As companies across the U.S. prepare to reopen their office doors, many may find their employees resistant to losing the flexibility they gained while working from home. This is especially true of working parents, many of whom were forced to take on additional roles such as teacher and daycare provider while the country was in lockdown. In fact, when TopResume surveyed over 1,500 U.S. working mothers, it found that 58% had reduced their hours or taken a leave of absence to accommodate their families’ needs during the pandemic.
If the thought of returning to the office and “going back” to how things were has your stomach in knots, don’t panic. While you’re typically in the best position to negotiate flexibility when joining a new company, the events over the past year have created a unique opportunity for workers to make their case for a new post-COVID work arrangement with their current employers.
Before you dust off your résumé in search of a new opportunity, consider negotiating a new arrangement with your current employer that better suits your needs.
Consider your options
A flexible work arrangement can take many different forms. It’s important to carefully consider what will work best for both you and your employer before proposing any permanent changes to your position. For example, if you’re able to perform some parts of your job more efficiently from the office, you might decide to propose working remotely on a part-time basis. If you’ve discovered that you’re more productive—and better able to juggle your career and household responsibilities—when you adjust the start and end times to your workday, you may want to request flexible work hours. Alternatively, if you’d prefer to work on a part-time or reduced-time basis, then you may want to broach the subject of job sharing—an arrangement where two part-time employees share the responsibilities of one full-time position—with your manager.
Do your homework
Review your employee handbook or reach out to your HR department to determine the company’s stance on working remotely prior to the pandemic. Has HR or senior leadership communicated any changes to that policy—or announced a new policy—in light of the past year’s events? In addition, find out if your employer has plans to adopt a hybrid work model (half in-office, half remote).
If your employer has hinted that they’d prefer everyone back in the office, don’t let this fact deter you. Instead, conduct online research to find other organizations—ideally competitors of your company or ones that share similar traits—that have announced plans to move to a hybrid model or remain fully remote.
Prepare for objections
If you plan to negotiate a permanent work-from-home schedule with your boss, make any adjustments to your home office that could eliminate some of their objections before broaching the subject. For example, if your Wi-Fi has been an issue, now’s the time to look into upgrading your router to boost your connectivity. If you have yet to fix the lighting for your video calls or find the right noise-canceling headphones, now’s the time to figure it out. These improvements will prove to your employer that you’re dedicated to being productive and competent, regardless of your workspace’s location.
You also want to prove your productivity to your manager in the weeks leading up to your negotiations by remaining responsive with communication, being present and engaged during video and phone meetings, and keeping your manager informed of your work and—most importantly—your successes. Update your brag book and have it ready to reference during the conversation with your boss.
Approach your manager strategically
When deciding when and how to address the subject with your boss, take into account their personality and communication style. For example, if your manager is straightforward, schedule a meeting with a clear objective: “I’d like to discuss permanent changes to my work arrangement moving forward.” If your manager prefers a less direct approach, you may want to bring up the subject during your next one-on-one meeting.
Whichever way you decide to start the conversation, be sure it takes place in-person or over video instead of a phone call. This will allow you to observe your manager’s body language and help you gauge whether your proposal is being well-received.
Recognize the bottom line
Once the corporate office reopens, don’t assume you have to return to the same working arrangement you previously held with your employer. There’s no harm in advocating for what you need in order to be a happier and more productive employee and caregiver. Remember, you’ll never get what you want if you don’t ask for it. If your employer is unwilling to accommodate your request and support your needs as a working parent, then it may be the push you need to consider other options as the job market heats up.
Amanda Augustine (@JobSearchAmanda) is the resident career expert for Talent Inc.’s suite of brands: TopResume, TopInterview, and TopCV. She is a certified professional career coach (CPCC) and résumé writer (CPRW).