According to the 2003 Census report, the average commute time is 38 minutes each way for some parts of the country. That is 76 minutes each day, over 6 hours per week or 41 work days each year. If you live somewhere that has a long commute time, it is easy to see how much time is just spent driving back and forth.
If you were able to eliminate the commute even one day per week, you would save over 65 hours per year. That is over 8 work days of time or equivalent to an extra 1.5 weeks of vacation.
There are three basic ways to eliminate or shorten your commute:
- Start your own business.
- Telecommute and work for your current employer from home.
- Switch to a shorter work week.
We’ve talked about starting your own business before. Switching to a shorter work week is a nice possibility, but something we’ll discuss in another post. For this article, lets assume that working from home is technically possible and concentrate on a strategy to get your boss to say “yes”. There is no magic formula, but if you follow these five steps, it will go a long ways toward increasing your odds for success.
1. Stealth Mode Research – The Technology
Before you even approach your boss, you need to make sure you understand what technology infrastructure is required for you to work from home. If you work in IT, this may be a no-brainer for you–just
skip to the next item.
The best way to investigate your options is to try to start doing some work from home in the evenings. At this point you don’t have to tell anyone why you are doing this, but it gives you a chance to work
through the process of working from home and minimizes the road blocks once you approach your boss.
Most companies have several options for people to work from home over a broadband connection. Usually these are used by a few people and may not be widely promoted. Here is a checklist of things you should
- The ability to check your email from home.
- The ability to get access to your files from home.
- Access to company wide software from home.
- Call forwarding that allows you to send your desk phone to your cellphone.
- A voicemail system with an external number to check messages.
Take what you’ve learned and try to work a couple hours each week from home in the evenings. This preparation is vital in crafting a proposal that won’t immediately get rejected. The extra effort you are putting into doing work in the evenings will also make it easier for your boss to say yes which is part of step number two.
2. Positioning Yourself for Success
Before you tell anyone what you want to do, you need to make sure you are positioned as an ideal employee. Think about it from your bosses perspective. Who would you be more likely to let work from home
one day each week: Employee A who shows up 5 minutes early every morning, and is eager to work on any project or employee B who shows up 5 minutes late and always complains about additional responsibilities?
To your boss, the idea of you working from home means that they lose the ability to directly manage you. They can’t just come look over your shoulder and see what you are up to. You need to position yourself
so your boss will feel like you are going to do just as good of work without them around to watch you
Here are some ideas of ways to position yourself as someone they don’t have to directly manage:
- Get to Work at Least 5 minutes Earlier than Your Boss
— This assumes that your boss gets to work before normal starting time. If you boss usually comes in late, then get to work 5 minutes before normal starting time. Your boss needs to assume that when they come in you will already be busy working. This shows your boss that working from home isn’t going to mean groggily stumbling to your computer at 9am and taking the next 45 minutes to actually wake up and get to work. It also helps establish that you don’t have to be watched
in order to be productive.
- Voluntarily Take On Additional Responsibilities
— This can be tricky. Make sure you only take on responsibilities that you could continue to do from home. You don’t want to work yourself into a position where you have to physically be at work. The
ideal responsibility is something that your boss will notice and that only lasts for a short period of time. Remember, you are trying to help your boss feel comfortable with not managing you directly.
Assuming that you really can work without close supervision, you are just trying to tweak your bosses perception of you to be favorable to your proposal.
- Keep Your Boss Updated
— Make sure you keep your boss updated with status emails or brief meetings. Your boss shouldn’t have to come to you to find out how things are going. Be proactive and make sure you give them all the information they need. Some bosses will be worried that if you work at home, they will lose touch with what is going on. If you send them a weekly summary email (or what ever frequency works best), they are less likely to worry about this than if they are constantly having to track you down to ask you how things are going.
- Your Boss Should Never See You Goofing Off
— While it might be perfectly acceptable to spend a few minutes reading news websites or checking personal email, don’t do it. At least don’t let your boss see you doing it–even if they are fine with
it. When you bring up the subject of working from home, your bosses brain is going to quickly scour all memories to see if there are any reasons you shouldn’t be allowed to work from home. If it comes back with a bunch of memories of you closing your GMail account or shutting a CNN window, it will be much more difficult to get them to look at your proposal.
- Do Let Your Boss See You Working —
This is kind of related to keeping your boss updated, but you need to make sure your extra efforts are visible. For example, if you are working a few hours each evening from home, you may want to
occasionally email your boss late at night. If they get use to seeing you email them work questions at 10pm a few nights each week it will help you stand out as someone who is going the extra mile.
- Try Not to Ask For Too Many Favors
— At least not right before suggesting that you be allowed to work from home. Some bosses try to keep a mental score card in order to be fair to all their employees. If you have asked for a bunch of other favors (leaving early, etc.) it might make them automatically be
inclined to say no.
