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5 ways to ask your boss for more flexibility at work

Flexibility can take many forms, but what is unambiguous is the engagement and fulfillment employees feel from expanded options.

5 ways to ask your boss for more flexibility at work
[Photo: Vera_Petrunina/iStock]
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Despite the many challenges of the pandemic, there are still plenty reasons to be optimistic about work after the pandemic. Before the dramatic changes of the coronavirus, many businesses insisted working at an office workstation every day was the only way to ensure accountability and performance. But lockdowns and the necessity for work-from-home strategies have forced companies to rethink and reconsider how work happens and how much flexibility they can afford employees.

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Researchers in psychology and sociology have found workers’ possessing greater amounts of choice and autonomy contribute to engagement, fulfillment, and happiness. Together, these factors improve the health of your workers and your business, overall.

To give you an idea of different types of choice-driven workplaces, here are some ways to find your “flex,” along with a few ways to approach your manager for accommodations.

Reframe the definition of flexibility

Location of work

Flexibility around working from home has received the most attention through the pandemic. And for some people, it is a marvelous new routine.

According to a recent survey by Steelcase, where I am on the research team, people appreciated no commute, more time with their families, and greater autonomy and flexibility. Who doesn’t love to work in their fuzzy slippers with their little dog laying at their feet? But on a less positive note, people likewise experienced more isolation, slower decision-making, and less clarity around their responsibilities. And when people worked from home frequently and weren’t satisfied with the experience, they actually saw decreases in their productivity, engagement and innovation.

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The benefit of the home becoming part of the office is the possibility of asking your employer for technology and office furniture accommodations.

Of course, home isn’t the only place you can work anymore and with more flexibility. It’s likely you’ll have more options to work from an increased number of places—and the ability to “work from anywhere.” With hands-free technology or earbuds, perhaps you can even take a low-pressure call during your commute on the train. When work can happen from anywhere, options are expanded. At some point, when the world opens up further, you may be able to ask for access to your company’s local location or at a co-working space.

In addition to flexibility outside of the office, also consider how you can gain control of your workday within your office. At your current workstation, determine if you can personalize and obtain a second monitor or an adjustable desk, so you can toggle between sitting and standing. Moreover, consider making a case to your boss for working in various parts of your office or company campus, in the event your workplace has reopened.

Timing of work

The pandemic has also offered workers a lesson on flexible work hours. Perhaps you’ve taken time later in the morning to help your child with their algebra coursework, only to look up and notice you’ve missed lunch. Or maybe you’ve gotten an early start on the day so you could go for a jog with your running group. This flexibility in hours is another productive way to think about how your work fits into your life.

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Content of work

Also consider flexibility in the “what” of your work. Before the pandemic, you may have been tethered to tight boundaries around your job responsibilities. Now, many companies have become more flexible in how they organize work to meet shifting customer needs. This can pave the way for new opportunities or projects for which you can offer your skills. A simple place to start is to suggest projects or departments to your manager where you can spend a small pocket of time to make a contribution.

How to ask for more flexibility

So if you’re going to ask for more flexibility—in any area—there are a few best practices with which to approach your boss and get a “yes.” Here are five straightforward steps:

  1. Perform extraordinarily. Asking for any kind of flexibility must be based on delivering great results and having a positive track record. Work is an exchange and we humans value reciprocity—we give to get. So, if you’ve proven your skills and made a great contribution to-date, you’ll be in a strong position to ask for flexibility. If you’re having trouble showing your engagement, it may be wise to shore up your performance before you make requests.
  2. Deliver a straightforward request. Be sure you’re prepared with specifics. Rather than suggesting in a general way that you’d like more flexibility, provide details. Maybe you want to work from home mornings before 9 a.m., or perhaps you want to request a second monitor or you would like the freedom to work on another part of your company’s campus sometimes, away from your workstation. Whatever your desire, be specific. Also suggest a trial period. Often, leaders are more open to trying a flexible approach when they know this isn’t a forever decision, one which will lock them in forever. Suggest you try the new flexible approach for three months, and then agree to check in to see how things are going.
  3. Consider the business and your team. Work is always a balance between you, your team and the company, so be clear about how you’ll ensure team and organizational needs are met. If you’re suggesting you contribute to a project outside your department, be clear about how your other work will get done. If you’re hoping to work away from the office on Fridays, make the business case for how that’s useful to your employer (maybe you’ll be more accessible through chat). Remember anything you ask for yourself will have a domino effect on your colleagues and their work—so be considerate and ensure you’re not unintentionally putting additional pressure on your teammates.
  4. Maintain open lines of communication. One of the most important reasons flexible working works is due to high levels of trust. Be sure you’re transparent with your manager and your team members, keep them abreast on what you’re working on. This is stay, give them clarity o your schedule and stay accessible, so people are aware of how to get in touch with you.
  5. Don’t go overboard. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. While working in your own unique way can feel like nirvana, be sure you’re staying visible and maintaining relationships with colleagues and leaders. It’s true that “out of sight is out of mind” and for the health of your career, you’ll want to stay on the radar screen. Ask for flexibility, but be sure you’re continuing to stay in touch and build your social capital face-to-face and in the office.Greater flexibility may be one of the best things that comes out of the pandemic and it’s a terrific moment to ask your boss to accommodate the working conditions which will help you do your best work. Leaders want to keep great employees and you’ll be in a great place to take your flexibility and your career up a notch as you move forward.

Tracy Brower, PhD, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of The Secrets to Happiness at Work.