More and more workers are discovering the joys of telecommuting—a whopping 12 million last year. Even working just one day a week from home can amount to a big boost in productivity, saving a couple hours in rush hour traffic and greatly improving your work-life balance. Employers also gain from telecommuting by reducing their office space overhead, improving morale, and often boosting productivity measurably. Yet many employers resist telecommuting, despite its proven advantages. Some don't know how to manage absent employees. Others worry about the loss of face time. Still, others are just set in their ways. Working in an office is "how it's done," and no reason is seen for change.
If you want to enjoy the benefits of telecommuting, you have to overcome these objections. Here are 6.5 steps to convince even the most stubborn employer.
Step 1. Substantiate Your Claims
Scour the trade literature in your field for examples of companies that have successfully implemented work-from-home policies, and statistics that demonstrate the effectiveness of telecommuting in your industry. Appeal to your boss' business sense by showing in concrete terms how much your competitors are gaining from telecommuting.
Step 2. Write a Proposal
Put together a written proposal covering every aspect of your telecommuting plan. Explain exactly how you intend to keep in touch, respond to co-workers and clients, and keep up with your working responsibilities. Describe the equipment you have or plan to get and the physical environment you will be using it in.
Be detailed, but flexible. Pamela Skillings, a career coach and author of Escape from Corporate America, reminds us that "The proposal is really just a starting point. You have to be prepared to negotiate from there." But having a proposal in hand shows you're serious and that this is a positive business move.
Step 3. Take a Working Sick Day
In The 4 Hour Work Week, author Tim Ferriss suggests warming your boss to the idea by calling in sick and offering to work from home. It's a little sneaky, but after putting in a productive day, even while "sick," you'll have proven you're up to the challenge.
Step 4. Ask For It
No matter how sound a proposal you draft, actually asking your boss to let you telecommute can be the hardest part. Skillings recommends bringing the topic up with your boss face-to-face and keeping it very conversational. Leave your proposal for him or her to look at later.
Step 5. Request a Trial Period
Give your boss an easy out by proposing a limited-time trial. Suggest one day of telecommuting a week for three to five weeks. Offer working targets to gauge your performance against and be willing to call the test off if those targets are not met. Be extremely flexible with both timing and conditions; you want your boss to feel as comfortable with the arrangement as possible.
Step 6. Execute the Plan
Once your boss agrees to letting you try out working from home, make sure you are at least as productive as you would be in the office. Get every assignment done on time (or early), attend every meeting where you are needed, and make sure you're always available whenever required. Establish a reliable communication system so you can always be reached, and make sure you respond swiftly and effectively every time. Explain to your boss exactly how everything will work, so that there are no questions and no surprises.
Remember, your boss is not primarily concerned with how telecommuting will personally benefit you; you need to appeal to his or her own self-interest. How will this make your employer's life easier? How will it increase the company's bottom line? Focus on benefits like improved morale, greater productivity, the ability to work alternative hours, and energy savings to advance the company's image. You already know telecommuting will make you a better employee. Make sure your employer knows it will make him or her a better boss.
Step 6.5. Take the Initiative
Taking the initiative now might well open the door for your fellow employees—and eventually even the whole department or company to telecommute. Since telecommuting employees tend to be happier, less stressed, and more productive, you'll be doing the whole company a favor. But in most cases, you have to take the intitiative. Skillings says, "If this is something that would make your work life happier or work better for you, don't wait around for the perfect program to be put in place. Think about how you can make it happen."