“My employer just said no to a post-COVID request to continue to work from home,” lamented the mom of a toddler and an infant. “What should I do?”
This mama of two raised this issue last Friday in the weekly room I host on Clubhouse, and she is not alone in her feelings. (On Clubhouse? Stop by our room called “All Things Maternity Leave & Juggling Work + Baby” on Fridays at 12pm Eastern! The room is hosted by Moms Club, which you can follow to get notifications about it.)
Employers are starting to put into place more concrete plans about re-opening offices. Some are permitting employees to stay remote indefinitely. Some are adopting hybrid models. And others are requiring 100% pre-COVID-era office presence.
“I got a taste of what it’s like to work from home,” this mama sighed. “And I don’t want to go back. I do like my job, though, and don’t want to leave it.”
Her employer says the reason everyone must return is that employees aren’t being innovative when people aren’t together in the office. From this mama’s description, it sounds like this employer’s starting position in making an announcement about return is “everyone back all the time.”
So, what should someone who has been told “no” to working from home post-COVID do?
Put Pen to Paper and Brainstorm Your Post-COVID Life
It’s hard to know what to ask for, if you’re not clear on your requests. You may have a vague sense of “I like working from home.” But that statement isn’t a request. Pull out a fresh Word document or blank sheet of paper, and spend a few minutes dreaming about your post-COVID work life. How much of your work is done from home? How much is in the office? What hours are you working?
Don’t walk into your manager’s (probably virtual) office to start a negotiation without knowing what your ask is.
Start Conversations with Shared Commitments
Projects – and critical conversations – tend to go more smoothly when the various involved parties get on the same page at the beginning. You’re also more likely to set a positive tone for the conversation if you arrive with a positive tone, having thought about what you and your manager both share.
“I want to start by saying how passionate I am about this organization’s commitment to X,” you might begin. “And I know you and I share a commitment to [fill in the blank here – perhaps creative solutions, on-time deliverables…something you and your manager are in fact both committed to.”]
When you begin the conversation this way, you avoid pitting yourself against your manager in a flexibility war.
Ask for Experiments
Yes, I know, the COVID workplace has been one big experiment. And you’d think by now it has proven that many of us can, in fact, work from wherever. Whenever. Under ridiculous circumstances. And still get the job done.
Yet what to do when confronted with people who are eager to get their entire teams back into the office 100% of the time, as soon as possible? Pre-COVID (and I suspect post-COVID as well), requests for flexibility were much better received when they were time-limited. “As we transition back to the office,” you might suggest, “I’d like to request the following schedule for the first 2 months that we are back. I’d be happy to set up a meeting for us to re-visit this topic at the 2 month mark. What do you think?”
It may very well be that the arrangement you experiment with continues indefinitely. Or it may be that you’ve simply bought some time for yourself, and you will need to return to the office 100% after that transition window is over. Regardless, you’ve created a schedule more to your liking for some period of time, and you’ve given your manager a more digestible proposal to consider.
For more advice on how to have conversations about flexible work, see this earlier Mindful Return blog post penned by the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance, Asking for Flex: It’s a Business Negotiation Not a Personal Favor.
It’s Possible to Vote with Your Feet
The mama in the Clubhouse room really didn’t want to leave her employer. They had great benefits, she said, and she really liked her work.
I get it. It’s hard to leave a role. Leaving requires energy (something in short supply right now!), time, work, courage, uncertainty, and (gulp) change. All of which are hard.
And yet. If your employer really digs its heels in against remote work post-COVID, please remember that you have choices in this world. Many of them, actually! You have skills and experiences that are valuable. They didn’t disappear when you became a parent. And yes, it’s very possible to vote with your feet.
If you’re sitting every day in an office building, angry at the system that forced you to be sitting there, I’d wager to say your happiness isn’t what it might otherwise be. Brené Brown’s boundary-setting mantra seems particularly apt here: choose discomfort over resentment. Both in making the ask for flexibility, and in making choices about the future of your career, the decisions we make may not be comfortable. But changes can be worth making.
Post-COVID, the good news is that many, many more employers are and will be open to remote work options. The good ones will realize that retention of great employees and flexible work options now go hand in hand.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave