How soon is too soon to ask to work from home?
January 9, 2012 6:40 PM   Subscribe

I started a new job a month ago. I like my job and I like my co-workers, but what I would really like is to work from home. When should I ask or should I ask at all?

Here's the background: The main office space of my work is absolutely packed to the gills, but work has another office space close by, which is where my desk is. No one in my department works in that space with me. It's a pretty solitary job; I do virtually all of my work via computer and have a laptop and a login to work from home. I can go days without seeing my supervisor; we mostly communicate through email and very occasionally the phone (I could probably count on my fingers the number of times I've actually used my work phone). Many other employees work remotely, either from their homes or on the road visiting customers, but they don't live in the town where the company is headquartered (I do).

Desks are at a premium in the main space and they're also becoming dear in my office space; the other team in my office space is going to be expanding soon and will need a desk for a new employee. There's currently talk of moving me to the main space, but I'm not sure where they can actually put me.

My work requires concentration and attention to detail. I'm in an open-concept office with a number of other people; coworkers have said they couldn't do what I do there. If I moved to the main space, I'd be in the same situation. Also, I'm the only person doing the work I'm doing; I work with others in my department via email but my role is very different from theirs.

I understand there are a number of reasons why my supervisors would be wary of letting me work from home: no one else living in town and working there does it; I'm brand-new and they don't know me and my work ethic well enough yet; being part of the team is part of company culture; and it may set precedent that they don't want to set. On the other hand, if I worked from home, I'd probably be happier and more productive (I've worked from home before, so I'm used to it and like it), there would be more office space, they'd save money on my monthly parking pass, maybe it's a precedent to set that would be beneficial to the company, etc.

Let me say that I'm very, very grateful to have any job in this economy and it took a long time to finally get one. I certainly don't want to jeopardize it, but I think I'd be much happier working from home and just coming in as needed, which I could easily do. I also have some anxiety that would be easier to control at home. I could get a doctor's note for it, but I'd prefer not to mention this to my superiors if I don't have to, especially this early in the game.

This is long and vague for anonymity's sake, but here's the actual question. Is it too early to ask to work from home? (While I feel like it probably is since I'm not well-established there and I haven't gotten past the probationary period, I also feel like it would make sense to ask before I'm moved somewhere else.) If not soon, then when should I ask? Should I ask at all or should I just suck it up and go into the office like most people do every day?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you are in an official probationary period, I definitely would not directly ask to start working from home. However, if the topic of where you might be sitting comes up with your supervisor, it might be appropriate that you feel you could do your work successfully in a home office setting. Would your supervisor be the one to have final say on the issue? There might be more people and politics involved in the issue than you'd know being so new to the company. Tread carefully.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:52 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

As someone who has worked for home for 4 years, I say wait. Use your time in the office to go out of your way to make personal connections with your co-workers and supervisor. Do so until you are well past the probationary period. Personal connections are extremely important (in most jobs) to getting things done and they are much harder to make over the phone than over the cubicle wall or in the cafeteria. Cross functional area connections are almost impossible to make while working from home... and those are sometimes the most useful.

So bide your time. Make yourself a known entity. Then work from home occasionally. Then just keep doing it until you have evidence of your ability to accomplish goals when working from home. Finally, launch your request to make it formal.

Even still recognize that for all the freedom working from home gives you, it takes away from the healthy interpersonal interactions and definitely takes you out of any consideration of being promoted. People promote people they trust and like. Working a solitary job from home means you will have to work extra hard to establish trust and a personal connection.

I know it isn't what you want to hear but I really think you should wait till you've proven yourself before you ask to work from home.
posted by FastGorilla at 6:57 PM on January 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

You might also mention it in an offhand way to your supervisor: "I know I've only been here a short time, but at some point in the future if and when it is appropriate, I'd like to consider working from home, as in the past I've found it a very effective work environment for me, and I know you're short on office space. Again, I know I'm probably jumping the gun here, but just wanted to get it on your radar for whenever it seems reasonable to consider the option."
posted by judith at 6:59 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would probably wait a bit until you are a little more well established. I think the proper way to do this would be to use some of your points you've made, and when it's time to ask, start with asking to work from home one day a week. Start with one or two, show you can still be as effective and nothing will change communication/productivity-wise, and then you have a base to go from. From my experience, for networking and sanity, I prefer to go into the office at some regular interval. IMO, It's harder to move up and make ties if you are working from home 100% of the time. Have your goal be 3-4 days a week and when you first ask, ask for 1 or 2/week.
posted by gatorbiddy at 7:02 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel you: Open-plan is hell, designed and endorsed by morons and sadists.

