how can I get my boss to let me work from home?

A reader writes:

I’d like your advice on talking points when asking my boss about the ability to work from home once a week. I work on a very small team at a very large company. There are usually just three of us from my department in the office on a given day. My boss travels frequently, and is probably in the office only 50% of the time. I have one junior colleague, and often the two of us are the only ones on our team here.

As a whole, my company is very supportive of working from home. However, the official policy states that it’s up to each department on what their team does, and my boss is generally not for it. My job functions do not require me to be in the office, and on the occasions that I do work from home (sick, home maintenance, weather, etc.) I am just as productive, if not more, than I am in the office. I don’t have any really compelling reasons to NEED to work from home, I just enjoy the quiet and comfort of getting to be in my house.

I’ve asked him a few times about my working from home on a regular schedule, as many of our colleagues on other teams do, but each time he brushes my question off rather than answer it. On the rare instance that I do NEED to be home, he gives a begrudging okay, and asks why I don’t just take PTO instead. I think he doubts the ability to put in a full day of work at home because he has a family and many pets and household duties that (admittedly) really distract him, whereas I live alone and can actually focus on work. I also suspect that he worries my junior colleague will then ask for the same privilege on the basis that I was given it. For the record, I’m a high performing, reliable, long term employee. I have gotten great reviews, and other than the stated reasons above, I can think of no reasons that my boss wouldn’t trust me.

What can I say to him to convince him to let me give it a shot?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 111 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Dislike Names

    I’m a full time remote worker, but have in the past worked at a company that had similar reactions to working from home. It didn’t help that lots of people took advantage of it.

    In addition to Allison’s advice, I wonder if you can also make sure that if your company has an instant messaging app (like skype/lync, or slack, or google hangouts) you are always showing as “available” and are interacting with your boss on a fairly regular basis so he can see that you’re engaged, paying attention, and not distracted.

    I do think the OP hit the nail on the head though with the observation that bosses often don’t let their reports work from home if they themselves can’t be trusted to do so – they project this onto others. That totally gets under my skin!

    Reply
    1. De Minimis

      We have several permanent remote staff here, and we use both Slack and Google Hangouts. I know on my end [non-remote person] I’ve never noticed that the remote staff to be any less available than those of us in the office.

      Reply
    2. Not The Droid You Are Looking For

      Managing remote employees was a huge struggle for me for the first couple of months because I am not productive at home…and as the head of a creative department, I really see the value in face time.

      However, I was walking into a situation where these employees were already hired as remote workers so I was stuck with making it work. There were definitely bumps where I had to step back and ask if I would monitor an employee in their cube in the same way, but it really helped me understand that this was my issue not an issue with working from home.

      Reply
    3. NZ Muse

      YES! The only time I’ve been met with reluctance re: WFH from a higher up was when that manager was not a person who could be productive at home. (OTOH, I am wayyy more productive out of the office, and many previous bosses have been the same way and understood!)

      Reply
    4. Vicki

      At one job, the manager was OK with people working from home one day a week, but never on Friday because, in his words, “Three day weekend! No Way”.

      I think many of these bad managers conflate the way _they_ would work from home with the way others would work from home.

      Reply
  2. Electric Hedgehog

    You know, I’ve seen good instances and bad instances of the work from home arrangement. If it’s good, it’s really really good for the employer – employees work extra hours and are every bit as productive and available. If it’s bad, I swear you can never get ahold of the employee when you need them and their work is generally shoddy. But then again, those coworkers were not great at their jobs anyway, so I doubt it was just the proximity to the office that was making them suck.

    Reply
    1. Dislike Names

      As a full time remote contractor, I can say that it does take some investment in learning HOW to work from home successfully, too. Some people I’ve worked with in the past were great workers at the office and fell apart at home. It might behoove companies to not only provide guidelines for working from home (like being responsive, letting people know if you will be away from your computer for longer than x minutes, etc) but also tips on working effectively.

      I find that I need a quiet space, a desk, a second monitor, a good lamp, and to always wear shoes. I can’t work properly without shoes – it’s like my mental switch from “home” mode to “work” mode. Not everyone needs the same things, but everyone typically needs to find a way to create boundaries.

      If more companies were to help their WFH workers learn to WFH effectively, I bet the bad instances would definitely suss out the actual bad workers.

      Reply
      1. Rex

        Right, this. For me, it’s a matter of changing my clothes into “work clothes”. If I’m in my pajamas, I’m in home mode.

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        1. Koko

          Yes! I dress a lot more casually when working at home than I do when going into the office, but it’s acceptable clothing to be seen wearing outside of the house. If I never change out of my pajama shirt I have a hard time staying in “work mode.”

          I also found that I really needed to set daily goals when I’m at home. I’ve structured my work schedule so that I try to take all my meetings in the afternoon when I’m in the office, smaller tasks in the morning at the office, and reserve my remote working days for hours of uninterrupted concentration on big projects that require it. Because of that, when I’m in the office I’m constantly switching gears and crossing things off my list and stopping to confer with or help other people, and it’s hard to *not* get a lot done, so there’s no real need for me to set daily goals – I just work my way through my weekly ones.

          But at home, because I’ve allotted myself such generous amounts of times to work on one single thing, it’s easy to end up spending *too much* time on something and not realize how much time is slipping away unless I consciously set goals to have completed by lunchtime, by day end, etc.

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          1. Amber T

            Lol my friend works from home once a week (and whenever there’s bad weather, or he has a doctors appointment, or something similar – his employer seems very flexible). He has his “home pajamas,” which is whatever he sleeps in, and his “work pajamas,” which are still comfortable clothes, but just the act of changing clothes helps put him in work mode.

