I’m my own boss now, but not long ago I worked at a public relations firm in South Florida, where my commute was a routinely awful part of my day. It took about an hour to travel 20 miles. To me, it didn’t make much sense to spend all that time sitting in rush-hour traffic, twice daily, just so I could sit in front of a computer–I have one of those at home. Why couldn’t I just work from there?
When I was a TV reporter, commuting was essential. That wasn’t a job I could’ve done remotely. I needed to be where the news was happening, live at 6 p.m.–just like if you’re a contractor, you need to be building on-site, or if you’re a dance instructor, you need to be in the studio with your students. But many jobs–more and more of them, in fact–don’t work that way, hence the steady rise of remote and flexible work policies.
When you’re your own boss, you call the shots, but when you have a supervisor to answer to, it gets a little harder. I was able to talk my last boss into letting me work from home a couple of days a week. You may be able to do it, too–even if your company doesn’t have a flexible work policy in place. Here’s how.
There’s nothing like the power of real-world demonstration to make a point about what’s possible. Call in sick, but say you’d still like to get some work done. That day, prove you’re more efficient at home. Focus on getting more work done on the day you’re home than if you had been in the office.
When you return to work, tell your boss how much you got done–and have something to show for it–and explain why it benefited both you and the company. Give specific examples. Maybe you were able to begin work earlier because you didn’t have to worry about getting ready or sitting in traffic. Say you started working 15 minutes after you woke up, which is at least an hour and a half earlier than usual.
Throughout the day, find examples like this one that show real, measurable benefits. Then, pitch a short trial run of using your new home office, just once or a couple of times a week, to see how it goes.
Whatever you do, don’t propose a dramatic schedule change to your boss. That suggestion is likely to get shot down, and even if it isn’t, you’ll probably struggle to pull it off. Most employers are right to worry that your productivity will decline if you start working from home every day, that you’ll slowly detach from the company’s culture, or even that you’re trying to get some space in order to look for another position.
Not only do you need to lower the perception of risk from your boss’s point of view, you’ll also want to reduce the burden of proof required to show it works and set yourself up to succeed. Yes, it worked one day, but what about the next? And the next? Plenty of managers, living up to their titles, justifiably want to be in control–in other words, to manage your work. That’s their job, after all. When you’re not in the office, they can’t do that as easily.
So you need to help them. Make a case that’s hard for them to refute–incrementally. Don’t give your boss reason to believe you’ve bit off more than you can chew.
There’s an obvious reason there are more freelancers, virtual assistants, and entrepreneurs today than ever before. It’s easier to be your own manager for this simple reason: technology that can be accessed anywhere. If your superior doesn’t see that, then he or she is falling behind, and it’s up to you to show how the tools you’re using can keep you connected and productive.
But it may be that those efforts still fall flat. In that case, it might be time to take more drastic steps in order to improve your career. If commuting is a serious problem for you, like it was for me, then maybe it’s time for you to start your own business. You just need to be motivated, self disciplined, and optimistic to do it–the same way you would if you stayed put at your company and worked remotely.
The fact is that having the ability to work from home matters more to some professionals than it does to their bosses–especially those of us who are working parents. When I still had my commuter job, most mornings consisted of a mad scramble to get an infant and toddler ready for daycare while making myself presentable and answering emails on my phone. Then throw in spit-up, blowouts, tantrums because of clothing choices, hairstyle battles, and more spit-up.
One morning, my daughter saw the stress on my face and asked me if I was sad. I told her no, I wasn’t sad. Then she asked to see my smile. After that, I never rushed again–which made me a few minutes late every now and then. My boss got mad. I quit. The firm went under in the same year. To be sure, I’m not saying it folded because I left, but when work-life issues make it hard to keep employees on staff, that’s a sure sign that a company needs to rethink (or introduce) a remote work policy. If that can’t or simply doesn’t happen, then it’s time for you to make a choice.
When I work from home, I gain an extra two to three hours of productivity each day. I start earlier and I finish later. I feel like I never really “clock out,” so I find myself at the computer making sure I’m not missing anything at 9 p.m. Without a doubt, this can become a bad habit for some people, leading to a whole different set of work-life issues. For me, it works. I take shorter breaks throughout the day instead of one long lunch break, and I think this helps keep me focused for longer. Plus, I’m a night worker; for some reason, I just do better work after hours.
When you spend all day in an office and get home after many others have had dinner, the last thing you want to do is hop on the computer and get back to work. But when you’re home, at least in my experience, it just feels different because you weren’t rushing to get the kids from daycare, make dinner, get the kids ready for bed, etc. Instead, you were handling household chores, like starting dinner, during a five-minute break just steps away from your computer.
The point is that you’ll never know what sort of arrangement works for you if you never get a chance to try it out. Start by showing your boss that small changes might benefit both of you, then build up from there. You may be surprised where it takes you.
Christina Nicholson is a former TV reporter and anchor who now owns and operates a full-service public relations firm, Media Maven. She is getting ready to launch “Master your PR,” an online course that teaches small business owners and marketers how to handle public relations on their own.