Persuading your employer to embrace flexible working

In the spirit of National Work-Life Week, a Working Families initiative, we’ve prepared a few useful articles for those thinking about working from home, or those looking to re-address their work-life balance. Happy reading!

For the last few years, I’ve been working from home three days a week, and it’s been absolutely life changing.

On those mornings I’m not sitting in traffic, I start my day fresh and alert, rather than tense and grouchy. I can be at my desk early with the option of either getting more done or finishing early. And the ability to work without the usual distractions means I not only get more done, but I also find it easier to concentrate, which improves my attention to detail.

I appreciate how fortunate I am to be employed by a progressive technology firm, open to the prospect of anyone working from home as long as their role makes it practicable. However, many of my friends work for smaller firms that have adamantly refused to entertain flexible working practices. Until now.

Earlier this year, the UK Government extended the right to request flexible working to all employees — not just those with young children or relatives that need caretakers. Employers can now only refuse a request to work from home for a limited range of valid business reasons, such as if the proposed arrangements would be too expensive or damage business performance.

If your line manager has harboured reservations about flexible working or declined a workshifting request in the past, here are some tips on how to overcome objections without ruffling any feathers.

Objection #1: “We’ve never done it before.”

If you’re asking for greater flexibility, find examples of similar companies in your industry or sector that have successfully implemented a flexible working policy. You can share this as a case study with your HR manager, who may be able to adapt it as a template for your company’s flexible working policies or guidelines.

Objection #2: “If I let you do it, everyone will want to do it!”

If your work style and job role are a good match for remote working, ask your manager to give a flexible arrangement a fair trial for so many days a week over a fixed period. From there, you can gauge the reaction from people you work with, internally and externally. If nobody is inconvenienced, and your performance isn’t adversely affected, your manager should have no objection to formalising the arrangement.

Objection #3: “You’re a manager. How can you manage if you’re not there?”

In national or international companies, workers are typically dispersed, and it’s not unusual for people to report to a line manager on a different continent, let alone in a different country. Unless you’re a supervisor on a production line, your job is not to check that employees are working, but to let them get on with their jobs while you do whatever is necessary to facilitate. In our experience, line managers who use video meetings to stay in touch with their direct reports say they have more, not less, contact with their staff and are better informed about issues and challenges on a day-to-day basis.

Objection #4: “We let so-and-so work from home once and they took advantage. We can’t risk it.”

As Aristotle said, “one swallow does not a summer make.” He probably didn’t have working from home in mind three hundred-odd years BC, but he had a point. One anecdotal account of someone abusing a flexible work arrangement doesn’t discount the entire principle. After all, if we banned things simply because some people can’t be trusted, we’d have to have an amnesty on scissors, hot coffee in paper cups and hedge funds.

Objection #5: “I just don’t like it and that’s that.”

With the change in the law, your manager may just have to put their subjectivity aside. If they’re still not convinced flexible working works, try explaining how you believe it will solve business challenges, and what your vision of flexibility looks like. Commit from the outset that if any flexible arrangements mean team goals are compromised — for instance, two members working from home on the same day causes a gap in customer coverage — you’ll help come up with a solution.

Objection #6: “Video meetings are an executive plaything.”

Today’s tools are not yesterday’s toys. Web conferencing is now becoming embedded in business, rather than a nice-to-have. Bandwidth isn’t the concern it once was, so video no longer buffers and lags. And unlike high-end telepresence solutions, HD video meetings are accessible and affordable enough to be used on a company-wide basis, not just by an executive elite. It’s a powerful way for you to overcome the personal engagement challenges of remote working, and check in with your line manager from time to time.

Lastly, before having a discussion with your supervisor or HR department, you might want to role-play some of these scenarios with a friend or colleague. Gaming out your strategy in advance will help you present your case in a persuasive, rational and assertive manner.

Good luck!

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About the author

Clare Kemp is Senior Campaign Manager for Northern Europe at Citrix. In her spare time she enjoys playing golf, tennis, attending fitness classes and walking her two crazy cocker spaniels. She really enjoys the flexibility of being able to work from home as she hates wasting time sitting in traffic on the M25. Connect with Clare on LinkedIn and Twitter. More blog posts by Clare Kemp ››
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