Assumed remote work was here to stay? Not so fast.
Three years ago, lockdowns confined everyone to their homes, eager bosses rolled out policies to support WFH-ers’ wellbeing and the office was being gleefully denounced as a relic from the past. WFH was the “new normal.”
Two years ago, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon famously took issue with that: “It’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible.”
Fast forward to 2023 and the reckoning is happening.
Leading the charge to correct that “aberration” is Disney’s chief executive Bob Iger who told staff in February they would be expected to appear in person four days a week, saying it would benefit “the company’s creativity, culture, and our employees’ careers.”
Taking a more balanced approach are companies like insurance giant Axa, which is opting for a hybrid model with a significant degree of flexibility.
Since the pandemic, legitimate fears about remote working have surfaced from both sides: reduced productivity due to lack of space and privacy; the mental burden of being switched on digitally 24/7; teams becoming siloed and spending less time collaborating; the difficulties of onboarding and settling in new hires in near empty offices; the loss of skills and cultural confidence once acquired through informal mentoring chats in hallways and lifts.
While companies are still figuring out what’s best for them, workers are very clear on what they believe works best. In survey after survey, they want flexibility.
Over two-thirds of respondents to a 2021 FlexJobs survey wanted to remain full-time remote workers. More than half said they would “absolutely” look for a new position if they couldn’t continue working remotely.
Three years on, the balance of power has shifted. Many workers no longer have the upper hand when bargaining for flexibility. But, as a Senior Training Consultant, I have some tips to offer job seekers who find themselves in the dream job vs dream remote life predicament:
Negotiate your case
Before quitting your job or rejecting an offer because it requires five days a week in the office, prepare to put your case across and negotiate.
First of all, think about it from the company’s perspective. They will be looking for a good, enthusiastic hire, someone who can gel with the team and not hide with their camera off on a Zoom call.
Reaching that perfect WFH and office-based balance will take time and convincing your interviewer will be difficult. Here’s some steps you need to consider:
1. Research the company in advance
How does it operate? Is it already open to remote or hybrid working? Bear in mind that whatever the company’s policy on remote working is, you may be expected to work in the office for a probationary phase. You need to be clear on that.
2. “Do you have any questions?”
Use this opportunity to elicit some information about the company’s day-to-day working structures. How many people are on the team? Where are they located? Who do you report to and where is that person based? This will give you a good feel for where people are, and where and when the work is expected to be done.
3. Reframe the narrative
Reaching that perfect WFH and office-based balance will take time, and is unlikely to be achieved during the interview, where your motivation for the job will be crucial in the eyes of the interview panel.
Will they believe that you really want to work with their particular company—or that you’ll take any career that allows you to work from home? A common pitfall I often encounter with clients is people declaring a need for flexibility because they want to give up childcare or don’t want to sit in traffic for hours every day.
These are externalities––they have nothing to do with the employer. Instead, focus on the positives of WFH for them; you’ll be more motivated, more organised, less distracted, and will have more head space to innovate.
4. Concentrate on getting the job first
Negotiate terms and conditions second. In the interview, focus on using concrete examples of achievements you’ve delivered. Mention how this work was done remotely or in a blended environment, but not before you’ve described the success and outcome. If all else fails, get the job, then negotiate a switch.
5. Use your location to your advantage
I know a manager who did a major recruitment round in September 2022 and none of the job candidates were based in the home city of the organisation.
The applicants who landed the jobs were the ones who explained how their specific locations could be a valuable asset to the firm. When I checked in with her recently she said much of what the candidates said had come to fruition, and the firm has a greater foothold in traditionally untapped parts of the country as a result.
5. Be flexible
Bear in mind, flexibility is a two-way street. Whatever the company’s policy is on remote working, show your enthusiasm for the day-to-day work, but also the overall culture. Tell them that you’d be delighted if training, or even a probationary period, happened in the office so you can learn their processes and bring them back to your more permanent place of work: your home.
Don’t approach this (or any negotiation) ultimatum-style. One woman I spoke with in the past told me that her company announced that Wednesday would be a new “anchor day” where all-staff had to be present for face-to-face catch-ups. In response, she told her manager that she purchased a house on the opposite side of the country during the pandemic and would quit if she was expected to get the train to the capital every week. You can guess their response.
6. Be patient
Work on the basis that, if remote working is not on the table initially, it can be earned. One of my clients is halfway through his six-month probation period in a role he loves.
When he started, the company made it clear he was expected to be in the office, on whatever days he chose, four days a week. Once he passes his probation period, he can dial this down to two. But everyone is clear that he has to prove himself first.
Don’t turn down an attractive role if you’re not allowed to work remotely at first; instead plan to build up trust and a track record of achievement that can then be used in six months as the basis of seeking what you want. If this is agreed, get it in writing.
WFH or remote working can mean anything from never turning up at the office, to being at Zalando with the option––in some cases––to work from abroad up to 30 working days a year. It could mean a company like Bolt supporting your relocation to Estonia. Or Immersive Labs’ offering might appeal with flexible start and finish times and job share options.
It depends on the role and the nature of the work required which will in turn inform the company’s working patterns.
Take the flexible-sounding Octopus Energy: “Ideally you will be based in the Greater Manchester area and happy to come into the office a couple of days per week. But we appreciate that things have changed and flexibility is at the top of everyone’s agenda, so if you would rather be remote please let us know.”
Now, that sounds like the kind of company that wants to make work “work” for you.
Discover some of the other flexible employers actively hiring right now via The House of Talent Job Board
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