How to Negotiate to Remote Work From Home During COVID-19

Understand Remote Work Today and Employer-Employee Responsibilities

Flexible work schedules
••• Getty Images/Tara Moore

When your employer reopens their doors to employees, do you have plans about asking to do remote work from home or continuing to work remotely, depending on your current circumstances? Take a look at the scenario that the COVID-19 pandemic has created for employees and their employers. See how it affects your desire to request to do remote work from home.

Employees Are Adapting Well to Their Remote Work From Home Situations

As employers begin to slowly reopen their physical work locations, some may find that their employees are getting more comfortable with their remote work-from-home situations and less anxious to return to the office. Some employees may have underlying health conditions that coronavirus could significantly and adversely affect. Other employees, meanwhile, are simply enjoying and thriving working alone in their home offices, becoming meeting pros, achieving some sense of work-life balance, and increasing their productivity in the process. 

In fact, according to employee survey and people analytics platform Perceptyx, just 4% of employees want to return to the workplace to work full-time. This figure marks a considerable drop from the 33% who wanted to return to the office in early April 2020. (The responses were gathered from over 750K employees from over 100 enterprises worldwide that represent every major industry.)

The percentage of positive responses the company received to “my remote work environment enables me to work productively” has shifted during the same time period from 86% to nearly 100%. When employees have families, they have had a few months to work out the details about how to successfully work even with the distraction that children and a significant other may bring. In essence, they are in no hurry to change their new approach to working.

In some cases, the family’s options for child care may be unavailable either because elderly parents are vulnerable or daycare centers may not have reopened. In other cases, the schools for their children are not reopening. The ongoing impact of COVID-19 is also unpredictable. And positively, managers and employees may have discovered the effectiveness of remote work from home.

However, in a study conducted by people management platform Reflektive, 34% of employees anticipate that work-life will be business, as usual, six months from now. Seventy-nine percent, meanwhile, believe their company has taken the appropriate measures to address the current situation and provide employees with peace of mind.

The Rights of Employers to Ask Employees to Return to the Office

Employers have control over the work location and environment they provide for employees. They have the right to tell employees that the office has reopened for work on a particular date. If an employer has taken preventive action, they have the right to fire, or at least not pay, an employee who refuses to return to work. Keep in mind, though, that it is also within the rights of an employee to demand a safe work environment. If the employer does not take adequate steps to ensure the safety of their employees, then an employee may continue to do remote work from home. 

Regardless of an employer’s rights, however, certain laws and regulations govern whether they must make exceptions to their order for employees to return to work.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) allows an employee to ask for a work from home accommodation under certain circumstances. However, note: “The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has advised that employers excluding employees from the workplace on the basis of age are in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. However, certain state and local sick leave laws may require an employer to reasonably accommodate an employee who requests an accommodation for COVID-19 reasons based on age.” 

Under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees, employees have two opportunities to take leave time. An employee can use emergency paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave for school, place-of-care closures, or child care unavailability related to COVID-19 for up to 12 weeks.

How to Ask to Continue to Work Remotely

Global Workplace Analytics estimates that 56% of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is compatible (at least partially) with remote work. According to the company, “Gallup data from 2016 shows that 43% of the workforce works at home at least some of the time. Our prediction is that the longer people are required to work at home, the greater the adoption we will see when the dust settles. Our best estimate is that we will see 25%-30% of the workforce working at home on a multiple-days-a-week basis by the end of 2021.”

So, if you’re asking to continue remote work from home, the odds are in your favor if you approach the negotiation with serious preparation and positive intent. Your results must be a win for both your employer and you.

Make a Plan to Request to Remote Work From Home

You don’t want to undermine your chances when you go to your manager with your request, so a plan is essential. Think about what you want to negotiate. There are also several questions you should ask yourself: 

  • Do you want to work in the office a couple of days a week just for the core business hours daily, or do you want to work completely remotely?
  • Do you have reasons related to the ADA or the FFCRA? 
  • Are you sincerely concerned about your health for any reason such as a pre-existing condition that makes you more susceptible to the coronavirus? 
  • Do you have people at home that you need to protect such as aging parents?