That said, the best time to ask about work-from-home is before taking the job. Now that you're there, your only leverage is threatening to quit.

That said, a day or two a week is definitely the place to start.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:19 PM on January 9, 2012

I think it's very hard at this point to ask them to let you work from home. Since they have no idea about you yet, they have no way of knowing if it's going to work out for them (not everyone who claims to be good at working from home actually is). I would spend some more time working in the office so they get the sense that you are someone who does good work and can be trusted. Then, once you've build that trust and those relationships, start investigating about whether it's possible. I would avoid asking if you can work from home "at some point in the future," since i think that may just let them push it off forever; I'd come at them with a solid plan once you feel like you're on firm footing.
posted by Betelgeuse at 7:43 PM on January 9, 2012

I'd wait and bring it up the next time discussion of moving your desk arises. "I know space is tight; I'm perfectly willing to telecommute - it'll save me gas and relieve some space pressure."

If it's not part of the culture, though, I'd be cautious. Both in raising the possibility and in doing it. I've seen people who have worked out remote work arrangements in offices with supervisors who are... not HOSTILE to it, but who don't really embrace it. And when there are conflicts or questions or a need to cut back, those out-of-sight out-of-mind people are the first on the chopping block.

That blows, and I think it says a lot more about those supervisors who clearly think THEY wouldn't be working hard if someone wasn't looking at then. But it is what it is, so be careful; the space concern might lead them to agree to something they're not fully on board with and you could pay the price down the road.
posted by phearlez at 7:44 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

If there are particular projects that you know would really benefit from uninterrupted time or quiet or some other commodity you know you could do better at home, that is another way to bring it up to your manager. "Fritz, it seems like it would be helpful for the team if I could get all the TPS reports done early in the week; I'm thinking about allocating a day to getting them all done at once with fewer interruptions from the floor. It's kind of challenging in the open environment. Would you be ok with me having Tuesday as my work from home all-day TPS day - I'll be available by phone and email, and fewer interruptions will really help me keep the momentum up."
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:02 PM on January 9, 2012

Totally agree with FastGorilla. I have worked with my current organisation twice, first time around I was in the office, now I work from home. If I didn't know the people in the office, and have a rapport with them this job would be even more difficult than it already is. I am the only one at home and only see colleagues every other month.

You also need to decide how long, if you start working at home, you are willing to do it for. FastGorilla is correct that you can say goodbye to promotions, or even any significant changes in your job role, and you will be left out of some projects and teams. I've been doing this for nearly 3 years now, I see myself seeking a normal office job again eventually before all my work habits are corrupted and my career stagnates.

There are some upsides - fewer meetings and distractions, but the stress and pressure of being almost entirely self-directed can be very demotivating. You have to look over your own shoulder, which in the beginning is easy but years down the track, without promotion or other opportunities, it becomes more and more difficult.
posted by wingless_angel at 1:56 AM on January 10, 2012

As a line manager, I am not wild about my staff working from home. I strongly believe that people are less productive in that environment and my experience has borne this out.

I do accept the fact that there is a wide range of views on this subject and that corporate culture and industry norms play a big part. For all that though, you need to be aware that there’s lots of people who share my prejudices.

For all of these reasons, I’d wait until your end of probation meeting. Knock the ball out of the park in the meantime and go in with as strong a hand as you can possibly have. Focus on the business case – namely that you’ll be more productive – rather than your personal preferences which are to some extent neither here nor there.

There’s good advice above about looking to get a day or two a week from home but I would strongly caution against asking for Monday and/or Friday as to a manager like me, that’s tantamount to asking for a 2.5+ day weekend.
posted by dmt at 2:48 AM on January 10, 2012

As winter is approaching in the northern hemisphere, maybe you could approach the topic by asking to work from home instead of driving in the snow. If you do this, be sure to document the hours you spend working and what you accomplish so that you can use your increased productivity during snow days as evidence to support your request to keep working from home.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 9:01 AM on January 10, 2012

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