It’s a tense moment when you ask the question about working from home. You worry your boss or colleagues won’t take you seriously; that they will suspect you are looking for an excuse to slack off. You wonder whether it’s too good to be true; if all those people who claim to be doing it are lying.

If the pandemic of 2020 taught us anything, it is that a vast mixture of jobs people thought couldn’t be done from home actually can and can be done well. If you want to get your employer to allow you to work from home, there are a few things you can do:

  1. Know why you want to work from home. Think about your motivations for asking to work from home. Is it because you want to save a 2 hour commute to allow for more productive work hours? Or is it because you need to look after children on certain days? Whether professional or personal, your motives should be pure.
  2. Be prepared. If you are going to ask your boss to work from home, you need to know how it will work logistically beforehand. Can you connect to all your work networks from home? How will you be in contact with your colleagues? Have the answers to some common roadblock questions your employer might ask beforehand.
  3. Focus on the benefits to the company. Most people think about working from home as only benefiting the employee, so go into it with a list of ways it will benefit the company for you to be working from home. Find some studies about working from home and how it boosts productivity and can save businesses money.
  4. Show it can work. Ask for a trial run to prove working from home can work. Maybe 1 or 2 days a week at home, and the rest in the office. Set a time period and prove to your employer that you won’t just be watching Netflix all day while answering the occasional email. Once you’ve established that your productivity won’t drop (and may actually increase) you can ask for the number of days out of the office to increase.
  5. Put forward a proposal in writing and then give it time. Once you have asked your boss about the ability to work from home, don’t expect an answer in an hour. Put forward your proposal in writing as well as talking to them and have your reasoning for working from home and then let them think it over. Come back in a few days after they’ve had a bit of time to think about the implications, or they may even need to chat about it with HR.

These steps don’t only apply to wanting to work from home but can also be used for any changes in your working arrangements, such as flexible start times, part time or job sharing.

Asking your employer for flexible working arrangements

Twenty years ago, it was common for women to have to leave the workforce and give up careers when they decided to have children.  We’ve all heard stories of decades prior to this, where women simply weren’t allowed to have certain jobs once they married!  The great news is that we’ve come so far as a society and in Australia, the workforce is diverse.

For those who are seeking the opportunity of working from home, there are many reasons it appears to be a good idea: no commute, no interruptions, a chance to give solid attention to that project, that case, that email backlog without chatty colleagues and impromptu meetings.

For those who are not so keen, the problem is a simple one: how do they know you are really working? How can working alone, from home, compare with bouncing ideas around in the staffroom, by the water cooler, over lunch?

While working remotely all or part of the time is becoming more and more popular, in some more traditional workplaces it is still very much viewed with suspicion and associated – often wrongly – with people who want to spend their time watching TV while occasionally checking emails.

Today, employees are often a bit older, people more aware of the delicate balance between work and life, and many are also carers with the responsibility of elderly parents or children.

For employers to ignore the needs of such a big chunk of the workforce would be an idea detrimental to the success of an organisation.  Employers, more often than not, simply cannot afford constantly dealing with high turnovers of employees and having to continuously recruit and train new staff.

This can lead to a more flexible work environment.

Changes in society and the increasing demands of employees for greater workplace flexibility has in effect, forced the hand of many employers – both private and public sector.  These days, employees actively seek job opportunities that afford them flexible work arrangements including:

  • Working from home;
  • Flexible rosters;
  • Flexible work start and finish times;
  • Flexible arrangements for leave;
  • Regular part-time work;
  • Rostered days off;
  • Compressed working weeks, e.g. nine day fortnights; and
  • Job-sharing.

By adopting such flexible measures in the workplace, employers attract a greater number of quality applicants for jobs and they have a far easier time keeping the staff they work hard to attract.  This saves valuable time and money for employers, and at the same time, staff are happy!

As you know, happy staff makes a happy workplace and that all contributes to a greater bottom line – which is welcome news for any workplace!

It is women who have driven this revolution, in their desire to combine career and family life, and using technology such as skype, Facetime, email and social media to do so.

However, the number is growing: the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), estimated 244,700 people, or 8 per cent, of working people in NSW teleworked at some point.

However, the stereotype of the remote worker as a frazzled mum with child on the hip, phone at the ear and fingers tapping on the keyboard has moved on. More and more men are embracing working from home, and as time goes on, more employers are seeing the benefits. There is little doubt it will continue to increase in popularity with the rise of Gen Y.

Businesses of all sizes are appreciating more and more how flexible working can benefit them as an organisation and position them as an Employer of Choice.

