Negotiating flexible work arrangements when it’s not adding up

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Last year, we were told to leave the office and work from home. Employers were focused on supporting staff to work from home because the world was crazy and ‘we were all in this together’.

In time, we adjusted and felt supported by our businesses and in return, we got on with our jobs. It was a healthy symbiotic relationship.

Twelve months on, some organisations are trying to identify a hybrid model to suit their workforce while achieving results. Though many of us are being told, as a non-negotiable, “you must come back in and cannot work from home”.  This suits some of us, but certainly not all.  

A great positive from COVID was realising what matters to us, deciding our core values and what works for us and our families.

A recent study by Boston Consulting Group found that between 41 and 60 per cent of respondents preferred to work two-to-three days a week from home.

So, how is this dictatorial approach reasonable? It definitely doesn’t feel like we’re in this together anymore.

If you’re working in an organisation that’s stuck in this thinking, here’s some suggestions to approach the negotiation on flexible work arrangements.

Firstly, don’t assume it’s a blanket rule. Approach your manager requesting your circumstances be reviewed. If you’ve hit your KPIs whilst working from home, there should be scope for this to be considered.

However, before this conversation, answering the below questions will help you see it from the other side, the employer’s perspective:

What’s the problem the business is trying to solve by asking staff to return to the office?

  • Is it trust?
  • Is it cultural?
  • or is it your results?

If it’s a cultural problem, that’s understandable as it’s happening in every Australian business. A business’ culture takes a long time to embed, and removing face-to-face interactions has a huge impact, so the “new normal” requires a reset of almost all business cultures.

Therefore, the next question is: Is the mandatory request to work from the office only temporary?  

  • If yes, let’s talk about what my plan after that.
  • Can we talk about tapering down to a mutually agreed flexible approach?
  • What timeframes are we talking about – three, six, nine months?

This seems reasonable, and something we can work on together.

If it’s not temporary, the question is what’s the business doing to foster a new culture in this blended world?

  • If you don’t like the answer, as it doesn’t align with your values, maybe it’s time to look for something that suits you better. There are countless businesses who have completely shifted to hybrid work that you can explore.

If it’s not a cultural problem, the next area to explore is if this is a trust issue. The questions to ponder are:

  • Has the trust been broken by me because I haven’t met my KPIs?

or

  • Does the organisation have an antiquated assumption that people can’t achieve their goals from home? (a very ‘normal’ pre-Covid mindset.)

or

  • Is it blind faith? ‘We have a policy, and the policy says that we work in an office’

Looking at global trends, there are laws being passed saying, “This is not okay – you can’t make me come to an office anymore”. While this hasn’t changed in Australia yet, it’s likely we are headed that way.

And frankly, if we’re meeting our targets, contributing to reshaping a healthy culture, and being reasonable in our request for flexibility – why shouldn’t it be acceptable to our employer.

Now, if you’re clear on: YES, they trust me, YES, this is just a transition phase, and YES, we’re all in this together. Then, you can make the decision whether to stay and negotiate a scenario that works for you, or rethink if this is really the workplace for you.