How to Negotiate a Remote Work Arrangement – Harvard Business Review

How exactly should you ask for a work-from-anywhere arrangement when negotiating a job offer, or when you’ve been working virtually and don’t want to return in-person to the office? The author offers five steps: 1) Demonstrate how it will benefit your employer. 2) Show the impact you can make. 3) Be prepared to take a pay cut if you’re relocating. 4) Use data to prove you can be successful working remotely. 5) Don’t expect a one-and-done conversation.

Julia* called me with cautious excitement to let me know that she received the job offer of her dreams, as global workplace experience director at a leading consumer brand company. On one hand, she was ecstatic at reaching her goal to work for a recognized brand. Yet Julia’s reservation about the offer stemmed from the fact that it required her to relocate to the employer’s headquarters a thousand miles away. With two kids in elementary school, she didn’t want to move, but she also didn’t want to lose this opportunity. She needed to know how to negotiate the relocation issue.

Julia is far from alone in seeking a “work-from-anywhere” setup, particularly as the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the things workers value most in employment. According to a survey conducted by Morning Consult, 87% of respondents want the flexibility to continue some form of remote work, 33% of workers don’t want to work for an employer that requires them to be onsite full-time, and almost 50% will consider leaving a role without access to partial virtual work. The new work-life integration is having a significant impact on the future of the workplace. Not only do many employees prefer a hybrid schedule, but a recent survey from Harvard Business School Online showed that 27% hope to work remotely full time.

How exactly should you ask for a work-from-anywhere arrangement when negotiating a job offer, or when you’ve been working virtually and don’t want to return in-person to the office? Consider this advice I shared with Julia and other coaching clients.

Make it about them.

One of the first points I offered Julia was to consider not just what she hoped to gain from a work-from-home arrangement, but how being remote would benefit her employer. With the hiring manager’s perspective in mind, she could approach her negotiation as a win-win.

Since her job is mainly strategic planning that requires working undisturbed for long periods to gather market research, I coached her to point out that working from home would not negatively impact her colleagues. It also would make her a more productive and effective employee, which would benefit the whole company. I suggested that she share research that proves individuals whose primary focus is planning perform at their best when they are not constrained by time, and that location is not critical to their effectiveness.

Show the impact you can make.

Another one of my coaching clients, Josh*, a marketing director for a real estate technology company, lived on the 16th floor of a high-rise in New York City when the pandemic hit. Squeezing into an elevator and commuting on the subway felt intolerable once it became clear that the pandemic would be longer than a few weeks, which convinced him to relocate to Maine to be closer to family. He never anticipated that his move would become permanent, but after a year of living out of the city, he decided he didn’t want to return. Josh had to consider his long-term working arrangement once his New York-based employer announced reopening plans in May 2021. He decided to have a conversation with his manager in an attempt to formalize his work-from-anywhere arrangement.

When Josh consulted me about approaching his manager, I suggested that he make a case for effectiveness, not just personal convenience. My advice was to come to the table explaining why he found his current work meaningful, sharing exactly what he was willing to do to make the arrangement successful. But most importantly, I coached him to find ways to show that he could make a tremendous impact on the company while working from home. Josh explained his plans for a new marketing operations dashboard that he and his team planned to make a reality over the next six to eight months. He was excited about the impact these tools would have on their ability to act on the data provided and improve the performance of their campaigns.

Be prepared to take a pay cut if you’re relocating.

I also counseled Josh to research if his company had a compensation plan for remote employees. In a recent survey about work-from-home policies, approximately 4% of companies, including high-profile organizations like Google and Facebook, said they would reduce employees’ salaries if they moved to a lower-cost geographic area. The rationale of these employers is that employees who have decided to stay in high-cost cities have a higher cost of living and therefore should be paid more.

Josh realized that he had to be prepared for the possibility of not only accepting a lower salary since he had moved to a lower-cost area, but also covering some or all of his travel expenses for quarterly in-person meetings with his team. I urged him to take the long view — weighing the potential short-term loss of income with the lower cost of living and improved quality of life.

Use data to prove you can be successful working remotely.

I suggested to both Josh and Julia that before making their requests, they document their fluency with virtual collaboration and catalog the accomplishments they had achieved while working remotely. For his data points, Josh made sure to reinforce the value he was bringing to his current employer, including successfully launching a new product and achieving his 2020 revenue goals. Julia emphasized numbers to show her success in achieving her annual goals while working virtually with her last employer.

While it’s one thing to show you’ve been able to handle remote work for a few months, it’s critical to address how you plan to continue being committed, productive, and accountable within your role at the company in the future. As each of my clients moved forward in building their case for working from home permanently, I asked them to keep a data focus in mind, thinking about how they would set goals with their boss, communicate progress, and measure outcomes. Doing this research would help convince their employer that they had thought about how to make their work-from-home situation effective in the long term, and how it would benefit the company over time.

Don’t expect a one-and-done conversation.

One of the most important things to prepare for when discussing a work-from-anywhere plan is that you’ll need to be patient. Company leadership is navigating this new terrain just like everyone else. While it’s natural to want to emerge from lockdown with fully formed plans about how and where you’ll work indefinitely, any current arrangements are subject to change as companies adapt to new working conditions.

The dialogue you have with your manager may need to occur over a few days or weeks, particularly if your boss is navigating this issue for the first time. Managers may need to consult their supervisors and or human resources about the best path forward. This situation happened in Julia’s case, since she was the first hire who requested a work-from-anywhere arrangement, and her manager had to clear it with HR and the division vice president before proceeding.

Whether you get the green light for permanent work-from-home or you and your boss agree to a trial period, get the exact agreement in writing. This way, everyone is clear that the arrangement can go forward — no matter who the manager is. And remember: While some flexibility is important while you negotiate, that flexibility should go both ways. If your employer doesn’t bend on the issues that are most important to you, more companies than ever now offer remote-work options, so don’t limit yourself to one opportunity.

Not their real names. 

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