly that your workplace would be more productive if everyone works from home (probably true), it's too heavy a lift to get your boss to adopt a completely new and probably unfamiliar work environment.
What you want is for YOU to be able to work from home, regardless of whether anyone else gets the perk. This is not being selfish, BTW, because when you're more successful and product with work-from-home, your boss will likely let your coworkers do it too.
2. Be insanely reliable.
For most bosses, the biggest psychological barrier to allowing work-from-home is a lack of trust. Frankly, your boss is afraid that you'll goof off.
Therefore, you need to become the kind of employee who can absolutely be relied upon to their work done on time, with no unpleasant surprises. (Needless to say, this is a smart move on its own merits.)
That doesn't describe you? Well, don't bother asking for the privilege of working from home until you've proven to your boss beyond all doubt that you can be trusted.
3. Plant the seeds.
Your company or boss didn't implement an open plan office just to torture you. No, they undoubtedly thought (wrongly) that you'd be more productive from being in a "collaborative" environment.
It's never a good idea to tell your bosses they've been snookered, so you need to approach the failings of the open plan office more obliquely. Start saying stuff like: "Gee, boss, I'm having trouble getting my work done because it's a bit noisy here. Do you have any suggestions?"
It's not so much that you expect to get useful advice; you're just planting the seeds of the idea that, for you at least, the open plan office is bad for your productivity and not conducive to getting your work done.
4. Start small with local-remote work.
While some bosses might look askance at work-from-home, most bosses are perfectly OK with a worker camping out occasionally at a nearby coffee-shop. That way you're still able to attend staff meetings, and so forth.
As much as possible, tie your positive performance to the fact that you get to work remotely sometimes. This will gradually establish in your boss's mind that you're a better and more useful employee when you're NOT hanging around the office.
5. Write a proposal.
Don't just blurt out that want to work from home. Instead, craft a formal proposal (no more than a page) presenting the advantages--to the boss and to the company--of allowing you to work from home, at least some of the time.
In the proposal, answer any objections that you think your boss might surface.
For example, if your boss likes looking over people's shoulders, promise to send them a set up your home computer so the boss can screen share with you.
Similarly, if your boss might be concerned that you won't be present at as many meetings, show how you can video conference in. Or promise you can make any really necessary meeting if you've got a day or two's notice.
Remember: don't make the proposal about YOU and what YOU want. Yes, you'll benefit big time by working from home, but that's not a selling point. Position everything in such a way that shows how the company and boss benefit. Make it about THEM.
Here are a few previous columns that might help you make your case:
6. Present the proposal formally.
Don't just email the proposal, for two reasons. First, saying "no" by email is a lot easier than saying "no" to your face, and second, the formality of a one-on-one meeting helps ensure that your boss takes your proposal seriously.
Make an appointment. After the social chit-chat, give your boss a copy of your proposal and ask them to read it over without any preconceptions. Then discuss and negotiate as you would with any form of compensation or benefits.
Since you've positioned work-from-home as something that's good for the company and the boss, and you've shown how to overcome potential problems, you shouldn't need to make many (or any) concessions to close the deal.