            I’m not convinced that I’m a good work from home person. There were a few instances this winter where our office shut, but we were expected to work from home. Granted, I could only do about 50% of my work not in the office, but I admit to having my pjs on with reruns of Parks and Rec running in the background.

            Reply
        2. esra

          This was my work from home rule, and it served me very well over the years.

          While working from home, you must do two of:
          1. Shower
          2. Put on a bra
          3. Put on an outfit that you wouldn’t be ashamed if you bumped into an ex at the grocery store while wearing it.

          Reply
            1. esra

              It seriously changed my wfh life.

              When people ask me how I wfh for so many years, I’m like, you need to stick to your rules. If I was sitting there in my jammies, dirty, with no bra on, there was no way a lick of work was getting done.

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              1. NPO Queen

                I would rather wear pants any day over putting on a bra. IDK what it is, it changes my thinking but is still something I hate doing.

                I get to work from home so rarely that I always stand when I do it. I have one of those squishy mats in my kitchen and I just put my laptop on my counter and go to work. The moment I sit down, at home or at the office, I’m at least 10% less productive.

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            1. JaneB

              Putting a bra on is a good sign of work time for me – but I have big boobs so its noticeable to me (and my back!) if I computer bra-less. Putting on a bra under pyjamas ? Still work time!!

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          1. sam

            Yeah – I’m not a fan of working from home*, but when I’ve had to do it because of weather or construction at the office or other random reasons, getting “dressed for work” made a huge difference.

            *for myself! I may have mentioned before that my “lovely” cat screams her head off whenever I’m on the phone, to the point where i have had to apologize on conference calls for it sounding like someone’s torturing her in the background while I’m trying to speak. She really hates not being the center of attention.

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        3. Jessesgirl72

          I get that some people need that, but others don’t.

          I sat down at my desk this morning at about 6:30am and started answering some emails. At 8:30, I paused to use the bathroom and gave the insulin shot to the dog (which takes up way less time than listening to Jane go on about what happened on TV last night, as I get a drink from the break room) Then I went on merrily putting out fires until I was alerted to the time by the Admin saying she’d have to wait to answer a question I had for the boss until he got back from lunch. Then it was “Oh yeah, I should really get dressed and get my own lunch”- which I did after sending two more emails, 30 minutes later.

          Even pets and laundry are way less disruptive to my work flow than Fergus and Jane, and even without pants, I was extremely productive for 6 hours- and don’t think the pants now make me more so!

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          1. the gold digger

            Me neither, Jessesgirl72. I gave up and got out of bed at 6:19 (alarm set for 6:30 but cats were awake and demanding attention), heated coffee, and got ready for a 7 a.m. meeting. I worked most of the morning in my PJs and robe, then switched to gym clothes. No shower. No bra. Tennies, but only because I had to go outside to get the cat.

            I have gotten a ton of work done because there have been almost no interruptions (except the cats).

            Reply
          2. Vicki

            Same here. At home I have three (large) screens, the right height desk, and no noisy co-workers talking nearby.

            At LastJob, my cubicle was between two hallways, equidistant from the breakroom and the stairs/elevator lobby. I can tell you about the co-worker whose parents forbade sugary cereal, so now all he eats is Fruity Pebbles. But getting work done? I gave up being productive on in-the-office days and set up as many meetings as possible for those.

            Reply
      2. Bob

        I’ve never understood how some people can just grab their laptop and sit at their dining room table or on the couch for hours. That would drive me crazy. I need a desk with a decent-sized monitor (preferably dual monitors). I was given a docking station with my work laptop so I waited until I found a deal (>$150) on a big monitor and just bought my own. Some people won’t spend a dime on work-related equipment but that investment paid off instantly in my book.

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        1. nonegiven

          My son wired his entire house. He can leave the work laptop on the desk upstairs and use wireless keyboard/mouse with his TV and work from his recliner downstairs if he wants to.

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        2. SusanIvanova

          I broke my ankle two years ago and when I got the doctor’s note to let me go back to work, it said I “could work from home”. I don’t know whether the doc meant it as “this is a valid option”, but my company decided it meant *only* from home. Noooooo! At work I had a setup that would make Tony Stark drool – 4 computers, 5 monitors, with some sharing so the main computer used 3 screens and others used 1 or 2. At home – a single 12″ screen to connect to all that. Like looking through a telescope the wrong way, it just wasn’t happening.

          The doctor had no problem revising the note. Whew!

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      3. Electric Hedgehog

        Completely agree. But I guess my point was that if a work from home situation is to be successful, both the boss and the employee need to really evaluate the employee’s strengths and weaknesses to determine whether they will be capable of handling their work without immediate supervision, with potentially large amounts of distraction, dependence on communication methods that don’t allow for facial context, performance more dependent on deliverables than face time, etc…

        Plus, there needs to be contingency plans in place to make sure that the employee knows what to do if the internet or VPN stops working, if there’s client or group meetings, if they need to come print stuff out, etc. so there’s no resentment or bitterness on the employee’s part if they’re called back into the office.

        Everyone should be really honest with themselves to determine whether it’s a good idea for the person and the role.

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      4. BRR

        This took me a long time to figure out. I have a super long commute and an open office so getting to work from home is essential but I had never worked from home.

        Reply
  3. LiveAndLetDie

    I have a team of part-time employees who were recently given parity with the full-timers on the work-from-home front; everyone gets one day of WFH a week. Now that they’ve gotten one day a week, there are a few who want it to expand further than that, which the company is not willing to give–in large part because the biggest bosses very strongly value team building and culture, and feel that people being remote all the time detracts from the atmosphere they want here at work.

