The 5-step plan to ask to work remotely

During 2020, many of us didn’t have to ask to work remotely. It just happened. However, now that there are calls for office workers to hit their desks again, we have to consider if that’s the life we want.

Let’s be intentional about how the ‘return’ to work happens – and I put that in quotes because like many people, I never stopped working.

Remote work is the new normal: research from Owllabs shows that 30% of people work remotely full-time (and that was before the pandemic). Two thirds of people believe that working from home should be a legal right, and hybrid workers are in the office only 2-3 days a week.

Project management, PMO work, in fact most management and office-based jobs are perfectly suited to remote work.

If you want to become a remote employee on a more permanent basis — or if you want to keep your remote work situation when everyone else is struggling with the great power shift — you have to ask for it. Here’s my foolproof 5-step plan for how to ask to work remotely (or to continue to work remotely).

Looking for advice on how to ask to work part-time hours? I’ve got you covered. Read my guide to proposing to go part-time.

How to convince your manager to let you work remotely

Here are 5 steps to convincing your boss that not being in the office is a good idea.

1. Be good at your job

First, it’s important to show that you are good at your job. You need to establish yourself as a top performer.

Why? Because if you are a trusted colleague, considered a safe pair of hands, then there is every reason for your boss to think you’ll be able to manage your work from home (or the coffee shop, or your remote French farmhouse etc).

This is a given. No manager is going to let someone work from home if they are considered a slacker. Or even if they are considered someone who needs a lot of support in doing their job, for example if they are new.

Be honest with yourself: what did your last performance appraisal say? If this isn’t the right time to be asking, give it 6 months and review the situation again.

2. Draw up a clear plan for your remote work proposal

The first question your manager will have is: “What does that mean for us?” Especially if they want you to return to work.

“Us” means the people you are ‘leaving behind’ at the office – the rest of the team. (Chances are, they want to spend at least some time working from home too.)

You need a clear and specific plan for how your approach to remote working is going to play out. There’s an example remote working proposal below.

I’m pretty sure that my first request for flexible working was turned down because of the perceived negative impact on my team members (not that I think my manager at the time asked them). Basically, “If I do it for her, I’ll have to do it for everyone.”

You might want to chat to your colleagues before you put in your proposal and find out how they feel about it. If there are people in the team already living the remote employee lifestyle, ask them how it is going for them and use that in your proposal as evidence it can work.

3. Explain the benefits of remote working

Remote working saves pollution, means I don’t drink your tea so you save money, there’s less wear and tear on your desk chair, blah blah.

These days, most switched on managers will know the generic benefits of home working. There have been enough studies about it.

According to research from Upwork, the top 3 benefits of remote work are:

  • no commute
  • reduction of non-essential meetings
  • less distractions in the office.

The study also reports that 32% of hiring managers found that productivity increased.

A more practical benefit for your business could be that it reduces risk. 73% of managers report reduced risk with flexible working, probably because it mitigates against being able to work due to bad weather, illness and so on.

It’s worth recapping the benefits of remote working and why they are relevant to you and your situation. Focus on why it’s good for the company and how it will help you focus and be a better worker for them.

4. Suggest a trial period

Very few managers are going to want to say yes to the idea of a permanent remote arrangement without trying it out first, so suggest a trial period.

Be specific: explain what days you would suggest working remotely and how long you want the arrangement to last as a trial. Say that you recommend evaluating the success of the trial at the end of say, three months, together and that you will seek input from the rest of the team on how they are finding it working with you.

A trial period lets you see how the remote life fits with your current work.

5. Test and prove it works

Let’s assume that you’ve got the go ahead for a shift to being out-of-office based. Now is your chance to prove that you can make this work. That means:

  • Being at your desk when you say you will be
  • Dressing the part for conference calls and Zoom time: no one wants you to join their meeting in your pyjamas
  • Having a calm, quiet area to work in that is secure
  • Being responsive and proactive
  • Doing your work – no slacking off for a round of golf or a long lunch, although if work/life integration is part of the reason you have opted for this way of working, then it’s important that you do get some flexibility into your day
  • Report progress regularly and stay in touch with colleagues, whether they are also working remotely or based at the office

During the trial record concrete examples of how you are succeeding (or not) at remote work and what you are learning during this time. Then when you do come to review at the end of the trial you will have a bank of experience and evidence to draw on to show how you can adapt working practices going forward to make it even more efficient.

how to ask to work remotely

Address the challenges

Make sure that your proposal addresses the challenges because that’s what a manager is going to want to read in order to be convinced this can work. In principle, we already know it works because thousands of employees were forced to work from home during the 2020 pandemic. But what are the challenges for your firm, specifically?

Example Remote Working Proposal

Here is an example of a remote working proposal. Edit the text below to send it to your manager (yes, you should prepare a proposal in writing, although feel free to discuss it with them as well).

