How to Convince Your Boss to Let You WFH, Forever!
Research reveals that working from home benefits employees and organizations.
Posted Nov 16, 2020
It is time to choose a side. You (and your boss) can only choose one option. You are either ready, willing, and able to work from home (WFH, also referred to as telecommuting), or you are not.
For many individuals, the choice is easy: work virtually in pajamas, attend online meetings, and do whatever is necessary to be successful. A recent survey by Wakefield Research on behalf of the high-tech company Envoy indicated that 73 percent of employees believed the traditional pre-COVID workplace had serious risks to personal health and safety. In addition, many WFH employees believe that avoiding the traditional workplace promotes productivity and a better work-life balance. However, not everyone agrees.
Some employers, such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, Target, and Ford Motor Company, extended the WFH option until at least June 2021. These companies consider employee welfare and safety as a top organizational priority. Other employers have been resistant or skeptical about embracing the WFH lifestyle. The primary reasons cited by companies which prohibit WFH is a lack of employee trust, losing minute-by-minute control over the actions and schedule of the home worker, and the challenge of effective remote communication. In other words, those companies or managers who believe micromanagement is needed for productivity and those with a poor understanding of motivation may fear that WFH is disruptive and will impact their company, departmental, or personal success.
Even the most thick-headed and stubborn boss can be convinced to allow you to WFH indefinitely if you present the right evidence. Of course, you also need to know how to present the evidence, but I cover that in another article. In the meantime, get your evidence arsenal ready because the factors below are supported by independent, unbiased research. I also describe some potential pitfalls of WFH and mediation strategies to allow you and your boss to feel comfortable and knowledgeable about the WFH decision.
The single most important factor concerning WFH success is the perception of mutual trust. The manager’s trust in the employee means there is an absence of concern about the ability of the individual to meet job responsibilities remotely (Allen et al., 2015). Trust develops from having good working relationships with co-workers and from supervisors who believe the remote employee will be effective as well as diligent in sharing personal knowledge and company information. The individual working from home must also have organizational confidence, meaning they will not feel excluded or stigmatized because they elected not to be at the physical work premises.
Most companies are in business to make money. The precise relationship among all the factors that contribute to profitability is unknown because research designs cannot fully account for or control factors such as business climate, supply and demand, and the influence of competition. However, businesses are generally more competitive when employee-centered programs are created and utilized.
Meyer et al. (2001) developed and tested the “efficiency compensation” hypothesis to experimentally determine if offering employees flexible work options resulted in long-term profitability. Their results showed that although WFH arrangements add costs to company operating expenses, the enhanced business reputation, lower turnover, and less employee usage of paid sick time financially justified the policy. A common theme among the most profitable companies and those listed on “best places to work” lists is the heavy emphasis placed on work-family balance and flexible work arrangements, benefits that are realized when employees WFH.
There is also the need to convince your boss that working from home promotes equal or greater productivity than being in the office. You can start the persuasion process by realizing that confluent research supports the notion that choice leads to higher intrinsic motivation and higher levels of intrinsic motivation lead to greater productivity (Wong et al., 2020). When people believe they can influence the WFH decision, they will champion it more and devote more effort to job responsibilities to justify their request than when mandated by policy to work one place or another.
In addition, when employees perceive greater control over work-life balance, they have increased work satisfaction, lower stress, and less interest in seeking a different job, factors which in aggregate increase productivity (Martinez-Leon, 2019). If you really want to beef up your WFH argument, propose ways to measure your productivity. The best approach is to develop specific metrics that show what you have accomplished (how much, how fast, or how well), and be sure to consider metrics for client satisfaction, leadership ability, and communication effectiveness.
Forget about you for the moment and consider how WFH potentially influences the ability of your company to attract top talent. Many studies reveal that prospective employees are attracted to organizations that have policies that reflect the optimal work-life balance. The recruiting advantage allows the organization to attract talent that otherwise might go elsewhere in the absence of the balance perceptions (Beauregard & Henry, 2009).
Ironically, those companies who offer the greatest flexibility are also successful at encouraging employees to do work tasks during non-scheduled working hours (see here for overtime payment contingencies). This devotion of discretionary time is presumably because individuals are operating under the premise that if the company offers WFH flexibility, then they should also be flexible regarding personal availability.
