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September 17, 2020

Career Development

Flexible work arrangements in the post-COVID era.

Overhead photo of person sitting cross-legged with a laptop, coffee, and cell phone.

The economy is starting to reopen, and organizations are starting to think about reopening the offices they closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In the coming weeks and months, HR managers and leadership teams will revisit and revise remote work policies to determine what work can, will, and should look like.

It’s hard to imagine going back to a normal work environment—one in which every employee shows up to the same office on the same day and stays for the same number of hours. There’s growing support for policies that allow flexible work arrangements, according to LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index—55 percent of respondents said that their industry could be effective when people work remotely. In addition, flexible work arrangements promote public safety: Infectious disease experts say that having fewer people in an office space lowers the risk of transmission of infectious diseases, the New York Times notes.

These decisions will have major implications for employees. Now is the time for workers to speak up and make the case for their own flexible work arrangements. Here’s how you can prepare for and negotiate an arrangement that best suits your needs.

Know what your flexible work arrangement entails.

The national consulting firm Flex+Strategy Group defines flexibility along three lines: where you work, when you work, and how you work.

  • Where you work: Workplace experts told Marketplace that they expect fewer open offices and more remote work options as states ease restrictions enacted to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Many employees are concerned about safety during the reopening period, so negotiating flexible arrangements will be a major topic of conversation. To make the work-from-home case, you’ll need a home office that’s tech-enabled and disruption-free; check with your HR department to find out what you’ll need.
  • When you work: The 9-to-5 work schedule is restrictive for employees with busy personal lives. These days, flexible work schedules abound, The Balance Careers writes; you might be able to start work earlier or log hours at night after you’ve put the kids to bed, but flexibility varies with industry and job function.
  • How you work: You need to understand your work strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Extroverts, who are energized by working closely with others, might insist on face-to-face meetings and informal video chats. Introverts, on the other hand, might be happy to work heads-down for hours at a time to tackle their daily tasks.

Know whom you’re negotiating with.

Managers might be more open to talking about flexible work arrangements, but before you send that email asking to discuss a flexible work arrangement, you should still do some research.

  • Does your organization already have a documented flexible work policy in place? If so, what is it?
  • Who are the decision-makers? It could be your direct manager, the most senior person in your department, the HR manager—or all of the above. Engage with them early.
  • Who are the advocates? Talk to remote work advocates who have influence in your organization. If they’ve already been down the negotiating path, they'll be able to share some insight into the process.

Make a plan.

Perhaps most importantly, you’ll need a plan for how your flexible arrangement will work. Be prepared to address and respond to questions or concerns about certain aspects of your plan. If you’re asking to work from home two days a week, you might be asked about how you’ll ensure that you’ll stay connected and accountable to your managers and team. If you’re asking to leave early every day to pick your kids up from school, you might be asked whether you have a contingency plan for when something urgent comes up while you’re out. As Sacha Connor of Virtual Work Insider suggests, you might want to proactively propose performance objectives and communication norms and expectations for when you’re online.

As organizations slowly start to pull back from crisis mode, many of them will use this moment as an opportunity to experiment with new ways of working. Employees should do the same so that they’re in a good position to take advantage when opportunities arise.

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