Ready or not, here comes the face time face-off. At some point soon, if it hasn’t already happened, your boss may start demanding in-office face time – while, for a host of reasons, you strongly prefer FaceTime from your house. How can you navigate this pending dynamic?
As states open and businesses and leisure activities open, close, and re-open again, workers are faced with the potential demand of showing back up in a physical office.
This push-and-pull has a lot of folks, both on the employee and the employer side, grappling with new questions and feelings about returning to work. How will we stay safe? What needs to happen in the office, and what can we do at home? What on earth will we do with the kids?
Of course, not everyone has the luxury of working at the moment, or working at home for that matter. Health care employees, service providers, essential workers and teachers don’t have much of a choice in the matter, and are being called upon to risk their health and safety, and sort out child care issues, regularly.
For everyone else who’s been Zooming from home, there’s a lot to consider. Of course, the safety, health and well-being of everyone involved are of paramount importance, and then there’s the psychological factor that can’t be taken lightly.
And neither is the decision to go back to the office. So what do you do if your boss wants you back in the office but you can’t make 9-5 work, or you just aren’t ready to take that leap of faith? Here are some helpful tips to navigate this crossroads:
MAKE A LIST OF YOUR CONCERNS
When in doubt, list it out. It might sound pedestrian, but this is a simple, illustrative exercise to help make sense of all the thoughts and fears that might be swirling around in your head. It helps to see exactly which problems you’d need to solve, in which order. It would also be helpful to take a moment to think about it from your boss’s perspective and make a list that represents what in-office time might mean to them, as well.
Here’s how a helpful set of lists might start:
You’re likely to have concerns on both sides of the issue, some about returning to work, and some about what could happen if you don’t.
Have an at-risk family member you want to protect
Don’t have child care and have to deal with the uncertainty around schooling
Can’t risk rocking the work boat too much because your family depends on your income
Are feeling a little housebound and if health weren’t an issue, you’d welcome the chance to see other people
Wants better collaboration
Is concerned about productivity and thinks more will get done in the office
Needs certain activities (e.g. lab work) to be done in person, and has a backlog that needs to be addressed
Needs in-person, customer-facing work or meetings
May be under pressure from the people above them and/or fear for their own livelihood if they don’t get in-person operations going again soon.
Once you have the list, you can start to think through some potential ideas or solutions that could address each particular point, to bring to a negotiation with your employer.
If you’re going to try to work it out with your employer, make sure you start off with complete honesty while negotiating. The best negotiations start with you expressing your needs honestly, and understanding your boss’s needs directly, without starting the conversation off about your wants or desired outcome.
When it comes to negotiating with your boss, you know it can be fraught with an anxious lead up, hours of prep, some potential role playing, and occasionally many sleepless nights. Why is negotiating so challenging? It has to do with the fact that it’s hard to separate our emotions from the actual art of the negotiation. According to the Harvard Business Review, “Over the past decade…researchers have begun examining how specific emotions—anger, sadness, disappointment, anxiety, envy, excitement, and regret—can affect the behavior of negotiators.” For example, “Bringing anger to a negotiation is like throwing a bomb into the process.”
Checking your emotions at the door is not always so easy, especially when you’re asking for something that you’re passionate about or that has so much risk on both sides of the equation. Let’s face it, there’s a lot at stake when negotiating a new return-to-work schema with your boss. Stay strong as you read this; you’re much more likely to get what you need if you can approach this big “ask” with strength, clarity, and calm.
You may also need some data to address potential concerns. For example, if the boss is worried about productivity, the key to this decision is proving – not just saying – how effective you can be at home vs. returning to the office. According to a survey conducted by USAToday, “working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic has had a positive effect on worker’s productivity, according to 54% of respondents in a recent survey of professionals ages 18-74.” If that’s true for you, prepare a way that your boss can see how productive you’ve become at home.
If the main concern is getting physical work done, then perhaps one trial, off-hours visit to the office might give enough data for the company or team to consider moving to shift work so that only smaller “pods” of employees are present at once.
If the concern is child care, you may be able to find a child care provider near you. You may work out a swap of home and office days with one family within your close circle so each of you get a few days at home and a few days in the office. Or maybe even you can ask your boss – remember Bring Your Kid to Work Day, can we extend that to other days, as well? Although many employers might say no, a few may be open to a short-term arrangement like that if it’s truly not disruptive to the office.
It’s important to come up with a tactical plan to present to your boss for discussion. Perhaps you can show how by eliminating your commute, that new found free time can be spent on new initiatives. Or, maybe you and the boss can agree that you’ll show up once a week for an 8am meeting with just the two of you or a small, socially distanced team, and then you’ll head back home afterward so that you’re not in the office all day.
CONVERSATION IS KEY
An open dialogue between parties is of utmost importance. If you are one of the lucky ones to have a great working relationship with your manager, taking the time to state your case (complete with tips from the above paragraph) is the best way to go. Be sure to have an open mind when engaging in this type of conversation. Listen to your boss’s concerns or objections and work toward an amicable solution. You will likely have to give a little to get a little, and not have an either/or kind of setup. For instance, you may have to acquiesce and consider a few days or hours in the office versus working completely remotely.
Fundamentally, you’ll need to suss out how far you can risk taking the discussion. You may need to weigh income versus health, which is a horrible position to be in – one that’s currently being navigated by all of the workers leaving their houses already. Hopefully, you can come up with some kind of workable solution where some, if not all, of your and your boss’s needs are getting met, rather than a situation where no one’s happy at all.
As always, there are two sides to every story, and many potential, creative solutions to a problem. When it comes to your boss asking you to return to the office, the key is in the communication. Approach this conversation with a healthy dose of Namaste. Remember that all bosses are human, too. They have feelings, they’re not robots (hopefully!) and their job is to lead other humans. If you present your case with calm and clarity, you’ll get further in your negotiation than starting out on the defense or barreling in with pent up frustration and anger.
The most important thing to remember is this: the best way to get through this isn’t a face-off, but, rather, working with your boss to face it together.
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