The jury is out on the mental health benefits of WFH because the research findings are ambiguous. While individuals may prefer the flexibility and feel safer from a health perspective, boundary issues can develop that obscure WFH benefits. Pre-COVID, many of us used the transition period (commuting) from work to home as a time to unwind and regroup while shifting our focus from work to home. Without a transition period, the WFH culture has blended the boundaries, and some individuals feel conflict from the pressure of attending to home issues during work time and work issues during family time. Perrigino and Raveendhran (2020) recommended company-mandated midday breaks, a conscious organizational effort to limit after-work communications, and more reliance on asynchronous communication as potential strategies to restore boundaries and enhance work-life balance.
Let’s assume you are successful in convincing your boss to let you WFH. Now what? There are many foundational issues that should be addressed to enhance the probability of WFH success. Shel Grossman, President of Blue Diamond HR, recommends that you consider the following before implementing any WFH initiative:
- Be certain the technology needed to communicate with the office is up to date, effective, and easily accessible. Cybersecurity is paramount, so be sure you have secure Wi-Fi (WPA2), encryption capability, firewall protection, anti-virus software, and continually changed, difficult-to-hack passwords.
- Reach an agreement with your boss as to what performance levels are expected, and specifically how your success will be measured. Remember, providing performance metrics is one key to the persuasion effort.
- Figure out a way to be certain that there are no communication lapses because of being outside the office. Schedule regular times to meet with your boss or whomever you should interact with on a consistent basis.
- Keep a work-like structure in place. Have regularly scheduled hours and meeting times, just like when in the office. Hold yourself accountable for being on time and “ready” for work.
It is crucial to realize that working from home is not for everyone. Grossman recommends that individuals evaluate their need for socialization and be certain they can psychologically handle the isolation. Many people crave the opportunity to interact with others, and those individuals perceive the workplace as an incentive that jumpstarts their performance. Individuals high in socialization needs may assess remote working as punishment and a performance impediment, thereby diminishing motivation and productivity in the WFH context.
Realistically assess your own ability to work independently. Ask yourself some very candid questions. Can you focus your attention for long periods in the absence of a boss? Are you able to self-regulate and stay away from the refrigerator and places like Amazon when you should be producing? Is your home environment conducive to work, or will you be constantly interrupted? If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you may want to seriously question the suitability of WFH to your particular role and lifestyle.
Ultimately, the WFH decision should be predicated on the culture of your organization. Like finding a suitable life partner, the key to success is not one option over another, but the compatibility of your own perspectives with those of your organization. Organizations that concede to WFH requests from social pressure will not be fully supportive, and conflict will emerge. Similarly, employees who have strong socialization needs or distractive home environments should not be forced into indefinite WFH arrangements. Ultimately, the alignment of individual and organizational perspectives is the key to productivity, profitability, and personal satisfaction.
Allen, T. D., Golden, T. D., & Shockley, K. M. (2015). How effective is telecommuting? Assessing the status of our scientific findings. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 16(2), 40-68.
Beauregard, T. A. & Henry, L. C. (2009), Making the link between work-life balance practices and organizational performance. Human Resource Management Review, 19(1), 9-22.
Martínez-León, I. M., Olmedo-Cifuentes, I. & Sanchez-Vidal, M. E. (2019), Relationship between availability of WLB practices and financial results. Personnel Review, 48(4), 935-956. https://doi.org/10.1108/PR-12-2017-0402
Meyer, C., Mukerjee, S., & Sestero, A. (2001). Work-family benefits: Which ones maximize profits? Journal of Managerial Issues, 13(1), 28-44. Retrieved November 12, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40604332
Perrigino, M. B., & Raveendhran, R. (2020). Managing remote workers during quarantine: Insights from organizational research on boundary management. Behavioral Science & Policy. Retrieved from https://behavioralpolicy.org/journal_issue/covid-19/
Wong, K., Chan, A. H., & Teh, P. L. (2020). How is work–life balance arrangement associated with organisational performance? A meta-analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(12), 4446.