Tips from the LA Times Business Newsletter

With workers slowly but surely returning to Los Angeles offices despite the continued risks of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s estimated that people working in Southern California office buildings had more than doubled in recent weeks.

Are you worried about returning to the office? Do you have family commitments that require you to be home during the day? Do you simply prefer working from home? If so, you’re not alone.

Fortunately, some companies have become more accepting of permanent remote work and flexible work schedules — but it’s often on employees and prospective employees to negotiate for these options. I spoke with three experts to gather tips for negotiating work-from-home agreements and flexible hours with employers. Here’s what they advise:

Do your research

Before asking your manager if you can work from home permanently, it’s helpful to know whether any other employees have been granted this benefit. “You probably need to do a little bit of research, do your homework, see if these kinds of options have been offered to others,” executive coach Bonnie Marcus says. You should also read any company policies relating to remote work, especially any communication issued after the pandemic began affecting your workplace.

Ask for what you want

Whether you’re interviewing for a new job or trying to negotiate remote work with your current employer, being direct and honest about what you’re looking for is key. “Ask for what you want, even if you have butterflies in your stomach,” says human resources consultant Denise Pinkett.

Pinkett urges applicants to bring up their work-from-home needs early on when applying for a job: “I wouldn’t advise waiting until you get an offer because [if you’re required to work from the office,] you wasted all this time. You get to the finish line, and there’s no meeting of the minds.”

If you’re negotiating with your current employer, it’s helpful to explain why working from home is best for you and your family, career coach Angela Copeland says. “Outlining your reasoning is important,” she advises. “If you have, for example, a high risk for complications from COVID, if you have preexisting conditions, be honest with your current employer about your concern.”

Demonstrate your value

You should approach negotiation for remote work as a win-win situation for you and your employer, Marcus says. It’s important to consider “How will it benefit your team? Will you be able to be more efficient, to be more productive?” she suggests. “Those are the kinds of things that would be important to build a case for.”

If you’re applying for a new job, it’s crucial to show the employer that you’re capable of working remotely. In addition to communicating about programs you’ve used before, such as Asana and Zoom, Pinkett suggests providing samples of your work. She also recommends offering a list of references who can speak to your professionalism.

Copeland suggests that applicants go above and beyond to show off their abilities. She says that once, when applying for a marketing role, she wrote up a sample marketing plan to send to the hiring manager in advance of her interview. “It was not something they asked for. It was something that gave them an example of my work. And it really made me stand out,” she says.

Offer a trial period

One way to demonstrate how well you’d do as a remote worker at your current job: Ask for a trial period, during which you can showcase your ability to get your work done while at home. Show your boss that your productivity and performance will not suffer. Marcus also suggests working on a collaborative project with your manager during this time, which could further indicate your reliability as a work-from-home employee.

Set expectations

As you negotiate for remote work or flexible hours, it’s important to understand the expectations your manager has for your level of communication. How quickly do they expect you to respond to email? Are you comfortable with your boss texting you? Setting up expectations and boundaries is key to success, especially if your boss is used to keeping a close eye on employees, Copeland says. “You may even need to agree to go out of your way to over-communicate…. You’re finding new and different ways to show your boss that you’re working.”

Get things in writing

If you’ve been offered a job and successfully negotiate for an option to work remotely, be sure to get this agreement in writing. “Within the offer letter, that language should be reflected,” Pinkett says. “And if it is not, the employee should ask the person who is formalizing the offer in writing to add that.”

If you’ve been at your company for a few years and negotiate to work from home permanently, you should at least have the agreement in writing via email. “Always follow up with an email and say, you know, ‘We had this meeting on Oct. 1, and I just want to confirm that this is what we agreed to,‘” Marcus says.

Look for remote jobs

If you’re looking for remote work, use keywords like “work from home” or “flexible schedule” when searching on sites like LinkedIn and Monster, Pinkett suggests. Employers that offer it “are going to advertise that level of flexibility,” she says.

There’s also something to be said for disregarding the location of online job postings, even if you have no intention of relocating, Copeland says. On a recent episode of her podcast, she interviewed a Memphis professional who decided to apply to jobs in cities around the country. “She led with her strengths and the skill that she could bring to the table” while being honest about her desire to remain living in Memphis, and she found a new employer who was open to her working remotely, Copeland says. “They don’t care that she’s remote.”

Copeland urges anyone thinking of looking for a new job now to act fast. “Don’t wait for the pandemic to be over. Interviewing, it’s happening virtually.”

Wondering how to network during the pandemic? I covered this question back in August. Here’s what I learned from Marcia Ballinger, a networking and executive search expert.

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