If you’re considering pushing back on your company's return-to-office (RTO) plans, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey, three in five hybrid or remote technologists say they’re not interested in returning to full-time in-person work.
Since employees generally do not have the right to refuse to return to the office, what’s the correct way to push back?
See yourself as an internal change agent, advised Keith Ferrazzi, CEO and founder of Ferrazzi Greenlight. The first step is to recognize the situation for what it is—not a rebuke of an RTO policy but a potential quest to become a world-class hybrid-work organization.
If you don’t want to go back to the office full-time, here is the right way to convince your boss to think twice about the current RTO policy.
Prepare Yourself Mentally
Before having a conversation with your boss, get straight about what you want, what you need and why, advised Patricia Omoqui, senior executive coach, leadership development and resilience trainer.
This isn't about getting what you want—it's about getting what you need to be successful, Omoqui explained. That’s a big distinction, and one that requires the right frame of mind.
Your boss wants the best version of you, someone who feels good enough about their job to perform optimally, so make a bulleted list of exactly what you require to meet those expectations.
Then, come up with a clear narrative or set of talking points to outline your goals. Practice delivering the message with trusted friends or colleagues. For example, you could emphasize how working from home, and thus eliminating a commute, will translate into more working hours and energy to focus on the company’s biggest projects.
Think through your communication strategy and what is likely to move the needle with your manager (and your manager’s manager). Most likely, this is not going to be a one-and-done conversation. You need to communicate to your boss that working from home for at least part of the week will result in boosted productivity and other benefits, making it a win-win for both you and the company.
Consider the Other Side
“The first rule of persuasion is never try to convince anyone by telling them they’re wrong,” Ferrazzi said. The better approach is to anticipate and acknowledge your boss’s concerns and suggest ways to mitigate those problems while retaining and highlighting the best aspects of remote work.
If your team has been stuck in a creative rut, compare your performance to the best practices of companies that have discovered new ways of innovating in a remote-first or hybrid setup, such as virtual brainstorming. Or review the benefits of asynchronous work.
Explain to your boss that collaboration or team creativity doesn’t start with a physical meeting. In fact, a meeting should be the last step in the process, following attempts to collaborate asynchronously.
The problem is that, despite the newfound popularity of remote and hybrid work, many companies haven’t bothered to adopt new work practices and cultures that fit this moment, Ferrazzi said. The debate shouldn’t be about going back to the office—it should be about reengineering work practices and proving that remote work can produce superior outcomes when compared to the old in-house model.
Support Your Case With Facts
Make clear that you’re basing your pitch on data.
For instance, numerous studies have shown that working from home can lead to boosted productivity. Moreover, in companies that have implemented new tools and processes to facilitate remote collaboration, 62 percent of their employees say their team’s creativity and innovation either maintained or improved.
Bring copies and examples of your personal performance and results while working remotely, and project how those can improve going forward. Sharing that kind of data with your boss proves that remote work can be reimagined for better outcomes and can be so much more than a temporary substitute for “real work” at the office.
Propose a Pilot or A/B Test
Still not sure if your boss will embrace your ideas? Ask for the opportunity to run an A/B test. For instance, hold an all-team meeting to address a single, business-critical question. Then, break into small groups of three or four people to discuss a similar problem remotely, and ask the groups to report back or record their ideas in a shared document.
Compare the results between the in-office and remote workflows. Which problem-solving approach and structure produced the best results? Which approach produced a solution more quickly with less disruption to daily activities? Did the remote meetings encourage greater participation and candor?
Use the same testing methodology to measure remote work communication protocols, new formats for daily stand-ups, different blends of on-site and remote work and so forth. The overall goal is to prove the notion that remote work can produce superior outcomes.