    I would advise the OP against pushing TOO hard if they get a no repeatedly. After a while, it starts to irritate not only the direct supervisor who has to hear the request they know is not going to go through (again), but the higher-ups start pushing back on “why is this person not hearing the answer I have already given repeatedly?” Tread carefully, and know when to stop. Your reasons may be sound from the “can I get the work done” perspective, but if the boss isn’t going to budge, it’s going to reflect poorly on you if you bring it up repeatedly.

    Reply
    1. BRR

      That’s a really good point. I do think the LW should try what Alison suggests but if they get a no after discussing it this directly I wouldn’t push it. It sucks but not every decision is the right one.

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    2. Gilmore67

      Yes I agree about pushing the matter.

      Regardless on whether anybody thinks the boss is being too rigid on this, he is the boss. And although this might be a good perk for the OP, the OP stated it it not needed only a want. That maybe just not compelling enough for the manager. He might just be so black and white on things that ” just wanting to” doesn’t ring right with him to allow it.

      I mean, I don’t know….. the boss is saying no. Sure have a conversation with him like advised but I really would just drop it if he says no.

      Maybe even say something about ” if there is a reason that is making you hesitate maybe I can answer that for you..” and hopefully he can state more clearly what he has an issue with and you can then say… Ok, I get it or hey I can make sure……. and hey lets do a trial”.

      Reply
      1. JM60

        If I were in the LW’s situation, and thought I could get a job that would allow me to work from home, I would seriously think about getting a new job if the boss doesn’t agree to allow working from home. I think people underestimate the value of a job that allows one to telecommute. One of the biggest factors when it comes to life happiness is commute to work, which is greatly reduces. Everyone at my company telecommutes twice a week, which cuts my weekly commute by 40% and greatly improves my quality of life. It would probably take a doubling of my salary to get me to accept a job where I have to come into the office 5 days a week.

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    3. Caro in the UK

      I think you’re generally right. But I do feel for OP if her company is generally really supportive of WFH and it’s just her boss not really liking it on a personal level (as oppose to there being a genuine need for OP’s particular role to be in the office).

      Rightly or wrongly, it feels tremendously unfair when a benefit that a lot of other people get to take advantage of is arbitrarily denied to you for seemingly no good reason.

      Reply
      1. LiveAndLetDie

        I absolutely agree that in this specific case it sounds like the company overall is really okay with WFH but OP’s boss is excessively rigid, and *only* about the OP. It merits pushback on the OP’s part, and I do think that they should make their case. But unfortunately if they get another no, I think the OP’s dilemma becomes “can I continue to work here or should I start looking for another job that might be more in line with what I want?”

        Reply
    1. Lily in NYC

      I am too – I am way more easily distracted at work and I sit in an open bullpen environment that I don’t like very much. It annoys the cheese out of me that my office claims to be all about “disruption and innovative work environments” but all that really means is “we are going to make everyone sit in open areas so we can save money”. It certainly doesn’t include allowing us to work from home. I would be fine with just one day a month! I always complain about this on our employee surveys and I think I even used the phrase “treat us like untrustworthy children”.

      Reply
      1. Ramona Flowers

        I thought this was the case as I used to work freelance from home so when I accepted my current job I negotiated one day a week WFH. They said that would be fine after a settling in period.

        Imagine my surprise to discover I actually prefer working in the office and only want to WFH here and there.

        Reply
        1. Dislike Names

          That’s so interesting – a number of people are starting to express this. I had a friend who worked remotely 100% of the time, which is “everyone’s dream job!” but he was miserable. He quit and works in a “regular” office and is so much happier.

          WFH is more complicated than people realize. You have to know yourself, your boundaries, and your needs. It’s not just taking your laptop home and off you go. Some people need social stimulation – if so, a remote worker can sometimes find they work great at, say, a coffee shop where people are bustling around. Some really want to be in an office. Some need to literally be told to not turn on the TV. The point is, it’s not cut and dried.

          Reply
          1. all aboard the anon train

            Yes, this. I couldn’t WFH 100% of the time because I live by myself and I’d go stir crazy. I need social stimulation – not necessarily talking to people, but just being around them. I couldn’t just camp out in a coffee shop because I’d feel guilty about taking up a table (and from experience, I know how annoying it is when people camp out at tables all day and only buy one coffee).

            Reply
            1. Dislike Names

              Totally understand that. The coffee shop I went to, I asked the people behind the counter first – they said that as long as it didn’t get busy, it was fine.

              Depending on where you live, there’s also co-working spots. A day pass for the ones in my city are about $30 and you can get a pack of passes for the month, so you can go whenever you feel like it. If that sounds like too much work to “WFH” – I hear you. That’s a good option for people who only work remotely and have no other office to go to.

              Reply
            2. Gadfly

              I am in that spot. I was doing online school when we moved for my husband’s job and it made sense for me to do that full time and be the one at home to deal with other issues until I graduated because he has a nasty commute. But I have been going crazy–work filled a lot of casual interactions with humanity needs I didn’t realize that I had. I now understand why so many stay at home parents get stereotyped as having shopping problems. Sometimes it is my only reason to leave the house for weeks (and going to events just isn’t the same)

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          2. ThatGirl

            Yeah, I actually liked having a balance, I like some social interaction and a different environment, and being able to walk over to co-workers – but I also liked having some days I could put on yoga pants, brew a big pot of good coffee and get work done with HGTV in the background.

            Reply
            1. AvonLady Barksdale

              That’s me. In my old job, we all worked from home on Fridays. I would love the option to work from home on a random weekday, especially when things are especially quiet and I could walk the dog during lunch or catch up on busy work with TV in the background. Other days, it’s really valuable being here and getting that face time.

