Ask the experts: How can I negotiate going back to the office?

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While the pandemic isn’t really over, lots of businesses are keen to return to ‘normal’, and for many, that means returning to the office.

Now that many of us have experienced remote working, some of us prefer it and are wary of going back to the way things were. But how can we navigate these difficult conversations?

Here, executive coach Helena Territt shares some ideas to help us have productive discussions about the way we work best.


How can I navigate the ‘return to the office’ conversation?

My company wants me back in the office, but I much prefer remote working. What can I do?

There are good reasons to ask people back to the office, but some people are being told to come back when it just isn’t necessary. Listen carefully to why the business wants you back, check your understanding, and then show how you can deliver your objectives from another location. Have evidence of your good performance and clear examples of why remote working is more productive for you. 

Managers may worry about building a supportive team if everybody is 100% remote, or if you are the only person not in the office, so consider being flexible about team meetings.

It is possible to build an awesome hybrid team, but it takes conscious effort and time that many leaders don’t have. Help them with your ideas.

If your employment contract requires you to work in a specific place, you should take advice from your Trade Union or HR before having the conversation.

I’m neurodivergent and find it difficult to work in an office. How can I raise this with my manager?

If you are neurodivergent you will be covered by the Equality Act 2010 as someone with a disability. This means your employer is legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments to avoid you being put at a disadvantage in the workplace. The Government Access to Work scheme provides grants of up to £65,180 to help employers with the cost of any adjustments, so it is worth asking for a workplace needs assessment. An Access to Work adviser will talk with you and your employer to develop a tailored package of support.

Adjustments might include things like noise cancelling headphones, a sit/stand desk, sitting away from neon lights, neurodiversity training for your co-workers, a package of coaching to support you, different working hours, or the opportunity to work from home. You can share this link with your manager to support your conversation.

My company has introduced a hybrid model of working, but I’m finding it tough to adjust. Do you have any tips?

Hybrid working has a lot of advantages for employers and employees, but the reality can be challenging. Going back to a crowded commute, navigating flexible child-care, having an unpredictable routine, not to mention the overwhelm of a bright, noisy environment. It is natural to find this difficult and you will not be the only one struggling. 

  • Think about what specifically is making it challenging. Could you commute at a quieter time? Take a lunchtime walk? Ask not to be disturbed?
  • Have a conversation with co-workers or your manager about what you would like to be different, they may well agree. 
  • Try to allow yourself compassion as you make the transition and don’t go too fast. Lower your expectations to ‘good enough’ and build in plenty of time to rest and recharge.

This is a completely new approach, so you can create your own rules about how it works. Be creative!

Helena’s top tips for negotiating the ‘back to the office’ conversation:

A conversation involves at least two people sharing their views, so avoid making assumptions or decisions too early. Many people are desperate to go back to the office (some types of neurodiversity, those with a difficult home situation), others will find it daunting.

  1. Be clear about what you are hoping to achieve and open to different ways of achieving that aim. 
  1. Define the tricky areas and how you will navigate them together. How will you build in spontaneity and personal connection? What will you do if a decision is made over coffee while a team member was WFH?
  1. Keep checking in on the cost/benefit ratios. Is everyone in the office, but miserable? Or do you have a remote team who have never met and don’t support each other? Be open with your team and co-workers about how you feel it is going and find solutions together.

This article was originally published in Happiful Magazine (Issue 65 2022). You can order print copies online, or read the e-magazine for free on the Happiful app

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