How To Talk To Your Boss About Working Remotely Even After Quarantine Ends
As businesses across the country slowly begin to reopen, more and more people are returning to the workplace. But with coronavirus cases surging again, you might feel less than comfortable with the idea of leaving the safety of your home office (and even less comfortable with the prospect of talking to your boss about your concerns). If you're freaking out because you don't know how to talk to your boss about working remotely after quarantine ends, take a breath: There are some steps you can take to make sure that you get your message across in the most efficient and effective way possible.
“If you are feeling anxious about returning to the workplace, you are not alone,” licensed psychologist Amanda Darnley, Psy.D., MHC, tells Romper in an email. “Talking to your employer about your concerns is completely reasonable.”
As a survey conducted in late May by CreditCards.com found, 35% of Americans who made the switch from working at home during the pandemic would prefer to continue doing so full-time, Newsweek reported. If not full-time, 21% of the same group surveyed would prefer to continue working from home "at least four days a week, 26% said two to three days per week and 82% said at least two days per week."
Whether working from home makes more sense financially for your family or you're concerned about the safety of returning to the workplace, it's understandable if you're similarly reluctant to return to the workplace. While employers have to adhere to strict CDC guidelines — such as social distancing, daily health checks, encouraging workers to wear face masks, and improving the ventilation system in the building — before welcoming workers back, there's no way to eliminate the risk entirely.
So if your state is allowing employees to gather again in the workplace and you're feeling pressure from your boss to come back in, here are some tips from the experts on how to turn a potentially difficult conversation into an interaction that benefits both you and your employer.
1. State Your Concerns
Although there’s no "I" in team, so-called "I statements" are the best way to begin this conversation. “When stating your concerns, using I-statements such as, ‘I feel worried about exposure risks, and I need to know what precautions are in place,'" clinical psychologist Jennifer Daffon, Psy.D., LMHC, tells Romper. “This allows for open-ended conversations that are less likely to trigger defensive responses.”
2. Show Your Commitment
Remember, your employer could be just as stressed out as you are (if not more) as they attempt to reopen their business in a safe and productive manner. That’s why you should restate how much your job means to you. “Informing your employer that you value your job and you want to do execute it to the best of your abilities sends the message right away that you’re not trying to get out of your duties,” says Daffon.
3. Have A Plan
Don't just dump your worries into your employer’s lap, no matter how valid those concerns might be. Instead of coming to your boss with a problem, offer a solution, too. “If your desire is to work remotely, come up with an outline of what your daily schedule will look like,” says Daffon. “Provide your employer with contingency plans should you run into snags at home, such as technical issues.” That way, your boss will feel more confident about your ability to work from home and might be more amenable to your request.
4. Summarize The Situation
As your company forms its back-to-work plans, you should have an idea of what to expect, especially from your manager. “You can say something like, 'I understand that the state is reopening next month and you would like me to return to work,'" says Darnley. “By re-stating your boss’s request, it gives them an opportunity to clarify any potential misunderstandings about when they expect you to return to work and in what capacity.” And you never know — your boss might decide to let the team continue working remotely.
5. Be Honest
Even the most understanding employer isn't a mind reader. "You need to clearly state what you want,” says Darnley. “Don’t assume that your boss is going to understand that you don’t want to return to the workplace just because you are feeling nervous about it.” Be assertive when you tell them you'd like to continue working from home (avoiding phrases like "Is it ok if… " or "I was thinking… " or "Maybe I can… "). And if you’re talking to your employer via video conference, try to appear confident, advises Darnley. Keep your shoulders back, don’t fidget, and maintain eye contact throughout the conversation.
6. Point Out The Positives
By now, many brick and mortar employers have probably realized that having a remote workforce is actually kind of a good thing. It decreases the company’s overhead, and in some cases, can actually improve an employee’s productivity. So when you approach your employer, be sure to bring up these benefits. “Explain the positive impact of getting what you want,” says Darnley. “If you have already been working from home, point to evidence that you have been just as productive at home as you are at the office. This will bolster your request.”
7. Be Open To Negotiating
Ideally, your boss would approve your idea of working from home, no questions asked. But more than likely, you’re going to have to do a bit of negotiating if you want your remote request granted. “Think about what you could offer if your boss declines your initial request,” says Darnley. “Maybe it’s working 50% from home and 50% in the office.” Just know what you’re willing to accept — and what you’re not — before you go head-to-head, especially if you get flustered easily and might forget what you want to say.
8. Know Your Rights
A big deterrent in asking to work from home is the fear that your boss might get upset and ultimately replace you. That’s why you should know the company’s position on working from home ahead of time. They might even have a remote work policy already in place that you can familiarize yourself with first.
“Do a bit of research before you have the conversation,” psychologist Elisa Robyn, Ph.D., tells Romper. “Check your state policies around being fired if you do not return to the office.”
The more informed you are going into your conversation, the more confident you'll feel. If you're not sure where to find information, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website is one place to start. OSHA requires safe working conditions for workers, stating “you may have a legal right to refuse to work in a situation in which you would be exposed to the hazard" (which, in this case, could be potential exposure to COVID-19). For more info, check out OSHA's "Guidance on Returning to Work."
Talking to your boss about not coming back into the workplace isn't going to be the easiest conversation you've ever had. But if you're armed with facts and point out how productive you'll be working remotely, you might end up having to set up a real home office, and not, you know, your kitchen counter.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.
Amanda Darnley, Psy.D., MHC, licensed psychologist
Jennifer Daffon, Psy.D., LMHC, clinical psychologist
Elisa Robyn, Ph.D., psychologist