              Everyone here who isn’t senior staff has one designated WFH day per week. They can change it if thy want to, but people generally take the same day. It’s a great perk. However, I’m senior staff and I’m expected to be here every day. The trade-off is that I have more flexibility (no set start/end times, no need to take PTO for appointments, that kind of thing).

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          3. Koko

            I currently work at home two days a week. I think my ideal would be three, but no more than that.

            While there are days I’m in the office all day and don’t talk to anyone, there are also days when I happen to be going up the stairs with my informal mentor and he shares some useful information or impulsively gives me an extra project, or days when something crazy good/bad happens and the team does an in-office happy hour to celebrate/commiserate and I end up chatting to someone on another team and getting a surprising insight into my own work. That kind of thing doesn’t happen frequently, but it does happen regularly. If I went full-time remote I worry that my career trajectory and performance would only drop a little bit, barely noticeably, at first, but over time the gap would widen as the effect of missing out on those informal opportunities began to compound.

            I think spending two days a week in the office would be enough to ensure I’m still having those chance encounters, but one or none wouldn’t be.

            Reply
          4. Perse's Mom

            I’m terrible with WFH. Not only are there too many distractions and for me it muddies the boundaries between private and work life, but our WFH policy technically requires an actual “office” space where our work PC is located (which is understandable as an attempt to help people be in Work Mode while in the office area of their home). I have a gaming PC in my bedroom, and that’s it.

            I’m not buying a second PC for work, and I’m not installing work related things on my home PC. I did on my last system and it would not allow me to uninstall it, and there is no way in heaven or hell that’s happening again, plus we have all the usual fine print about IT/managers being able to check in on what you’re doing at any given time, which feels like knowingly putting spyware on my own computer… not gonna happen.

            Reply
        2. Lily in NYC

          Oh, I’m the exact opposite. I used to be able to work from home once a week and I loved it. And I have a nightmare commute; that’s really the main reason I fantasize about WFH.

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        3. sfigato

          That’s how I am. I like working from home if I feel crumby or I have to be home for something or I want to clock out early to do something (my commute is an hour), but I find it depressing on a few fronts. For one thing, my home laptop isn’t ergonomic. For another thing, sitting on my couch or kitchen table for 8 hours straight is a drag, emotionally. I miss the human interaction, I miss seeing people. Also, you get left out. You don’t have to listen to Barb go on and on about her dogs, but you also don’t hear Sheila casually mention a problem she is having that you can help her out with or have an impromptu meeting with your boss about an idea you had or whatever. And while I can waste time at work, I can waste so much more time at home, especially if I don’t have concrete deliverables. It can feel like working on a term paper – where I spend half the day procrastinating and the other three hours frantically cramming.

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    2. AMG

      We tried a trial period one day a week and it seems to be going well. We will ask for at least 2 days a week later this year when a large project wraps up.

      The other thing I did to get my old-school director to loosen up on this was ask questions about it in the anonymous annual survey. “Why doesn’t anyone in Wakeen’s group ever get to work from home? I heard that it’s because he feels bad for the help desk staff because it wouldn’t be fair that they NEVER get to work from home when the rest of us would. Is that true? It seems like there is a middle ground here and that we could just try it on a trial basis.” I knew that Wakeen’s boss personally reviews the survey results with Wakeen and his other Directors, so I knew it would be called out publicly.
      My company is notoriously cheap, so this is an easy benefit they can provide that doesn’t cost any money.

      Reply
  4. Miss Elaine E.

    I wonder if the boss is concerned that on that one day a week, there would not be a responsible person physically in the department. OP says there is a junior colleague but does that colleague need hands-on supervision? And does the colleague have the knowledge and experience to handle things that come up if the OP could not be reached? What if grand-boss or some other VIP shows up unexpectedly?

    Also, I wonder if boss is unreceptive because the OP doesn’t seem to have demonstrated a need for working from him, just a want.

    Just food for thought…

    Reply
    1. Risha

      I had that thought about the junior colleague as well. And in a 3 man department where one person is already schedule to not be present half the time, it’s really easy for a scheduled work from home day combined with a sick day to turn into literally no one from that department being in the office. Work is still getting done, but depending on company culture, the optics can be bad.

      Reply
    2. ACA

      Yes, that’s what I thought, too – it might be less about the OP and more about making sure the junior colleague isn’t left in the office alone.

      Reply
      1. SarahKay

        But in that case the boss should actually, you know, discuss it with OP and explain the reasoning, instead of just vaguely dodging the question.

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        1. Caro in the UK

          Yes! If there’s a genuine need for her to be in the office, then the boss should speak up and explain that. Not explaining it, even if the decision is justified, is really bad management.

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    3. Casuan

      Ditto the thought on the junior colleague.

      OP, as Alison suggested, talk with your boss & ask him about his concerns. Tell him how working remotely benefits the company, bonus if you can be specific as to how it can benefit him & his team. If you can quantify your request with relative certainty, then do so [eg: “In the time I commute I could do this & that]. If he is specifically concerned about the junior employee, then assure your boss that you & Junior will have an open line of communication & he’d have the same access as if you were in the office. Also, Junior should be consulted so his needs are met; perhaps he needs someone there even one day a week to go over things; sometimes there are issues better discussed in person.

      Also, keep in mind that if Boss’s concern is Jumior-centric, there could be several reasons as to why to which you’re not privy, such as performance or ethics issues or Boss just doesn’t want Junior on his own just yet.

      If you can’t sway Boss’s thinking, hopefully you can get him to compromise so you can demonstrate why he should let you work remotely full-time. Good luck!!

      Reply
  5. nnn

    Depending on the nature of LW’s work and the nature of the company, would it be an option to transfer internally to another part of the company that’s more supportive of working from home?

