Working from home is the topic that we just can’t stop talking about – myself included. It’s one of those dramas that I can’t stop watching because for years, the federal government and contractors have not been enthusiastic about letting employees work remotely. Earlier in my career, when I asked for remote options and a reduced schedule, despite an amazing boss who supported my request, I felt like an anomaly in the company. Many have joked that they have always thought work from home meant hardly working.
But all of those perceptions changed this past year. However, as more organizations and agencies switch to a hybrid mode or find ways to offer full-time remote work, not everyone is enthusiastic about the change. It feels a little bit like the scene in Happy Gilmore when Shooter McGavin and Golf Commissioner Doug Thompson are chatting about how people are coming around to Happy Gilmore’s “unusual” quirks in golf. Shooter McGavin says, “Yeah, everyone is coming around….WELL I’M NOT DOUG!”
I can hear that undercurrent from some DoD managers about the remote work conversation. The frustration that everyone is singing praises about remote work and glossing over any issues can be felt in some of the comments submitted in the DoD’s Inspector General Report earlier this year. If you ignore the part of the federal workforce who are against remote work, you may find yourself out of work or under utilized. While it’s possible to fight back, given the wave of support for remote work, that may not be the best bet for your career.
5 Messages to Hit in the Remote Work Pitch
It’s all about messaging. The key to getting what you want with your career and schedule has more to do with your messaging about value to your employer or client than benefits to you as an employee. That’s not to say that your needs don’t matter, but they cannot be the key in your negotiation strategy.
1. Productivity Increase
Telling your employer about your long commute isn’t a great strategy to achieving more hours at home. Commuting time can often be seen as a personal decision instead of an employer or client problem. It might be cheaper to live 45 minutes away from the Pentagon, but there are housing options inside the beltway. They just happen to be for less space and more money. It’s all about choices. While it’s not about how you spin things, there is an element to focusing on the value to your employer by decreasing your commute time. Explain how the organization benefits when you spend less time on the road for your job. Less time in the car can lead to more work that gets completed. Employees who aren’t battling road rage around the beltway hit the ground running from the moment they hit the power button on the computer. And be prepared to show how you are more productive. This productivity claim goes a lot farther when you have examples or metrics to support it.
2. Increases Focus and Creativity
You may have world’s best boss, but helping you live your best life now is not really their goal. Nor should it be. You have to show the value that you bring to the team as not only a less stressed employee but also a more focused and creative employee. Even with a short commute, the stress of getting out of the house and leaving work unfinished is hard to battle, and for many, remote work allows a little more breathing room and focus in their life. Whether your job trends towards tedious or highly creative, having pockets of time in a more comfortable setting can help stay focused and accurate. Everyone works differently, and highlighting the benefits of diversity on the team in how everyone functions can be a key seller in your negotiations. Don’t talk about how your dog misses you or how many loads of laundry you can do at the same time. Focus on the shared mission that you all have. Everyone has dirty laundry, and it’s not their job to worry about you get yours done.
3. Remote Options Help Your Employer Keep Up with the Joneses
It may not be a great career strategy to bribe your way to the remote life, but highlighting other competitors who offer this benefit does help your employer understand that it does need to be a component in their retention strategy. So, do a little digging and check on which companies are hybrid or full-time remote options. When a security clearance is at play, you will have to be more open to a hybrid option, unless you’re supporting a fully unclassified program. However, some organizations are also looking at ways to provide cleared employees who cannot leave the SCIF other work-life balance options. So even if you fall into the camp of cleared workers who are tied to the SCIF, you can highlight what other organizations are doing to better serve their employees.
4. Work from Home Supports Employee Health – Mental and Physical
Many individuals suffer from chronic pain, autoimmune disorders, or mental health issues. A key way employers can support employee health is through offering work from home options. Check for any health metrics that your organization is working on hitting that can help them get better insurance rates, and highlight how your remote work helps achieve company goals. If you have specific health issues, getting personal about how working remotely helps you manage your symptoms better will also go a long way in making your case. Cite any improvements you noticed this past year in your time at home and explain the benefits to you, your clients, and your company. Short term adjustments due to health that only benefit the employee are often approved with less angling; however, once you move into a longer term situation, you will need to spell out how everyone wins.
The Future is Hybrid
While working 100% remotely is an option for employees outside the national security space, when classified information is involved, unless you have your own SCIF, your odds are high that you will have to be in the office at least some of the time. For many this year, that has meant setting up shifts in order to reduce the number of people on-site, and for other employers, that has meant setting up scheduled in office days and work from home days. The hybrid option allows employees the ability to parse out work and handle unclassified pieces at home, and then focus on classified work while in the office.
Aimee George Leary, talent strategy officer at Booz Allen says, “As an organization that provided continual support for essential DoD missions throughout the pandemic, the ability to quickly pivot our workforce to flexible, secure remote delivery has been critical, and we’ve been able to offer employees a variety of tools and benefits to help make that transition successful. Supported by Section 3610 of the CARES Act, which has been indispensable in maintaining our cleared national security contractor workforce, we have seen strong productivity and employee satisfaction from our teams over the past year as they have adjusted to remote and hybrid work, and we will continue to collaborate closely with our clients to adapt to this environment.”
So, make the ask from your employer, but while you’re exploring remote options with them, make sure you present the benefits to your company and client. Your argument on how remote work helps better support the mission will go a lot farther than your argument for a better personal life.