3. Determine the Business Reason You Should Be Allowed to Work From Home
This is where I see most people fail. Here are some of the things employees are likely to say and what their boss is going to actually hear:
- I’ll be able to spend more time with my kids. Boss hears: I’ll spend half of my time babysitting instead of working. Clients will hear screaming babies in the back ground when they call me.
- I won’t have to deal with the long commute and traffic. Boss hears: I’ll spend my first 45 minutes of work waking up and eating breakfast. I’m looking forward to working all day in my pajamas.
Notice that each of these items focus on the advantages for the employee. No matter how nice, your boss doesn’t really care if working from home would be convenient for you. You are working for money–not for your convenience. If you want your boss to get on board, you need to address issues that your boss is actually concerned about. Here are a couple things that might concern your boss:
- Lack of offices and cubicles for new hires.
- Increasing employee productivity.
- Attracting and retaining valuable employees.
- Increasing billable hours.
- Being environmentally friendly.
- Expense of employee parking.
Show your boss how working from home will actually benefit the business. Leave out or minimize personal benefits. If you spend too much time talking about how it will benefit you personally, your boss will assume you are being over optimistic about the work benefits. Unless you are very very valuable, saying that you will quit if not allowed to work from home, is probably a poor strategy. However, if your boss knows you are looking for a position with a shorter commute and you are a valuable employee, you may be able to mention that you’d rather stay with the company if you could eliminate one or two days of your commute each week.
4. Prepare your Proposal
Now that you have a good idea of why it will benefit the business to let you work from home, you need to prepare a proposal for your boss. You don’t necessarily need a formal 50 page report, but having some points typed up, will let your boss feel more comfortable in saying yes.
If you want to make it easy for your boss to say yes, make your proposal as risk free as possible. If you boss looks at the proposal and thinks “This might work, but if it doesn’t I’m going to have a major mess on my hands” it will get shot down. The status quo is perceived as being safe, so make sure your boss sees in your proposal a way to get back to status quo as quickly as possible if things don’t work out.
Here are some points to consider for your proposal:
- Start out by suggesting a trial period of one day per week for 5 or 6 weeks.
- Choose the one day you’ll be working from home carefully to avoid being absent for important face to face meetings.
- Try not to choose a Monday or Friday to work from home. It will make it seem too much like a three day weekend.
- Give your boss a safety net and a way to pull the plug if things don’t work out.
- Make sure you focus on the business benefits and minimize personal benefits.
- Have some statics to backup your proposal. (Examples from other companies, cost savings, environmental benefits, etc.).
- State what you will give up to be able to work from home. Maybe giving up your office, paid parking space, company desktop computer, etc.
- Don’t try to force an immediate answer. Give your boss some time to think about it.
5. A Successful Trial Period
Once your boss says yes to a trial, you aren’t free and clear. In fact, if you are working from home, you need to constantly vigilant to manage people’s perception. If people start feeling like you aren’t pulling your share of the load, you may be the first person to go, if they need to downsize.
Here are some tips for the trial period and for working from home in general:
- Control Background Noise — If a coworkers calls and hears a lot of home type background noise (TV, Kids, dogs barking, etc), it is going to lose you credibility. People talking to you on the phone should not be able to tell you are at home.
- Be Available
— Avoid letting phone calls go to voice mail (especially during the trial). Your boss and coworkers need to feel like they can get a hold of you just as easily at home as when you were physically on location.
- Start Your Day Early
— If you have emails to answer, getting replies sent as your co-workers are driving to work is a good practice. If they regularly get to the office only to find you’ve already been working for 30 minutes, it will be difficult to complain that you aren’t pulling your weight. One trick to doing this is to spend 15 to 30 minutes answering emails before eating breakfast. So if most people get to work at 9am, you could spend 15 minutes answering emails at 8am, eat breakfast at 8:15, and be ready to work at 8:45.
- Don’t Flaunt the Fact You Work at Home
— You may have co-workers who your boss doesn’t feel are self motivated enough to work from home. Don’t keep mentioning the fact that you are at home to them. You could end up causing a mess that would get you recalled back to the office. If you have shared calendars, don’t mark that you are “at home” simply say “off site” or “working remotely” to help minimize any hard feelings.
- Communicate with Your Boss
— Make sure you keep tabs on how things are working out for your boss and offer to tweak things to make things go smoother. If your boss mentions a new meeting on the day you are at home, offer to change your schedule so you can come to the meeting. On a consistent basis, ask your boss if things are working out ok and if there is anything you need to know about or improve.
Working at home isn’t for everyone, but it can be a way to reclaim valuable time normally lost to commuting. Before approaching your boss about working from home, try to work out all the technical details and think about how to make it attractive from your boss’s perspective. By following the five steps above, you’ll drastically increase the chances of coming up with a workable solution that your boss will actually approve.