WFH or Return to Office? How to Fight for the Work Week You Want (and Need)

WFH or Return to Office? How to Fight for the Work Week You Want (and Need)


Working remotely throughout the pandemic meant a sudden shift for many individuals, but in terms of corporate trends, telecommuting has been a reality-in-the-making for more than a decade. Just between 2005 and 2018, the U.S. saw a 173% increase in remote work. (We even wrote about it in a 2019 newsletter for Foremers!)

Still, as offices gradually reopen and welcome teams back into mutual space, the question remains: which environment helped you do your best work?

Whether you can’t wait to get back to the office or you’re #ZoomforLife, if your preference conflicts with the plans of your org, here are a few tips to defend the environment that will help you provide maximum value to the team.

What’s the Consensus?

What’s the Consensus?

As per a recent McKinsey study, surveys suggest that two-thirds of employers have either refrained from communicating forthcoming office strategies, or have only done so with vague resolution.

For you, this may feel incredibly frustrating, but…it also means there are active conversations happening around the topic. In other words, this is prime time to talk to your manager about what works (and what doesn’t) for you in your current workspace.

Whether your org has communicated a clear work from home policy or not, if you feel strongly one way or another, it’s best you come to the conversation prepared for proper negotiation.

(Business-First) Numbers Speak Volumes

(Business-First) Numbers Speak Volumes

Debating 101: back up your argument with raw data. 

If you can build numbers behind your case, you stake a clear advantage over any subjective reasoning you might face from the other side. Coming prepared with data also demonstrates to your manager that you’re thinking critically about the longevity and efficiency of your role within the company, rather than just making an emotional plea.

Lucky for you: given the extreme shift in workplace dynamics post-2020, there are statistics abound on this topic… but not just any numbers will do.

The debate around remote work affects the entire corporate structure, and if you approach your argument from a singular point of view (i.e., “I could save between $2,500 and $4,000 per year if I telecommute part-time) you’ll have far less of an impact than taking a business-minded stance.

Consider first which work environment affects your preferences and productivity, but anchor your self advocacy in terms of making or saving money for the company.

For instance…

If you notice you’re thriving in the work from home  model, you could connect your positive experience to something like burnout, which costs companies thousands per year.

“I know there’s discussion about returning to the office, but I wanted to relay to you how much working remotely renewed my interest in my work. I’m able to spend a lot more time with my family, which keeps me energized throughout the day. It turns out companies with remote work policies have a 25% lower turnover rate, which I thought you’d be interested to know, as attrition could cost the org upwards of 50% of the lost employee’s salary…”

On the flipside, if your office is long-gone and the thought of permanent remote work has you sweating, it’s important to communicate that to your manager as well. Use the same model to lay out your argument.

For example…

“I’ve noticed my day tends to extend longer than when we were in-office full time, which is compromising my work/life balance. I did some research and it turns out that during the pandemic, the average employee worked an extra 26 hours monthly once we shifted remote. I know there are benefits to telecommuting, but having a set frame of “online” hours would be highly beneficial for us as an org to prevent burnout.”

Pro-tip: if you’re working longer while remote, this may also be grounds to negotiate for a raise.

Calculate the amount of extra hours you’re clocking now compared to pre-pandemic, and account for that in your salary request. Even employers allowing part-time telecommuting are saving an average of $11,000 annually… it’s likely they have some wiggle room with your pay.

Company Culture Matters

Company Culture Matters 

From the corporate perspective, one of the most prevailing push backs against working from home is the importance of company culture.

While a cohesive workplace is certainly important, going remote doesn’t necessarily mean disconnecting from teammates. In fact, the key to building positive company culture is ensuring that employees’ needs and values are respected.

If you suspect you might not be the only one in the office with a dissenting view of a return to office or work from home game plan, connect with your peers and approach the discussion as an org-wide defense.

At the end of the day, your employer needs you to enjoy your job, and if the resounding majority of your office would be negatively affected by a major decision, it will only benefit management to know the scale of impact ahead of time. Send around a survey to get a pulse on the office consensus (how will everyone’s core needs be affected by the new/proposed work environment?) and use the results to back up your argument.

If you work for a mission-driven org, you might also have grounds to contest how the corporate decision conflicts with team values. For instance, Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics, attests that “there is no easier, quicker, and cheaper way to reduce your carbon footprint than by reducing commuter travel.” If sustainability is one of your core values as an org, this is the sort of data that could help you argue for full time telecommuting.

Bottom line: physical distance isn’t the threat to company culture… a disconnection of values and respect for employees’ needs is what disrupts a positive, cohesive workplace.

We can probably all agree… after-hours team building at the office is an unwelcome Band-Aid in lieu of more meaningful gestures that support sustained happiness (like a flexible WFH option or a commuter/child care stipend).

Be Mindful, Be Flexible

Be Mindful, Be Flexible

The intensity of 2020 caused a lot of employers to rush into previously untested models of productivity; some nailed it, others did not.

If you approach the discussion critically and with empathy for the entire team — i.e., collaborate with your manager from a place of reflection — you’re more likely to walk away with a favorable solution.

Be mindful of the needs of your specific org in tandem with your own personal performance, and as with any negotiation, come prepared for flexibility.

Full-time work from home could be great in theory, but there might need to be a discussion about limiting meetings and Zoom calls to prevent tech drain, or remitting stipends for proper home office set-ups. The hybrid work model is also gaining traction as a popular post-quarantine compromise, especially for certain industries that require hands-on development or in-person client relationship building.

Key point:

Self advocacy at its best is effectively articulating your worth and your contribution to your org, in favor of a work week that serves your best interests. Your environment plays a huge role in how you’re creative, productive, and collaborative; as with all facets of your role, you need to be mindful about the elements of WFH or in-office work that influence your happiness and efficiency.

If you can defend your optimum environment with data and from a place of org-wide empathy (financially or culturally), you can only stand to benefit from opening up the negotiation with your manager.

After all, it can be hard to understand each individual’s needs from a top-down perspective. Your manager will never know what works best for you (and why) unless you tell her.