This is great news for you and can lead you to be in a position to ask for more flexible arrangements to suit your family needs, such as working from home. However, a lot of people really aren’t sure how to ask for it.

Before you decide whether to look at the option of remote working, you need to ask yourself some questions.

  • Are you motivated by the need to complete work uninterrupted? Or by the bliss of having no commute?
  • Are you willing to put in the extra mile, perhaps even more hours, extra progress reports, to prove you are still the asset to the company you always were?
  • Will you commit to networking opportunities, maintain a presence, ensure you are in constant communication with clients, colleagues and bosses?
  • Will you miss the camaraderie of being around colleagues, the luxury of office life, the working lunches and coffee breaks?

If, after answering these questions, and reflecting honestly upon employee culture at your workplace, you can see a future for yourself as a telecommuter, it is time to ask the question.

Although telecommuting is not for everyone (not all jobs can be performed sitting at a remote location) the majority of us believe that it saves time, improves quality of life, reduces the carbon footprint, saves money, and boosts productivity – and of course, it allows more time with our families.  An indirect benefit is to your health – as it reduces stress related to compromises between family and work.

For motivated individuals who enjoy working independently and are able to focus on work while at home, telecommuting can be ideal. For those who perform better with close supervision and opportunities to interact with co-workers regularly, this type of job might not be the best choice.

If you’re easily distracted or like to procrastinate, telecommuting may not be a good choice for you. Before switching from a traditional work environment to working from home, it’s important to carefully evaluate the working from home advantages and disadvantages.

What are flexible working arrangements?

Flexible working arrangements can include:

  • Flexible location – for example, working from home or somewhere else more convenient, instead of the office (this is also known as teleworking).
  • Flexible hours – for example, changing start or finish times to accommodate personal or family commitments.
  • Flexible patterns – for example, working longer days to provide for a shorter working week.
  • Flexible rostering – for example, split shifts.

Other flexible arrangements you may have come across include:

  • Job sharing – where two or more employees share one full-time position.
  • Graduated return to work – where an employee returns to work part-time and gradually builds up to full-time work by an agreed date (for example, after parental leave or extended sick leave).
  • Purchased leave or ’48/52 leave’ – where employees take an extra four weeks’ leave per year by getting less pay (getting 48 weeks’ salary paid over 52 weeks).

Asking to change your work arrangements

If you are going to ask your employer to change how you do your work, either by more flexible options or working from home, it is important to go about it the right way. Make sure you outline a short proposal in writing that has all the important points you want to make about why you want a change in circumstances, but also have a conversation with your boss about the situation.

Make sure you are prepared for any questions your boss may have. If you are going to ask your boss to work from home, how is it going to work logistically? If you already have the answers to things like whether you can connect to all your work networks from home and how to keep in contact with your colleagues then it will show your employer you have carefully considered things. They will have things they consider roadblocks but if you already have the solutions it may make it easier.

Most people look at working from home as only benefiting the employee, so go into it with a list of ways it will benefit the company for you to be working from home. Telecommuting not only empowers the employee to work from home, it also enables the employer to cut down on utilities and do their bit in reducing the carbon footprint in the world.

Absenteeism is also curbed among telecommuters because sick workers still work at home and they put in longer hours as they never leave their office. Find some studies about working from home that back up your claims including how it boosts productivity and can save a business money.

Consider asking for a trial run to prove working from home is feasible. Ask for 1 or 2 days a week at home, and the rest in the office. Make sure you’re choosing a day in the middle of your work week to start off with so as not to look like you just want a long weekend.

Set a time period and prove to your employer that you won’t just be watching Netflix all day and working in between. Once you’ve established that your productivity hasn’t dropped (and may have actually increased) ask for the number of days out of the office to increase.

Once you have asked your boss about the ability to work from home, don’t expect an answer straight away. Let them think it over for a while. They may need a bit of time to think about the implications, or they may even need to chat about it with the company’s human resources department.

Do you have the right to ask for flexible working arrangements?

There is nothing stopping anyone for asking for flexible working arrangements, including working from home. If you’re job is something that can be done from your own office at home without too much disruption, then you may be able to make a good case to your employer to allow you the opportunity to work from home, even if it’s only a few days a week.

However, there are cases where you actually have the right to ask for more flexible working arrangements, but you firstly must have been working for your employer for 12 months continuously. If you have then you have a right to ask for flexible working arrangements if you meet one of the following criteria:

  • You are a parent of a child who is school age or younger.
  • You have responsibility to care for a child who is school age or younger.
  • You have carer responsibilities.
  • You have a disability.
  • You are 55 or older.
  • You are experiencing family or domestic violence.
  • You are supporting an immediate family or household member who requires support because of family or domestic violence.

