Negotiating Your Return to the Office
Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered the workforce for millions of individuals. In fact, data demonstrates that the workplace may never return to pre-pandemic operations for most organizations (Gartner, 2020). Following mandated work from home orders, employees were required to quickly shift their work routines and habits, while expected to maintain efficiency from their kitchen tables. Turns out, for many individuals this wasn’t an issue, as nationwide productivity rates increased for a variety of workplaces (Curran, 2021; McKendrick, 2021).
This is good news, since in the United States, a staggering 58% of the workforce is now comprised of remote workers (Steward, 2021) compared to just 30% in the pre-pandemic workforce (Gartner, 2020)! Despite the intensity of the pandemic decreasing, the U.S. workforce will forever be impacted, and many workers are likely to experience a workweek that may include at least a few hours back at the kitchen table as hybrid work schedules become a more viable option.
Working remotely has its perks! 83% of workers report being more productive in their work when completing it remotely, and 75% of remote-working individuals report feeling less distracted when working remotely (O’Donnellan, 2021). Additionally, remote workers are found to engage in activities which maintain their physical wellness 10% more than non-remote workers (O’Donnellan, 2021).
For many people, however, one of the greatest benefits of remote work is related to the work-life balance it offers. By having more flexibility during their workdays/weeks, individuals are better able to attend to the needs of their loved ones, engage in hobbies, or even engage in self-care more freely.
As more offices begin decreasing remote work hours, some employees may feel worried about losing the autonomy and work-life balance they have grown accustomed to. In fact, the mandated work from home orders during the pandemic may have highlighted or reinforced some work-related values that previously did not seem possible (e.g., the value of flexible work hours or a condensed workweek). If this is the case, the thought of returning to the office may stir up angst for some or leave individuals feeling trapped or helpless. In other words, while going back to the office may be exciting for certain workers, it could result in anxiety for others if they believe their values may no longer be fulfilled.
Re-entering the workplace does not mean one must completely sacrifice their values and repress their yearnings for greater work-related flexibility. On the contrary, learning to navigate the post-pandemic workforce may mean that voicing one’s needs is more important than ever to maintain optimal mental wellness following an exceptionally trying season. Here are four tips to keep in mind as you re-enter the workspace and learn to advocate for yourself:
Identify and define your values. Research shows that when we live more in-line with our values, we experience improved mental health and are more satisfied with our quality of life (Brasfield, 2020). Knowing your values can help prioritize your requests when it comes time to negotiate with your employer.
Evaluate how your values can be met in your workplace. What are your needs? Are they reasonable? If your desire is to work remotely 100% of the time, be prepared to compromise. Be encouraged, however, by the fact that a recent survey found 82% of leading companies plan to permit partial remote work (Baker, 2020). In other words, while full-time remote work may not be reasonable, think of a percentage of time that could make sense to your employer.
Effectively communicate your needs to your employer. Assertive communication (as opposed to passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive) will be exceptionally important as you voice your needs and make your requests known. Respect is a major feature of assertive communication: you not only respect yourself by attempting to live a value-oriented life, but you are also respecting others (e.g., your supervisors, colleagues, etc.) in the requests you make. To promote effective communication, consider the following:
Remain solution-focused, rather than problem-focused while presenting your requests.
Ask yourself, “What’s in it for the organization?” In other words, when communicating your needs, be sure to be other-focused and not overly me-focused.
Use “I statements” to ensure you’re taking responsibility for your words and to decrease the likelihood of the other party becoming defensive.
Use data to support your requests (this will also help you to honestly evaluate whether your request is reasonable).
Tip: Try combining tips a) – d), resulting in something like the following, “I would like to propose an idea that would not only allow me to live in-line with my values, but would also support the values and goals of the organization. I feel respected and appreciated as an employee when given the opportunity to complete (X work task) from my home office. Feeling valued like this really motivates me to want to go above and beyond for the company in the following ways ______. Additionally, during the work from home mandate, as you can see from the data, I completed 15% more of (aforementioned work task) compared to when I’m in the office. This 15% equated to $X of increased profit for the organization. Thus, I would like to request to work remotely while completing (aforementioned work task).”
Having made your request, keep in mind, compromise is essential. Not every request will be granted, and that’s okay. If you have identified a value and believe it may not be met in your 9 to 5 job, consider how you may meet those values in other areas of your life, such as hobbies, social engagements, community organizations, or volunteer work.
In conclusion, the workforce has changed in lieu of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is likely to continue to change. Hopefully, most changes will benefit not only the employer, but also the employee. With that being said, adults spend much of their waking hours at work, so learning how to make your needs known through assertively and respectfully advocating for yourself will be a crucial part of navigating the altered workplace. Doing so effectively will allow the worker to live a value-oriented lifestyle, which will not only benefit their own mental health, but will also benefit the organization they work for.