How to Negotiate to Remote Work From Home

Understand Remote Work Today and Employer-Employee Responsibilities

Flexible work schedules
••• Getty Images/Tara Moore

When your employer reopens its doors to employees, do you plan to ask to continue to work remotely?

Based on the scenario laid out by your employer, see how it affects your desire to request to do remote work from home.

Employees Are Adapting Well to Their Remote Work 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 are less anxious to return to the office.

Some employees may have underlying health conditions that the coronavirus could significantly and adversely affect. Other employees, meanwhile, are simply enjoying and thriving while 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 750,00 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%.

Employees with families have had over a year to perfect the details of how to work successfully 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 children's schools are not reopening. But positively, managers and employees may have discovered the effectiveness of remote work from home.

In a study conducted by people-management platform Reflektive, 34% of employees anticipated that work-life will be business-as-usual for months ahead.

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, it has 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 its 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 it must make exceptions to its order for employees to return to the workplace.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) allows an employee to ask for a work-from-home accommodation under certain circumstances.

However, "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 or place-of-care closures, or child care unavailability related to COVID-19 for up to 12 weeks.

Under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA), employers were required to provide up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for employees who could not work due to a COVID-19 diagnosis or quarantine. Under the Expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act (Expanded FMLA), workers were entitled to certain paid family and medical leave, such as caring for a family member with COVID-19 or a child whose care facility was closed to due to COVID-19. This leave was no longer mandatory after December 31, 2020, but employers can still receive tax credits to offset the cost of this leave if they provide it.

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 work remotely 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 Work Remotely 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 illness? 
  • Do you have people at home whom you need to protect, such as aging parents?

The better you make your case to work remotely 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 Working from Home Will Benefit Your Employer

Once you’ve created your plan for what you want to negotiate, ask yourself how accommodating your needs will benefit your employer.

For example, maybe you’ve been working from home for three months, and it has had a positive impact 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 manage work-life balance better, 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 public health crisis.

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 additional 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 work remotely 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 might offer. You also need to be prepared to offer the employer an actual set trial work-from-home period of time to prove that you can effectively perform your job by 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 potential points 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 function successfully. You need to make sure that your employer believes you are working and contributing to its best interests. Find ways to measure and publicize the success of the arrangement.
  • You need to ensure that communication with coworkers and customers is as successful as it was before the work-from-home arrangement. Measure your results, and communicate them. Keep in touch. Attend your weekly meetings.

The Bottom Line

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