You must ask your employer in writing, give details of the proposed change and list the reasons for why you want it. These rights come from the National Employment Standards  in the Fair Work Act 2009, and apply to everyone covered by the national workplace relations system (most employers and employees in Australia).

Of course this doesn’t mean you are going to get an automatic “yes”. An employer may refuse an employee’s request for flexible working arrangements or part-time work if there are “reasonable business grounds” for doing so. This can include things like:

  • the new working arrangements would be too costly for the employer;
  • the employer has no capacity to change the working arrangements of other employees to accommodate the arrangements requested;
  • it would be impractical to change the working arrangements of other employees or recruit new employees to accommodate the requested arrangements;
  • the new working arrangements would be likely to result in a significant loss in efficiency or productivity; or
  • the new working arrangements would be likely to have a significant impact on customer service.

If your employer cannot agree to a request for these types of reasons, think about how you could compromise or offer an alternative.

For example, you may want to start your shift at noon so you can study in the morning. If they say no because mornings are busy periods in the business, see if they would be willing to start your shift earlier, so you have the afternoon to study.

It is one of modern life’s great balancing acts: the need for people to care for their children, family members and other general life issues versus the legitimate business needs of an employer. Hopefully, in most cases, a compromise is reached that is mutually acceptable to both employee and employer.

How to not get forgotten about when working from home

One last problem – if you aren’t physically there for all, or even half, of the time, how do you get ahead? How do you not become forgotten?

Most people enjoy the flexibility of working their own hours, at their own pace, as long as all deadlines are met. The flip side to this is the lack of camaraderie; working from home can be rather lonely.

For those who work remotely, networking, creativity and productivity are paramount. Those who work from home need to break down the opinion that, in doing so, they are stating their career is not a priority.

A research project at London Business School found telecommuters were less likely to be promoted than their peers. That wouldn’t surprise those who work from home – but it doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion.

It’s important to make the most of networking opportunities, meetings, and checking in daily; so too is brainstorming, ensuring you are included in emails doing the rounds, and that you offer more ideas, more creativity, more integrity, more commitment, more progress reports than ever.

Moreover, one can miss vital pieces of information. Even though most telecommuters enjoy working without a micromanaging supervisor looking over their shoulders, they also admit it is difficult for them to get a proper review when their employers can’t see them on a day-to-day basis. It is difficult to stand out in an organisation or be a team player when you’re not there every day.

Here are a few ways to remain front of mind even when not physically present:

  • Keep up with industry news and share. Emailing links to industry articles, LinkedIn discussions or news items related to the industry show that you are still as passionate as ever.
  • Accept lunch invites, meeting invites, function invites. Show presence whenever you can and put your hand up to take on projects. Give no-one the opportunity to accuse you of backing off.
  • Many bemoan the 24-7 connectivity of today’s working culture, but when you work from home, it’s important to respond to calls immediately, to emails quickly, and to queries as soon as possible. This doesn’t mean at midnight, but in a timely manner.
  • Progress reports are essential. Do not bombard your employer with every task you are doing multiple times a day, but certainly at the end of each day, a run-down of your achievements for that day will show exactly where you are, avoid confusion, and be a tangible record of tasks.

One of the biggest reasons managers give for resisting the implementation of telework policies is that they do not believe that their employees will really work when they are not in the office; managers must be able to trust that employees will continue to perform effectively outside the office. Prove yourself – and work as part of the telecommuting revolution.

Telecommuting is a work arrangement that offers flexibility for employees to work in terms of location and time. It gives both the freedom to work independently from the comfort of your home and the security of a regular pay-check and benefits from your employer.

Studies point out that people who telecommute balance work and family life better than those who work in an office. One of the bigger surprises is that people actually spend more time working, however they don’t complain, they can be more productive as there is flexibility in time – and it reduces job hopping.

With the right approach, flexible working arrangements can help you achieve a work-life balance and benefit the business you work for. It’s actually worked so well at my husbands workplace during the past few months, they’re changing their policy to allow most people to work from home permanently.

If you have a proven record with your organisation and are keen to work from home or have more flexible arrangements, why don’t you speak to your supervisor today.

Questions about flexible working arrangements?

The Fair Work Ombudsman is your first port of call for questions about flexible working arrangements and workplace laws. They also have templates you can use to guide you on submitting a request for flexible working arrangements.