Assumed remote work was here to stay? Not so fast.
Three years ago, lockdowns locked everyone in their homes, eager bosses rolled out policies to support the well-being of WFHers, and the office was gleefully denounced as a relic of the past. WFH was the ‘new normal’.
Two years ago, David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs, famously said, “It’s not a new normal. It is a deviation that we will correct as soon as possible.”
Fast forward to 2023 and the reckoning takes place.
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Leading the charge to correct that “misstatement” is Disney CEO Bob Iger, who told staff in February that they would be expected to show up in person four days a week. ”
More balanced are companies such as insurance giant Axa, which opt for a hybrid model with a high degree of flexibility.
Since the pandemic, there have been legitimate concerns about remote working from both sides: reduced productivity due to lack of space and privacy; the mental burden of being digitally on 24/7; teams become isolated and spend less time collaborating; the difficulties of onboarding and settling new employees in nearly empty offices; the loss of skills and cultural trust once acquired through informal mentoring conversations in hallways and elevators.
While companies are still figuring out what’s best for them, employees are very clear about what they think works best. In study after study, they want flexibility.
More than two-thirds of the respondents to a FlexJobs Survey 2021 wanted to remain full-time telecommuters. More than half said they would “definitely” look for a new position if they couldn’t continue working remotely.
Three years later, the balance of power has shifted. Many employees no longer have the upper hand when negotiating flexibility. But as a Senior Training Consultant, I have some tips for job seekers who find themselves in the predicament of dream job versus dream remote life:
Negotiate your case
Before you quit your job or turn down an offer because you have to be in the office five days a week, prepare to get your case across and negotiate.
First, think about it from the company’s perspective. They’ll be looking for a good, enthusiastic mercenary, someone who can fit in with the team and not hide with the camera out on a Zoom call.
It will take time to achieve that perfect balance between home and office and it will be difficult to convince your interviewer. Here are some steps to consider:
1. Research the company beforehand
How does it work? Is it open to remote or hybrid working yet? Please note that regardless of the company’s policy on remote work, you may be expected to work in the office on a probationary basis. You have to be clear about that.
2. “Any questions?”
Take this opportunity to gather some information about the company’s day-to-day work structures. How many people are on the team? Where are they located? Who do you report to and where is that person located? This gives you a good sense of where people are, and where and when work is expected.
3. Reframe the story
Achieving that perfect work-life and office balance will take time and probably won’t be achieved during the interview, where your motivation for the job will be crucial in the eyes of the interview panel.
Will they believe you really want to work at their specific company, or choose a career that allows you to work from home? A common pitfall that I often encounter with clients is that people indicate a need for flexibility because they want to give up childcare or do not want to be stuck in traffic for hours every day.
These are externalities – they have nothing to do with the employer. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of WFH for them; you will be more motivated, more organized, less distracted and have more headroom to innovate.
4. Focus on getting the job first
Negotiate the terms and conditions second. In the interview, focus on using concrete examples of achievements you have made. Mention how this work was done remotely or in a mixed environment, but not before describing the success and outcome. If all else fails, get the job and negotiate a move.
5. Use your location to your advantage
I know an executive who did a major hiring round in September 2022 and none of the applicants were based in the organization’s home city.
The applicants who landed the jobs were the ones who explained how their specific locations could be a valuable asset to the company. When I checked in with her recently, she said a lot of what the candidates said had come true, and the company has more of a foothold in traditionally unexplored parts of the country as a result.
5. Be flexible
Keep in mind that flexibility is a two-way street. Whatever the company’s policy on remote work, show your enthusiasm for the day-to-day work, as well as the overall culture. Tell them that you would love for training, or even probation, to take place in the office so that 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. A woman I spoke to in the past told me that her company announced that Wednesday would be another “anchor day” when all staff had to be there for face-to-face catch-up. In response, she told her manager that she bought a house on the other side of the country during the pandemic and would quit if she was expected to take the train to the capital every week. You can guess their reaction.
6. Be patient
Assume that, if remote work isn’t on the table initially, it can be earned. One of my clients is halfway through his six-month probation in a role he loves.
When he started, the company made it clear that he was expected to be in the office four days a week, whatever days he wanted. Once he’s out of probation, he can reduce it to two. But everyone is clear that he must first prove himself.
Don’t turn down an attractive role if you’re not initially allowed to work remotely; instead, plan to build trust and build a track record that can then be used in six months as a foundation to search for what you want. If this has been agreed, put this in writing.
Working from home or remote can mean anything from never coming to the office to being with Zalando with the option – in some cases – to work from abroad for up to 30 working days a year. It could mean a company like Bolt support with your move to Estonia. Or Immersive Labs’ offerings may appeal with flexible start and end times and job sharing options.
It depends on the role and nature of the work required, which in turn will determine the work patterns of the company.
Take the flexible-sounding Octopus Energy: “Ideally you are based in the Greater Manchester area and are happy to come into the office a few days a week. But we appreciate things have changed and flexibility is at the top of everyone’s agenda, so let us know if you prefer to be remote.”
That sounds like the kind of company that wants to make work “work” for you.
Discover some of the other flexible employers who are currently actively hiring through The House of Talent Job Board