A Strategy to Stick With Remote Work

Now is the time to bring this up — before the forces of habit return everything to the way it was

Illustration: Justin Cassano

One of the many things this pandemic has revealed: Managers who once insisted that remote work would never work for their organizations were wrong. It can work. It already has.

Whenever this is over, many organizations will just march everyone back to headquarters as soon as possible. But doing so means missing an opportunity to rethink things — and to realize that remote work doesn’t need to be an either/or decision.

Indeed, many people in jobs that allow for it do best working a few days per week in the office and a few days remotely. A Gallup survey published earlier this year found that employees were most engaged when they worked off-site 60% to 80% of the time. This translates to working in the office just one or two days per week.

Interestingly, Gallup reports that these mostly remote workers were “the most likely of all employees to strongly agree that their engagement needs related to development and relationships are being met.” And these folks were also the most likely of all employees to “strongly agree that someone at work cares about them as a person, encourages their development, and has talked to them about their progress.”

It’s not that remote work magically solves all problems. And it certainly adds a different set of challenges. Managers often have to plan workflow and development more mindfully when they can’t just walk across the room to talk to a worker. Teams have to plan in-office days focused on productive collaboration and at-home days on individual deliverables. And, of course, some people crave the bustle and social interaction of the office or don’t have home setups that are conducive to work.

But given the responsibilities that many of us juggle, the hatred many people have for their commutes, and the fact that many people perform better when they’re away from the distractions of an office, changing up policies to allow frequent remote work seems like a win.

How to make remote work happen after the pandemic

If you’d like to keep working from home part-time or full-time, and you suspect that many of your colleagues will too, now is the time to bring this up, before the forces of habit return everything to the way it was. Really think about how you’ve been working these past two months. What’s been successful? What could be improved? What parts of your job did you do better in the office, and which parts were easier to accomplish at home? Talk to your colleagues and ask them the same questions.

There may also be practical considerations. With many schools and daycares still closed, those with young kids may need to keep working from home until that changes. Some may also be wary of crowded elevators or buses.

Once you’ve gathered all the necessary info, come up with a plan that accounts for your team’s workflow and present it to your manager. In general, you’re best off not emphasizing work/life balance. While this is a plus — one study of IBM workers found that people who could work from home sometimes could work much longer hours before they experienced work/family conflict — the rush to virtual work in March didn’t happen because organizations became more enlightened or concerned about employees. It happened because remote work was the only way to stay in business.

So you should focus on the bottom line, too. Be creative. Maybe if teams traded off time in the office, your organization could rent less space. Maybe you can show that when your team was able to work at home, you got through just as much as you did in the office — even with a pandemic raging and parents doing homeschooling. Maybe you were able to meet with more clients because you were doing it by Zoom and not in person, and thus not wasting time on planes.

Odds are your manager is already thinking about this. Few people have the courage to go first, but now that everyone’s lived through a multi-month pilot project, letting people work from home on, say, Wednesdays, probably won’t seem like so big a deal.

And if your boss is resistant? Other organizations are definitely having this conversation. It should come as no surprise that companies that offer remote work as an option tend to have a recruiting edge.

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management books including Off the Clock and 168 Hours. She blogs at LauraVanderkam.com.

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