    Reply
  6. anon for this one

    Gah, this one hits close to home…
    My boss is a little bit strange about this. My immediate supervisors both work 100% remotely (not commutable whatsoever). My position is not on paper “remote eligible” but they did allow a coworker who moved away to continue working from his new location. There is also someone else who voluntarily moved to a commutable (albeit would be a miserable commute every day) who comes in 2 days a week now. There are some days where there are only a few people in my wing of the office. Yet there is a definite attitude from my boss that I need to be physically in my office except for under extenuating circumstances (a few weeks, she actually emailed me and told me to work from home in the morning because I was going to another office location in the afternoon. It literally would have made no sense for me to come to my office and add another 25 minutes to travelling in the mid-morning, but for some reason she felt the need to tell me it was okay even though I had assumed it was?)

    She is otherwise great but her attitude about this this has become a pet peeve of mine (as well as others in my position who are here every day while they make constant exceptions for others). And this is not performance related as far as I can tell – my boss has called me a top performer.

    Reply
    1. Dislike Names

      That’s a huge bummer. I wonder why that is? Have you flat out asked? I would take the same advice that Allison mentions on this letter and see if a softened version would work. You’re a top performer, they want you to stay, maybe it will make you feel better if you know the actual reason (if there is one), and perhaps your boss will realize how silly it is if she can’t come up with a specific reason.

      Reply
    2. Casuan

      I mean thinking that sometimes these edicts are an authority/control issue : the manager exerts authority by insisting an employee be at the office.

      To clarify, more as passive-agressive to mask insecurity in one’s role as opposed to mean or abusive. Then again, sometimes people are just jerks for no particular reason…

      Anon, at least your manager is reasonable by telling you to work from home before commuting to another location. It’s a start!

      Reply
      1. Casuan

        for the archival records: I just noticed that my comment is incomplete; when I posted it I must have lopped off the first paragraph. My bad & it isn’t worth correcting now. ;-/

        Reply
  7. ThatGirl

    The last two years I spent at my last job, we were able to work from home two days a week, and I really liked it. I was often more productive and focused and able to be a little more flexible with my time. And on days when the weather was lousy I was definitely more productive because I was able to be working instead of stuck in traffic.

    Reply
  8. Bob

    I think the reason so many managers are against working from home is they know a select few staff members would screw off (i.e. the people who already screw off in the office). I personally have no issue with picking who gets to work from home based on past performance working in the office (though I would expect some freakouts from low performers using that policy).

    I think you need to establish firm expectations and hold people accountable. IM can be a good tool. I had a previous job where my team was scattered all over the country and we used IM exclusively without issue. If you’re not logged in to IM with a status of available/busy (anything but away), you’re not on the clock. If you’re leaving your desk for more than a few minutes, update your status to something like “At Lunch – Back at 12:30”. It was surprisingly easy to tell who was screwing off and several people got fired for not performing while I was there (which is more than I can say for other jobs). When everyone is remote, you really feel the pain of having even a single slacker. And if your Internet was down, you’d better have a backup plan whether it’s neighbor/parent/Starbucks/mobile tethering/etc. We did have one guy who wasn’t allowed to work from home because he lived in a very rural area and his internet was too flaky.

    My current job lets random people work from home occasionally and I have to admit they are never available when you need them. Partly as a result, on the rare occasion I need to work from home, I go out of my way to be Johnny-on-the-spot.

    Reply
    1. Lily in NYC

      Yeah, I think bosses assume that it has to be “everyone or no one” but I see no reason they can’t just treat us like adults and say that you can only work from home if you show that you can be productive.

      Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yeah, this comes down to the manager. If the manager does her job, this will be dealt with swiftly and resolved. If you have a negligent/incompetent manager, having remote people on the team will make that MUCH more visible.

      Reply
    3. nonegiven

      My son worked from home once, tethering, while waiting for the cable guy to come hook up the internet in his new house.

      My niece has worked from the car, tethering, while riding to see extended family.

      Reply
  9. EA

    This reminds me of my boss.

    I finally got him to allow me to work from home during snowstorms (I live in the northeast so come on); and now I get hit with all this insane passive aggressive “I consider you working” “I’ll be calling you and expect you to be working”.

    Some people are just so stuck in their heads about this nonsense.

    Reply
    1. BRR

      Ugh that’s so aggravating. I thankfully have never had a manager not trust me that much. My last manager was the one with issues as she would send me an IM and I would respond immediately then not hear back for several hours if at all. Sigh

      Reply
    2. AllTheFiles

      Oddly enough, I get what I consider passive aggressive questions when I work from home OR sometimes when my boss is working from home & I’m in the office. Some variation of “Just curious, what are you working on today?”

      I’m aware that she does it because she works from home usually and sucks at getting her crap done. Meanwhile, she’s making it harder for me to focus by randomly interrupting & needing a list of what I’m doing that day.

      Reply
  10. DCompliance

    Ultimately, this comes down to a willingness to manage. Gearing them up to be ready to work home, laying out what the expectations are, and then performance managing the employees who are doing poorly. Unfortunately, some managers see this as an extra burden they do not want to take on instead of seeing it as part of their job.

    Reply
  11. Green Goose

    “As a whole, my company is very supportive of working from home. However, the official policy states that it’s up to each department on what their team does, and my boss is generally not for it. ”
    It sounds frustrating to work at a company that generally approves of remote working while your manager does not. I agree with others that if you direct manager is against it, you will most likely not be able to push back too much. I had a similar situation with my previous manager, he was off site a lot and he eventually moved to a different city which put him at 99% remote while he had very strict remote working requirements for me. I was talking about it with another coworker once and they said that my boss probably would not have been able to work remotely as much as he did without me (his subordinate) being at the office to be present to answer questions/ be there for face-to-face interactions. Though my former boss had never said/discussed it with me, it really made sense when my coworker pointed it out.
    Maybe your manager thinks it’ll make his department look bad if no one is at the office, and since he is away a lot he needs you to be there to be the face of the department on site.

