- If you’re nervous about heading back into the office during the pandemic, there are few things you can do to convince your boss to let you stay working at home.
- Start by explaining exactly why you’re hesitant to return, then outline your achievements while working from home as evidence that you can be still be productive outside of the office.
- If you do have to go in, bring up any accommodations or support you’ll need to feel secure at work. It might even be worth looking into your legal protections if your boss refuses to budge.
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What “phase” of quarantine are you in right now? If you’re anything like us, you’ve probably encountered weekly (if not daily) changes in your mood, your work schedule, your level of motivation — the list goes on. And although you might not have thought about your long-abandoned office space lately, workplaces have also gone through a lot of radical shifts over the last few months.
First, there was a nearly overnight shift closing offices and asking all employees to work from home, perhaps with the guidance that this would last “just for a few weeks.” Then, the realization set in that it wouldn’t be a two-week change, rather one that could last for months. Now, many companies are starting to reopen, with employees gradually going back into the office during the pandemic. And while some people are ready for that 9-to-5 hustle, others are still wary of the risks associated with being around others in a confined space.
But how can you successfully talk to your boss about your concerns, while still making it known that you’re a team player who values your job? If you want to continue working from home, you’ll need to come prepared to state your case and perhaps arrange for a different set-up that allows you to perform your duties just as effectively as the rest of your team.
Have an open and candid conversation
One universal lesson we’ve all mastered at this point in the pandemic is the art — and value — of communication. When we’re separated from colleagues, clients, and managers by distance, the words and phrases we choose become that much more critical.
As an initial step, entrepreneur Nicole Pomije says to explore your hesitations. What is it about returning to the office that makes you uneasy? Are you caring for your children or a parent and feeling overloaded with going back into the office? Are you afraid you’ll be exposed to the virus?
Get clear on why you feel anxious and then state those reasons to your boss with confidence. When you don’t create excuses and don’t shy away from the facts, Pomije says you’re in a better position to compromise.
Be a problem-solver
It’s one thing to express your worries about coming back to your cubicle, but it’s another to come to the table with real solutions.
As career expert Wendi Weiner explains, all leaders want their team members to be problem-solvers and not problem-staters. What they care the most about is work getting done in a productive, profitable, and efficient manner, and if you can develop ideas to do this away from the office, you’re on the right path.
In addition to your experience logging hours from your kitchen table over the past several months, Weiner suggests coming up with a few concrete options to present to your boss. Being proactive, adaptable, and flexible shows you’re willing and able to go the extra mile, no matter where you are. These ideas could include:
- A description and photo of your at-home office set-up and explanation of how it’s useful for you.
- A willingness to work earlier or later, based on the company’s needs.
- An openness to take on additional projects that are more heads-down than collaborative.
Suggest making a pod of colleagues
Maybe you could be okay returning to the office, but only if specific measures were taken to ensure your safety. That’s a reasonable ask of any workplace, and the act of you bringing up the need could be a game-changer for them.
Entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Luminary Cate Luzio says to not be shy about your needs, but rather, share the action steps that would make a difference for you. Chances are high they’d also make the rest of the staff feel better, too.
“If you desire work set-ups that are sufficiently spaced apart, then you need to communicate this need. If you prefer remote work options, perhaps there are opportunities for pods of colleagues to work remotely together,” she explained. “Companies are figuring out what our workplaces will look like in real-time, so sharing your ideas and preferences could help shape how everyone goes back to work. At this point, there are no bad ideas.”
Document your work-from-home productivity
With any ask you make of leadership, data is a powerful tool that makes you appear prepared, and your argument strong. Pomije says if you’ve been timely, organized, and a Zoom team player while working from home… put it in writing already!
“Lay the cards on the table for your higher up. Let them know how successful you have been to the team during the pandemic, and how you will continue this pattern going forward at home,” she continued. “If the work speaks for itself — there should be no question whether you need to go into the office or not.”
Research your legal rights
If you’re living in a worst-case scenario with a toxic, inconsiderate manager who doesn’t care about your anxieties or health conditions, you might want to approach this conversation with some legal insight, according to Weiner. If you fall into the high-risk category or you live with a high-risk individual, it’s non-negotiable that you need to be able to continue to work from home.
“You should consult with an employment law attorney to see if your condition would classify under an ADA protected class as a disability. You will want to consider what your legal protections are, and the best way to determine this is going straight to the expert source,” she recommended. Though it may feel like an extreme measure, nothing is out of the question in 2020.
Remember, it may feel like a mountain — but in the grand scheme of this year, it’s a molehill. And while it can be nerve-wracking to challenge your boss, Pomije says it’s in your best interest to remain positive, calm, and collected. Speak the facts, make your case, stand your ground — and do what you need to protect yourself and your loved ones.
There are no wrong answers or bad questions in a time of crisis — but you will regret not expressing your needs. The right kind of employer will not only respect you but support you, too.