The pandemic brought changes for many people. Organizations had to respond quickly including rapid shifts to remote work last spring. Some ‘white collar’ workers have had the ability to work remotely, while many essential workers did not. Whether you now are re-evaluating your career or job, are currently work remotely, or want more flexibility, there are a variety of career questions to consider.

Currently the business press is full of articles on what will happen as the pandemic is brought under control. Some think work is forever changed while others believe no changes are likely to stick. You might be surprised to learn that in June 1971, LIFE magazine’s cover article was on the four-day work week and CEOs were predicting that over 80% of businesses would convert to it with five years. We know that didn’t happen. It is hard to predict what organizations will do on work hours and locations over the next few years. Many are now considering hybrid options (with several days per week in the office) at least in pilot programs or intermediate terms. Some are looking at more remote work, especially if that allows them to save money or tap different resources.

Surveys show a wide range in worker attitudes as well. In May 2020, 57% of white collar workers were working remotely and that had dropped to 30% one year later. Companies which announced all employees could work from home forever are reopening their offices and mandating returns for most. A Microsoft survey showed 70% of employees would like more flexible work options and 65% wanted more in-person time with their teams and co-workers. Meanwhile, despite the talk about remote work as becoming very common, in May 2021 only 10% of jobs posted on LinkedIn and ZipRecruiter offered remote or hybrid work.

If the pandemic has you rethinking your job or your career, here are some ideas to help you decide what is desirable and how to proceed. Start with the ‘why and what’, add in some possible complications, then we will review steps related to your current status. These will help you make the best moves for you now.

Your ‘Why and What’

Why are you considering other options? Are your interests or needs:

  • Driven by values that have changed in priority recently
  • Related to a desire for more personal or family time
  • Greater Time flexibility
  • Work Location flexibility
  • Better or less separation of work from life and home
  • Increased interaction with coworkers and managers
  • Moving to another geographical area

Which goals are related to working in an office, working from home (WFH) or a third location, or a location remote from your current one?

Does your current work allow the type of flexibility you desire or would you have to change jobs or careers to have such flexibility?

If you need to change jobs, is that possible with your current employer or would you have to change employers?

If you need to change careers, do you have transferable skills?  Would you need additional training or education or certifications? If so, how will you plan to obtain these? Is this possible with your current employer or will you need to find a new one once you are ready?

What is your desired time-frame for achieving these goals?

Other Considerations

Some recent studies indicate people are willing to take a significant pay cut to work from home or remotely. Are you?

Many studies show that remote workers lose out on promotions and pay raises. Whether this will change if more people work remotely is still in question. Are you ready to accept this in return for working remotely now?

During the pandemic WFH led to increased productivity early, but then it declined. Studies show most workers ended up working four to eight hours extra each week to keep up. This productivity drop and the increased stress many people felt increased managers’ fears about allowing WFH or remote work. Many managers still prefer to see their employees in the office. These concerns may or may not change over the next two years as conditions continue to change. What was your experience? How does that influence what you expect next?

Remote work opportunities also enhanced inequity between workers who had to go to work and those able to WFH. Women and older workers were disproportionately hurt by job loss. Others, who could WFH, often also had to deal with childcare or eldercare demands and increased housework loads. Many women left the workforce or went to part-time in response. The economic and personal effects are likely to take years to redress.

Younger people and new hires also are disadvantaged as it is harder to learn the informal rules and culture of their workplace and to build an internal network of support virtually. Companies are unsure how to address this effectively.

Where You Are and Where You Want to Be

1. If you are Currently Employed

This process requires both planning and communication to be successful. In turn, that offers you a better chance of convincing your boss and your company that you can be trusted to work flexibly, in a hybrid plan, WFH, or remotely.

If you already work from home and want to continue to do so, now is the time to start talking with your boss about your interest in working from home fully or several days a week. Ask what your company is planning. Many company plans have changed repeatedly and there may not be a definitive answer for you yet. Still, you have ‘planted a seed’ and you may learn more about what is likely.

If you do not now work flexibly, now is the time to begin to plan how you can and how you can convince your organization to say yes to it. Will you need to change jobs to do so? If so, how do you achieve that?

Based on your goals, what are you requesting: flexible hours or schedules, X days of work from home or in the office, remote work?

Have you ensured you already are:

  • achieving your work goals consistently and on time,
  • seen as an effective part of the work team,
  • maintaining your presence so that others understand your contributions, and
  • recognized as a trustworthy, productive employee?

What business reasons can you use to show your company and boss that your request is a win-win?

Working from home or in a remote location usually requires a specific agreement, which is a contract with your employer. These are very common and generally include a variety of performance and behavior codes. You will often be required to set up a proper office space and certify that you have child/family-care arrangements so your work is not disrupted. You may have to meet specific work hours, core hours, or meeting availability rules.

Working in a remote location for your current employer adds some additional considerations. Some people have already temporarily moved or want to move to other locations. If this is you, there are a variety of factors to consider.

What will your company’s reaction be to your request for long-term remote work? A large corporation may already have people in or near the place you want to be so they will not need to change any pay or benefits options. A small or mid-size company may not. They may be less willing to go through the expense and legal issues related to adding an employee in a new state. The cost of adding benefits in your location may be prohibitive for them too.

An additional career and pay factor is the availability of jobs in your field in any new location. The depth and breadth of need for your skills there impacts your career development options locally from seminars or courses to professional meetings. Choosing a location with options in your field is smart.

What will happen if you want to get promoted? Many companies require you to be at the location of the job instead of remote if you move into management.

2. If you are Currently Looking for a New Job or Unemployed

In researching companies you will need to assess their acceptance of anything different than the ‘old normal’ in office full time way of working. Look across their website carefully to see what adjustments they have already made. What promises, if any, did they make early in the pandemic and how have they kept or changed those? What do job postings say about flexibility or remote work? What do reviews on sites, like Glassdoor or Google, say about the reality of what employees have experienced? What do people you know who are or have worked there say?

Learning about what the options are should also be a part of any interviews you have with the potential employer. Be sure to ask questions related to your needs and goals. Consider questions about how they have changed in the past 18 months and what the impact on their culture has been. Have they trained managers on working remotely? Changed their performance management to address hybrid and remote work?

More flexibility in work arrangements may offer you important benefits. You need to be able to make the case to an employer that it works for them too. Your goal is to decide what is right for you and how to make that happen. A solid work record supported by a clear action plan is vital to having such choices.