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How to Deal

Before making a case to work remotely, consider how this arrangement benefits your employer

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By Lily Garcia
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, January 28, 2010; 11:00 AM

I am planning to go out of state in the fall for graduate school. I think I can still be an asset to my organization as a part-time employee and would like to present my case. The alternative would be to simply leave. I would be across the country and have to do work remotely, but I am confident I could perform the work without physically being present. Do you have any tips on how to broach the subject?

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The reasons why this work arrangement makes sense for you are clear: as you begin graduate school, it would be nice for you to be able to count upon income from a job that accommodates your studies and which you already know well. You will only be able to make a persuasive case for going from full-time employment to part-time work from a remote location, however, if you focus on the needs of the business. Place yourself in the shoes of an employer trying to decide between replacing you with another full-time employee and taking a chance on allowing you the flexibility you seek. What, exactly, is in it for them?

For one thing, you are a known quantity. Your employer has already seen what you are capable of and is (hopefully) impressed. Even in this economy, good employees remain hard to find. Your employer probably does not relish the thought of having to invest the time necessary to screen resumes, conduct interviews, and provide orientation to its systems, processes and culture when the new person might just not be as good as you.

You could also save them money. By cutting out your commute and the time that you might be spending on peripheral projects, you may be able to accomplish the core duties of your position in a lot less time and for a fraction of the salary. Your organization will also save money on office space and the cost of your benefits. Assuming that your employer provides any health benefits to part-time employees, they are probably required to pay a higher percentage of the premium than their full-time counterparts.

But you also need to proactively address your employer's concerns, chief among which will be your availability. Even if your work does not depend upon others in the organization, your employer will want to know that you are available and online for certain core hours on certain days of the week. If you will be located in an entirely different part of the country, then you might be in another time zone. Your employer will need to be reassured that neither the time difference nor your studies will interfere with your ability to complete projects. What happens when you have a term paper due? During final exams? You need to anticipate these concerns and be prepared with good answers.

Also think about how you plan to account for your time. Because you would not be located in a brick and mortar office where you can be visually supervised, you would be on your honor to be efficient in the completion of your work. Your employer will want to have a good system in place for tracking how you spend your time and thereby accurately assessing whether your alternative arrangement is working. Perhaps you could offer to submit weekly time sheets detailing assignments completed and in progress. Or you could plan to check in once a day with your supervisor regarding where you stand. If you come up with a thoughtful proposal for how to keep yourself honest, your employer will be more likely to trust you to work from home.

Finally, explain to your employer how, despite the considerable distance, you will manage to remain a relevant and contributing member of the team. It will not be enough for most employers that you are available a certain number of hours per week to complete certain tasks. That is what contractors are for. Your organization will probably be interested in knowing how it is that you will continue to participate as an employee in the life and culture of the office. Will you be available to participate in weekly staff meetings? Will you serve on committees? Will you travel back to the main office periodically to reconnect with people? In consideration of the privilege that you are requesting, what are you prepared to do to ensure that you are more than a name on an organizational chart?

Making the business case for why you should be allowed to work remotely while you go to school will not only make it more likely that your wish will be granted. The process will also force you and your employer to have important discussions up front regarding your mutual expectations. This level of clarity in your employment relationship will lead you both to a better decisions regarding how the arrangement should work and, should you decide to part ways in the end, a more smooth and amicable transition.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail HRadvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.


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