August 4, 2009
Asking to telecommute in a bad economy
Last week, I mentioned that telecommuting consultant Pat Katepoo of WorkOptions.com was offering a free teleclass on convincing your manager to let you telecommute. In case you missed the class, Katepoo was kind enough to answer a few questions about trying to nab telecommuting privileges in a rotten economy.
Q. Are people successfully negotiating telecommuting arrangements this year, even with the miserable job market?
A. Yes, I'm hearing success stories from people who are asking in the manner I advise. That said, I know that the number of people who are making the request this year has dropped dramatically. There's a culture of fear pervading some workplaces that is keeping people from negotiating flexible work. That's a shame because the request to telecommute can be aligned with the employer's priorities, such as improving employee engagement and productivity.
Q. What if no one in your office has ever telecommuted? Is it wise to ask?
A. That gets a qualified yes. Whether the economy is up or down, it's wise to ask -- but only if you are a reliable, productive employee who presents a detailed professional proposal (in writing) to a manager for whom you've worked at least two years. With those three criteria in place, you have roughly an 80 percent chance of getting your request approved. I'm basing this on my experience with thousands of career professionals since the 1990s. Many of them were the first to telecommute in their organization. They've ended up as pioneers in their office, paving the way for future telecommuters.
Q. Doesn't allowing a trusted employee to work from home actually save the employer money by freeing up desk space at the office?
A. The most compelling payoff for the employer is the big jump in productivity that happens when employees work remotely. Often it's a double-digit percentage increase; without the interruptions and socialization common in the office setting, employees get a lot more done. Large employers with lots of telecommuters also reap the real estate savings.
Q. How many days a week should you ask to telecommute?
A. That decision should be driven by your position's tasks, yet judiciously tempered by the company culture or your boss's management style. In good times, my general advice is to ask for two or three days a week so you have room to negotiate down to one or two days a week to start. Given the current climate, I'm suggesting one day a week and that you build from there over time. That's also a prudent start if you're not sure how well you'll function as a remote worker.
Q. How should you approach your boss?
A. Set a meeting ahead of time. If your boss asks you what the topic is, say it's to discuss a work restructuring that will make you more effective or productive on the job. Provide your boss with a copy of your proposal at the meeting and give him or her several minutes to read it. Then engage in discussion, elicit concerns, reply to objections. In other words, negotiate the terms of your proposal to reach a mutually agreeable arrangement.
Present telecommuting as an employer benefit, even though your motivation for asking is personal. Take a collaborative, problem-solving approach: "Here's my proposed solution to a business challenge. What's your input? How can we make it work? What are your concerns?" Be sure to emphasize the trial period, which is usually three to six months. That makes a big difference in getting approval.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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