    Reply
    1. Gilmore67

      Yes that sounds like a possibility. I was thinking the same thing.

      If that is the case he needs to tell you that just so you get it and don’t keep asking.

      OP, is he a good boss overall? I wonder why he just won’t tell you why?

      Reply
  12. Sascha

    I work remotely (I’m not going to say “from home” as I am in cafés more than I am home) and it baffles me why more companies won’t embrace this. Commuting is a gigantic waste of time, offices are a huge cost to companies. Meetings can be done via Skype or phone conference, most communication is done via email anyway…I understand that some people may prefer working in an office, but to deny the possibility of remote working to those who ask for it? I just don’t get the reasoning behind that. I don’t even see it as a privilege as much as simply another way of working. Many people in my organisation (a charity) work remotely, including from other countries, and it’s not hurting anyone’s productivity.

    Reply
    1. Dislike Names

      That’s also an interesting comment – there are so many upsides to remote staff. You can attract people from anywhere – not just the people who can commute to your office. And if your company values diversity, this is a fantastic way to increase your pool to include lots of different kinds of people.

      Reply
      1. Shadows

        My last role was on a website’s Abuse/Moderation Team and we all worked remotely and socialised via Slack. It was great, and great for the community we served: we didn’t just cover most timezones, but could also cover a variety of different languages, and our response time was often within fifteen minutes of the complaints being raised.

        That said, face to face meetings became a treat to look forward to, and people would announce any holidays or daytrips or whatever and try to meet up with colleagues in that area – which was also really nice. I got to have great lunches and tourist-trap visits with locals, and never had to grit my teeth through them doing the photocopying like they were a saint being martyred upside down.

        Reply
  13. Catabodua

    I feel your pain.

    I have an “ass in the chair” kind of boss and it’s rather unfortunate. She’s ok with working from home for snow days or the odd need to be home for a home repair, but will never be comfortable with folks working from home as part of their regular schedule.

    Reply
  14. all aboard the anon train

    This is timely.

    My department encourages work from home. We have three teams. Team A is 95% remote workers anyway and the people who are in the office come in once or twice a week. Team B WFH about three days a week. Team C, my team, struggles to even get one day a week because my manager likes having a team in the office. When we do ask to WFH, you generally have to give a reason. We can never WFH just because we feel like it, the way the other teams are allowed to.

    I prefer being in the office, but WFH one day a week is nice and something I appreciate. It’s frustrating to see all three teams held to different standards because upper management avoids conflicts and my manager is anti-WFH. This is also the general work situation (my team gets volunteered to do more work and held to a higher standard, but we all get rewarded the same) and it’s really, really aggravating.

    I think my manager’s issue is having previous employees who abused WFH and his own preference to be ini the office, but I don’t think it’s fair the rest of us are punished for that.

    Reply
    1. all aboard the anon train

      To add to that, those of us who work in the city – even a 15-20 minute commute – are less likely to get WFH approval than those who live in the suburbs.

      Which is also ridiculous imo because me living a 15 minute subway ride away doesn’t mean I’m any less worthy of WFH than someone who chose to live an hour drive away.

      Reply
      1. Elle

        this drives me absolutely nuts. Just because I choose to pay higher rent/mortgage/etc. to reduce my commuting time, doesn’t mean I should be required to travel in during snow/ice/whenever everyone else is allowed to WFH

        Reply
    2. Caro in the UK

      I had a manager like this :( It’s terribly demotivating. I’d be tempted to try to point that out, using Alison’s language
      about it being “something that I could see keeping me here longer.” It depends on the manager as to whether they’d pick up on that and be receptive to it though.

      Reply
  15. Sibley

    I work for a big company that has a lot of remote workers, and I’m in a division where the top guy is known to not be a fan. In my case, it’s allowed, but with restrictions. If it’s ever an issue for me, that alone will push me to leave. And my job market is HOT. (more realistically, its the PTO that’ll get me)

    Reply
  16. Thinking Outside the Boss

    OP, in preparing for a meeting with your boss, you might want to research these issues that we had to tackle at my work regarding work from home:

    1. Equipment. Does your office require a work from home employee to use a work laptop or can your use your home PC and a Web portal? Will phone calls go to a work provided cell phone or will you use VOIP? Do you have access to your own scanner or will the office have to supply one to you?

    2. Budget. For everything in #1, will it impact your department’s budget and can the department’s budget absorb the cost? If your department can’t absorb the cost, what alternatives do you have to cut costs to make it happen?

    3. Third party access. OP, I don’t know what you line of work is, but if you have access to confidential information, you need to work out a plan to keep prying spouses, children, and roommates from viewing or accessing your work information. My 2 1/2 year old son sent an all office email from my wife’s work laptop (for a Fortune 100 company) with a subject of “sadfhasdfoashdfqahf’d” when she went to go get a drink of water from the kitchen while working from home.

    4. Being available. Every employee at our office who has had work from home privileges revoked has been for one of three reasons: (a) poor work product; (b) lack of productivity on work from home days; and (c) not being available. Nothing is more obnoxious than constantly getting a work from home employee’s voicemail and getting a return call 2-3 hours later, if at all.

    Good luck!

