First Steps: How to Obtain Permission to Work Remotely


While there are some forward-thinking companies that entrench remote working as a given for all employees, it is much more common that approval to work remotely is left to the discretion of individual line managers. Because of this, it's important to have a strategy when trying to make that first move into remote working. Below are my top five tips from my personal experience:

1) Timing
Timing your request correctly can be the difference between receiving a yes or a no, or being given full autonomy in location rather than just an agreed weekly allowance for remote working. This can include the day of the week, the hour of the day, or even the season of the year.

I'm not the first person to recognise that managers' moods affect those below them, academics in psychology and education call dealing with these moods emotional intelligence (pdf warning). For this reason, I chose to seek my manager's permission late in the day on a Friday, when he was usually most relaxed.

Try to also time your meeting close to a positive achievement. Perhaps you've delivered a macro-laden excel spreadsheet that saves your manager an hour or two of manual work every week? Or you've just achieved that months sale's target? The former is what strengthened my case. If your strong work is fresh in their mind, they're more likely to want to keep you happy.

2) Ask yourself why?
Why do you want to work remotely? Is the office environment filled with distractions that prevent you from reaching maximum performance? Perhaps the monitors at work simply don't compare to what you've got at home? Maybe it'd simply allow you to get more rest. Regardless of what they are, it's important to be able to provide a response to why - a response that paints a positive picture for both you and the business.

3) Get it in writing
If the result is positive, try to get a confirmation in writing. Will you only be allowed 2 days per week remotely? Can you choose which days those are ad hoc? Getting this confirmed in writing could avoid embarrassment or headache in the future, and it doesn't need to be formal. An email or a text to your manager to remind them about your agreed arrangements could work too if they reply to it.

4) Deliver
If you do get approval, make sure you're set up to work as well as (or better than) you do when you're in your office. Yes, you're now working remotely, but this should not be an excuse to become unproductive.

It's important to try to create a dedicated working area within your home if you're working from home, and to create a clear distinction between your working and personal hours.

If you're on a weekly remote working allowance, working well will strengthen your case to expand this in the future.

5) Remain positive
Keep it in mind that you might not receive approval; there are certainly many 'old-school' managers still around who believe productivity is magically tied to a shared physical workplace. This isn't the end of the world. You've at least planted a seed in your manager's mind, and you might well find that they'll themselves suggest you work remotely in the future.

If you truly believe your job can be done remotely, there's a good chance you'll find other companies that will be more open to your requests.

So, it's clear we've not yet reached the stage where everyone can work from home and roads aren't gridlocked every morning and evening, but even in my relatively young career I have seen improvements year-on-year. What's most important is that you do ask; if you don't ask, you don't get. Good luck!

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