Would you rather work at an office or at home? If you're like most Americans, your preference for working at home is so strong that you'd be willing to take an average 8 percent pay cut to do it, according to new study by economists at Princeton and Harvard.
That might just be a matter of common sense. Working from home reduces expenses for transportation costs, clothing and/or dry cleaning, lunches, and so on. Add up the savings, and that 8 percent pay cut might not look so bad after all. But there's an even better savings: Time. You may spend 15 minutes traveling each way to and from work, or maybe it's an hour or more if you're unlucky enough to live in a far suburb or traffic-congested city. That's 30 minutes to two hours of wasted time you could reclaim every working day.
The good news is--assuming you have a job that can be done remotely--you probably don't have to volunteer for a pay cut to get there. The reason most bosses veto work from home is fear. They're afraid you'll spend your day watching reality TV or doing a whole other job for a different employer. They worry that they don't know how to lead an employee they don't see in the office every day, and that your performance and theirs will both suffer. They may have had bad experiences in the past managing employees who worked at home. Or they may never have done it all, in which case they're facing a frightening unknown.
Whatever the reason for resistance, your task is to make it seem easy and non-threatening to have you working from home. Here's how:
1. Be great at your job.
Don't even consider asking to work from home if there have been any negative elements to your performance review, you've missed important targets or deadlines, or are in any way having a hard time with your job. Definitely don't propose working from home as a solution to any kind of performance problem.
Conventional wisdom among employers is to only allow the most motivated, high-performing employees to work from home. If that's not how your boss would describe you, then before you ask, spend some time improving your performance.
2. Craft a proposal.
The key to getting to work at home is to put together a well thought out proposal explaining exactly how having you will function while working from home, and how you'll stay in close touch with your team and on top of current projects, priorities, and other essential information. The clearer it is that you've thought through all the contingencies, the more comfortable your boss will be with the idea of you working remotely.
3. Provide some benchmarks.
One of the commonest reasons managers feel queasy at the thought of someone working at home is because they fear they won't be able to tell how hard that person is working. (It's disturbing to think how many managers believe they can tell employees are working hard just because they spend a lot of time at their desks.) In any case, you will need to figure out some specific metrics you plan to hit, in terms of customers contacted, problems solved, sales closed, content written or whatever makes sense for your particular job.
4. Plan a check-in schedule.
One of the biggest drawbacks to working at home is that you don't run into people in the hallway and can't just drop by their offices or have them drop by yours. You need to make up for this lack of casual contact with structured contact. Create a schedule by which you'll check in with your boss and/or other team members at the start or the end of every workday (or both), by email, phone, instant message, video chat, or whatever fits with your team's usual communication style. Plan to share what you've done or plan to do that day at each of these check-ins, and find out what the rest of your team is doing as well. Err on the side of too frequent check-ins rather than too few. It's always easy to start skipping, say, the end-of-the-day call if it proves unnecessary. That's a lot better than having to add more check-ins because needed communication isn't happening.
5. Think about how you'll stay involved with the team.
Your official check-in schedule will keep you up to date on current and future projects and aware of any challenges or changes. But there's another level of communication that typically happens in the workplace, where you talk to your co-workers about kids and vacations and your lives, exchange inside info about what's going on in the company or the industry, and form the personal bonds that will help you get through crunch times. Whether or not this is part of your formal proposal, it's something you should think about as you plan your work-at-home job. You might want to plan to come in for the weekly status meeting, or for after work drinks on Fridays or whatever makes sense for your team.
6. Make sure you have a good work space.
Whether or not your boss asks about this, you should have a good plan for where you will work when you're home, and the dining table is probably not a good option. Ideally you should have a separate room with a door you can close. Failing that it should be someplace where you know you can work undisturbed for several hours at a time. If you don't have that at home, consider another location such as a nearby co-working space or small rental office. If you have small children, you probably still need child care help so that you can focus on work.
7. Start small.
Most bosses will feel less threatened if you start by asking to work at home one day, or even a half-day every week. That small start will give both your boss and you a chance to get used to the arrangement. Once you've shown that you can be productive working at home--perhaps even more so than in the office--you can gradually expand your work-at-home times until you're home more often than you're at work.
8. Ask for a short-term commitment.
Don't ask your boss to say yes to having you work at home forever. Instead, present this as an experiment that you and your boss will evaluate together in three or six months. If that evaluation goes well, you'll continue or perhaps expand your work-at-home schedule. If not, you will return to the office.
With good benchmarks you're committed to hitting, the security of a check-in schedule, and the option to pull the plug if the system isn't working, your boss will have few reasons to deny your request to work at home, and every reason to give it a try.