The better you make your case to remote work from home, the more likely your employer will grant your request. You can negotiate with a reasonable employer. Others live in fear of lawsuits, so regard equitable treatment as a must. Keep in mind that the employer’s decision about your case may set a precedent for your workplace. The wise employer handles each request fairly and on its own merits.

How Your Work From Home Will Benefit Your Employer

Once you’ve created your plan for what you want to negotiate, ask yourself how your needs will benefit your employer. For example, you’ve been working from home for three months and this is the impact that the remote work from home has had on your productivity, quality, and sales. (You’ve been keeping track, right? If not begin to pull together some numbers.)

Tell your employer how you’ve been able to better manage work-life balance, as you now have more space to handle workflow schedule and important meetings while accommodating caregiving responsibilities and family time—which is especially important during a pandemic. If applicable, mention that you have a significant other who is also working from home and will make certain you can focus on your professional duties. Point out that you will be able to work on your job goals for an extra two hours a day if you eliminate the need to get ready and commute to the office. Finally, note to your employer that they will not need to provide space for you in the office, which will help them accommodate the needs of other employees for safety. 

Gather all of this information together, make notes, and get ready to make your case.

Negotiate With Your Manager

Assuming you have created a viable plan that benefits both you and your employer, set up a meeting with your manager. Keep in mind that your manager has the responsibility to carry out any existing company policy and to ensure fairness and consistency across his or her department and other company departments. When you negotiate to continue remote work from home, you are not the only consideration. You have legitimate reasons to work from home, and so might other employees.

You need to be flexible and willing to listen to what the employer offers. You also need to be prepared to offer the employer an actual set trial work from home period of time to prove you can effectively perform your job working remotely. Assuming that your case is compelling whether legally, ethically, or compassionately, thank your employer for allowing you to continue to work remotely.

Reach Agreements to Ensure Your Success Working Remotely

At this meeting, you should also agree on several factors.

  • The duration of the remote work before the option is re-evaluated.
  • Communication standards, goal achievement assessment, performance evaluation markers, assessment of success, teamwork with colleagues, and ways to evaluate ongoing success with your manager, customers, and coworkers are all possibilities for agreement.
  • Especially important is the feedback loop you establish with your manager so that their concerns are addressed in a timely manner. Your manager needs to be able to defend and support your remote work schedule in your work community. A remote work schedule can work successfully. You need to make sure that your employer believes you are working and contributing to their best interests. Find ways to measure and publicize the success of the arrangement.
  • You need to assure that communication with coworkers and customers is as successful as before the remote work-from-home arrangement. Measure your results. Communicate results. Keep in touch. Attend your weekly meetings.

The Bottom Line

Whether your reasons are legally, ethically, or just compassionately supported, this is the information you need to negotiate to continue remote work from home. Your potential for increased productivity and morale in doing so could ultimately prove beneficial for you and your employer. 

Article Sources

  1. Pwc. "When everyone can work from home, what’s the office for?" Accessed Aug. 7, 2020. 

  2.  McKinsey. "Reimagining the office and work life after COVID-19." Page 2. Accessed Aug. 7, 2020.

  3. Perceptyx. “As Employees Become More Productive Working From Home, They Are Less Likely To Want To Return To The Physical Workplace After COVID-19.” Accessed Aug. 7, 2020. 

  4. Reflektive. “2020 Performance Management Benchmark Report.” Page 29. Accessed Aug. 7, 2020. 

  5. The National Law Review. "Can Employees Refuse to Return to Work Because of COVID-19?" Accessed Aug. 7, 2020. 

  6. The National Law Review. "Reopening the Economy in the Midst of COVID-19: What Happens If an Employee Refuses to Return to Work?" Accessed Aug. 7, 2020. 

  7. United States Department of Labor, OSHA. "Workers' Right to Refuse Dangerous Work." Accessed Aug. 7, 2020. 

  8. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws." Accessed Aug. 7, 2020. 

  9. SHRM. “4 COVID-19 Legal Questions You Should Answer.” Accessed Aug. 7, 2020. 

  10. U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division. "Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Employee Paid Leave Rights." Accessed Aug. 7, 2020. 

  11. Global Workplace Analytics. “Work-At-Home After Covid-19—Our Forecast.” Accessed Aug. 7, 2020.