Make the ask

The first part of your proposal should be a clear statement of what you want, including the trial period terms.

I’m writing to ask that you consider my request to work out of my home office for three days a week. I’d suggest we trial this working arrangement for three months from [date] to [date] so we can both see how it works out for us and the team. After that point, we can evaluate whether it will be possible to extend this arrangement more permanently, by reviewing my performance against the expectations for my role.

Explain why you want to work remotely

When I asked for home working (the first time) I had no extenuating circumstances. I just wanted a better work/life balance (we now call this work/life integration) and to cut my commuting time.

I worked from home more often when I was pregnant, especially towards the end when travelling on public transport was an effort.

If there are reasons why you want to work remotely, put them in the proposal so your boss is aware. If there aren’t any, don’t lie about it. These days, just wanting a better quality of life is good enough.

Be aware though, that your manager does not have to legally grant you remote working (at least, not in the UK). If you are requesting to work from home because of another reason such as managing your disability, they will have to consider your proposal instead of dismissing it out of hand – so check with your HR team about the local regulations where you are.

My reasons for asking for remote working are: [list them]

Explain the benefits

Make this section short and specific to your situation. Talk about the personal benefit like increased productivity and morale, and any specific benefit to the company such as you being more easily able to take calls late in the evening with clients from different time zones.

I’m sure you are aware of the benefits of homeworking. For me, being able to do my job away from the office has numerous benefits including cutting my commuting time. I anticipate being able to do an extra 30 minutes of productive work per day due to not having to travel on the train.

Explain the practicalities

How is this actually going to work? If you are requesting flexible locations so you can pick up your children after school then the smart manager is going to wonder whether you intend to do any work while you are doing childcare. And if they have tried to home school, do childcare and work (as many of us have during the great work reboot of 2020) then they’ll wonder how you expect to do it all.

I’m sure it’s not legally required or even best practice, but personally I would include in your proposal how you intend to manage childcare (say that you have out-of-home childcare if you do – again, don’t lie about your situation). Then it’s out there, on the table, they don’t need to guess and worry any more.

Say where you intend to work. It’s not convenient to do meetings with the dog in your face, so explain that you have a dedicated home working space that is secure so you can manage client files and paperwork without risk of an annoyed teen snapping pictures of your confidential documents and sharing them on Twitter or wherever the cool kids hang out these days, just to annoy you.

Talk about your work schedule and the hours you will maintain.

I have a home office space that doesn’t need any additional work to make it suitable for working from home in my role as a [what you do]. I will fit a lock on the door so any confidential work will be kept away from other members of the household. My work schedule will remain the same as it is now, with me being available for work between 9am and 5pm as usual.

Ask for equipment

Do you really want to use your own personal laptop for work? No, and I don’t think your boss will want you to either.

Consider your equipment needs and use a section of the proposal to ask for the kit you need.

I already have super fast broadband but I would need access to a company laptop and VPN so I can continue to work securely. I’d also appreciate a docking station so I can connect my own keyboard and mouse to the laptop for better productivity.

Explain how you will stay in touch

With your new kit and your lovely home office set up, you’ll be able to stay in touch easily. Bosses worry about this kind of thing. Talk about how you will be available to the team and what your regular communication schedule would look like.

Most of the project team are not based in our office anyway, so a lot of my work today is carried out via email, our project management software and phone/web calls. This will continue. In addition, I suggest sending you a weekly progress report and/or having a short call on a Friday to check in. I’ll continue to have my weekly team meeting with the rest of the team. We often do this via Zoom anyway, so I see no issues there.

Name drop any chat programs, collaboration tools or other software you use. You’d be amazed at how many managers don’t know this stuff is out there in the business or how to use it. And as your proposal will probably be read by people up the chain who also have no idea what you do, it shows you have given thought to how you can continue to do your job well.

Sign off

Finally, sign off your proposal and date it.

Hit send.

It’s out there… let’s hope your boss agrees!

The proposal should form part of an honest conversation about how all this is going to work. The next step is to book time in your manager’s diary for a follow up meeting and get the agreement you need.

My experience

I have been lucky throughout my career that I’ve had managers who (in the main) appreciated both the benefits and opportunities of part-time and remote working.

We’ve also always had the tech to back up the job. When you are out visiting project customers or meeting the team at locations around the country, you need to be able to work on the road. So that was never an issue.

My challenge has always been switching off. Just because you can work from home, it doesn’t mean you always should. I came to appreciate the commute as a way to switch off and transition to ‘home’ time, in a way that a quick walk in from my shed in the garden doesn’t give me.

It’s daunting to ask, and it’s annoying to hear ‘no’ – especially when you feel there is no good reason.

But you don’t get if you don’t ask. So do it. Today, working away from the office is more and more common, so if you want it, go for it.

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how to ask to work remotely