    Reply
    1. OP

      Hi, OP here. Thanks for your, and everyone’s, thoughtful comments and suggestions! To answer your questions:
      1) I would use my work laptop. I also have a company provided cell phone, and previously when working from home I would forward my desk phone to my cell as well. Using printed/scanned documents are rare for our company, but in the chance I needed this, I’d just have to come into the office that day. But since I only want one day/week, I could plan around this.
      2) I would not need additional equipment for one day/week, but for other employees with more permanent WFH arrangements, the company provides docking stations and dual monitors.
      3) I live alone, so no issues there!
      4) I understand the importance of this! We use a company wide chat program, which I am logged into as available/busy all day whether at the office or my house.

      Reply
      1. Princess Carolyn

        In a pinch, most things can be scanned with a mobile app, too. Only an issue if something needs to look really good or has a lot of detailed graphics.

        Reply
        1. sam

          well – be careful – depending on the type of work that you do, those apps may not have the kind of encryption/security that an employer may require. They certainly wouldn’t for my company/role. Our company is so strict that we can’t even check our email on a computer that isn’t our work laptop – we have a separate encrypted app installed on our phones for email (good work – now blackberry work), and we don’t use programs like citrix. If I want to do any work from home, I HAVE to bring my work laptop home. And if I try to connect any external devices to it (even my phone just to charge it), I get a “this device is not authorized” message.

          Reply
  17. Manager-at-Large

    My colleagues are in 4 time zones, including off-shore. I have never met my boss or his boss face-to-face. I have never met most of my direct reports. The same was true at my prior company, where we also had on-call along with evening and weekend support work. We have all learned how to have meetings and collaborate without being in the same office space. We have soft phones and instant message to keep in touch. No one would know if you were in the office or not, unless you updated your location to Home Office. It takes more work to get to know people when you cannot just drop by the desk to see how they are and it is worth it to make the effort.

    All of that being said, I don’t have any advice for the OP, except what has been said already. If you are accessible in the same way from home as from the office, including by phone at the same number, then it makes little sense for the manager to object when he is not in the office to see you there 50% of the time in any case. I don’t know what you could do to make him change his mind though since reason does not seem to be coming into play.

    Reply
  18. Zathras

    The opening of Alison’s response made me chuckle. I have to confess that I do laundry occasionally on WFH days. I consider it one of the benefits of WFH that you can knock out short mindless at-home tasks like that during your stretching/coffee breaks. Usually I’m still thinking about whatever I was just working on, maybe I just needed to step away from it for a minute to get some clarity. When in the office, I will handle this by getting up to get some tea/use the bathroom, or even taking a walk around the building. At home, might as well get something productive done.

    There is obviously a limit – I certainly wouldn’t be busting out the ironing board or doing a week’s worth for a whole family. But as long as you’re someone who can pick a single short task, do it, then get back to work, I don’t think it’s a big deal to throw in one load of laundry, or empty the dishwasher, or whatever.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      You know, I second-guessed that line because there’s nothing wrong with doing laundry in the background while you work. I mean that the boss pictures ONLY laundry and cat-playing going on, and nothing else.

      Reply
      1. LJL

        I had to giggle at that one, though. I work from home, and the most common stereotypes I hear are 1) working in pajamas (I don’t), 2) playing with the cat (occasionally guilty, though it’s more chasing the cat out of the office, and 3) doing laundry (occasionally guilty). Of all the chores, I wonder why laundry is the one that it always used as the example. I’ll occasionally do laundry, but it’s generally a 5 minute break to move clothes fro one machine to another.

        Reply
        1. JB

          I agree about the laundry! I only do things that don’t have to be folded/hung from the dryer, so it’s literally dump it on the bed and get back to work.

          I do work in my jammies. I’m not a morning person, so I get up and stumble to the PC to start and then take a shower at my “lunch break”.

          Reply
      2. Zathras

        I read it just as you intended it. I just thought it was amusing because laundry is probably the most common household task I do during WFH.

        I have actually gotten permission to work from home because I was dog sitting before – the dogs didn’t need to be actively entertained, but one of them needed to be crated when no one was home. My job is super flexible about WFH though (I complain about my job’s many flaws a lot, but this is one of its perks).

        Reply
  19. Jeanne

    I have two suggestions. Take a picture of your home setup so he can see you have a desk, computer, pencils, whatever, so he can see you aren’t working from your recliner. Then talk to him about how he is already managing you remotely since he travels so much. This would be pretty much the same except for where your physical body is.

    In the end though, you might be stuck with the current plan.

    Reply
  20. AnonyMeow

    I’d try to understand where the boss is coming from. If I was the boss, I might feel uncomfortable letting the OP work from home regularly while the junior colleague is stuck in the office. Even though seniority, performance and different needs of the job can (and theoretically should) dictate whether one person can work from home or not, I could see the junior colleague getting demoralized, essentially being the only person who *has* to be in the office when the rest of the department is working from elsewhere. Depending on how the boss perceives the junior colleague, he may be trying to prevent that kind of scenario, which isn’t fair to the OP but is worth finding out.

    Reply
  21. BRR

    I don’t think it’s been mentioned yet but can you refer to things you have accomplished while working from home other times. Bonus points if it shows how you’re more productive at home.

    Reply
  22. Heidi

    I’ve been fortunate enough to WFH full-time for 19 years and I explain to people who find that surprising that if I didn’t deliver on my deadlines, I wouldn’t have been allowed to do it. I’m my own best motivator so it’s perfect for me.

    I’m always accessible by phone or e-mail. Skype less so because as a content creator, constant IMing is a distraction, but when I’ve had a manager who required it, I left it on. When I’ve had new managers (knock wood), they haven’t balked at WFH because I’ve proven my success and trustworthiness.

    WFH factored into my (unsuccessful and now suspended) job search when I looked for something else — the majority of employers still want someone they can see onsite. I really didn’t see many opportunities for mid-career/senior folks to WFH at a livable wage.

    Reply
  23. nonegiven

    BIL is a gov’t employee, actually head of his office. Now he is the only one in the office not working remotely full time. They want him to WFH so they can close his office. Unfortunately my sister has been running her business out their house for more than 25 years. Her business would make his WFH a conflict of interest.

    Reply
    1. Zathras

      I wonder if they could pay for him to use a coworking space or similar? Possibly cheaper than keeping an office open. Given the various red tape and restrictions on use of government funds, I have no idea if that’s possible.

      Reply
      1. Sheen

        I’m curious now. Could they put a prefab home office in the garden, or convert an existing garage or outbuilding? Or would simply being at the same address still be in breach of the conflict of interest rules, even it if it’s a physically separate space?

        Reply
  24. Michele

    I manage a small office (4 people), and the balance I face is how to balance a positive work culture with requests to WFH. It can be really depressing to be in our office if you’re by yourself, particularly for days at a time. And everything expresses that they feel better when everyone is in the office – there’s a positive energy and connection that you don’t get otherwise. I have staff with different circumstances- one who have a prior agreement to WFH all but one day per week, one who would like to WFH as often as possible, one who prefers to work in the office because she likes to separate work from home life (but then needs to WFH to handle family obligations occasionally – and is not productive), and then I’m out of the office for work travel 2 days per week.

    Any suggestions on how to balance all those needs – and keeping a positive, collaborative environment in office?

    Reply
    1. Zathras

      Could you establish 1-2 days where everyone needs to be in the office? And allow WFH the rest of the time. So that at least you are lining up people’s in-office time to maximize that positive energy. Similar to a “core hours” concept but on a weekly schedule instead of a daily schedule.

      With the employee who is unproductive when she works from home due to family obligations – is she claiming to work from home then doing zero work, or just gets less done than she would have in the office? If it’s the latter, I’d probably let it slide as long as she was otherwise a good employee and it was infrequent. Think of it less as “Jane is not productive like this” vs. “Jane needs to deal with X obligation today but is trying to be as productive as she can.”

      If it’s too frequent or she’s clearly doing nothing all day, I might have a conversation with her – but you want to be able to point to specific measures of productivity where she is falling short. Also look at her productivity the next day – does she seem to be super productive on the first day back? Because it’s possible she’s getting a bunch of stuff to “90% done” at home, and then finishing all those things once she’s back in the office.

      Reply
  25. Chaordic One

    At one of my last jobs, I was one of the few people who could not work from home, which was fine. The really bad part was that sometimes our departmental supervisor would schedule things so that I was the only person phisically present in the department and the really bad part was that then I’d be overwhelmed with phone calls for the other people who were supposedly working from home. The people who were supposedly working from home were not returning calls or emails and then I’d get a call interrupting whatever I was trying to do and it took up a surprising amount of time.

    I complained to the department head about it and told him that he should schedule things so that there was at least one person in the department in the office to handle these phone calls, however he didn’t see a problem and thought that I should just transfer these calls to the intended person’s voice mail (which I did).

    I don’t miss working there.

    Reply
    1. sam

      Yeah – the key for WFH is that you need to actually be WORKING. I’ve worked with people who were great at WFH – to the point where I legit had no idea they were even WFH people (we have a lot of offices at my company) until I had to look them up in the directory and realized their address wasn’t one of our sites, or they mentioned it themselves.

      But I’ve also worked with people who use “WFH” as a cover to actually be home, work intermittently, and do other stuff. They’re taking care of their kids, doing household stuff, running errands, etc. It’s all well and good if you need to do that stuff periodically, but people will start to notice when you never answer your phone, or when we can hear your kids in the background on a conference call, or when it takes a week to get a response that should take a day.

      The latter type of person is definitely not indicative of every WFH person, and should really be dealt with on an individual performance level, but a lot of managers who have encountered that person will simply blame it on WFH entirely and decide that it’s not worth the hassle.

      Reply
  26. livingthedreaminmydreams

    We really need to equip managers to manage remote workers better. In my current job, we have lots of people who live very far from the workplace because the cost of living is so high in this area. If we want to keep these valuable employees, we are going to have to be more flexible about when and where they work. it is hard to get executive management to understand this, and instead they moan and wail when we lose our talent to another more innovative employer. The world of work has changed.

    Reply
  27. Inquisitive Mommy

    What a great question.! I work for a small company there are 80% work on the east cost the rest of us on the west. Our work is contract driven so depending on where the contract is controls if we have work or deliverables. The office building is in the city so every morning I spend an hour in traffic to then sit at my desk and surf the internet for 8 hours then head home lather-rinse-repeat. There are days I have set meetings but everything is a dial in no in person meetings.
    Our VP who is in the office with us has tried to convince the owner who is east coast to have us WFH. The Owner is old school and wants butts in seats even after showing how must money they would save It was a hard no. It would be nice not to have to spend over an hour fighting traffic as I am (without traffic) a 15-min drive from the office. If something came up I would be there in no time but nothing we do is emergency driven.
    I feel the same as the OP, like we do the work but our boss doesn’t trust us even after 2 years of profits. Personally, I am more motivated to work from home.

    Reply
  28. TC

    Definitely read “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss! There is an entire chapter dedicated to helping you negotiate the ability to work remotely. There are tons of good tips in there and it walks you through the process. Basically, you ask for a short trial period working one day a week from home and ensure you are SUPER productive during those days. Eventually, you can try two days a week, etc.

    It seems unfair that your boss is only around half the time, but you have to go into the office even if you are just as productive at home and the company is generally supportive of its employees working remotely. Good luck!

    Reply

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