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Is it appropriate to ask about a company's work from home policy during an interview?

If so, then how should the question be asked so as to avoid reducing my chances of being selected for a position? If the work from home policy is more restrictive than I am comfortable with how should I let the company know that?

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Anything that helps you determine if you would like to work for a company is appropriate. It also helps them narrow candidates. It also gives them an indication of the perks you're looking for in seeking new employment. –  Joel Etherton Dec 3 '13 at 15:47
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You seem to be using "appropriate" as a synonym for "strategic". They key is, "does the question look bad on me, even if that place has a great work from home policy". –  Kaz Dec 4 '13 at 1:16

7 Answers 7

Yes it is appropriate to ask. If this will be a deciding factor for you when selecting between two companies then you need to have the facts.

A source of information can be a company policy/benefits document. If it is in a benefits document it is easier to ask for a copy before you make a decision. Unfortunately you also need to know what is the policy at the particular office you work for, and the policy of the contract you may be supporting.

I have worked with companies that had a very liberal policy towards working from home. I have also worked for ones that had a very difficult approval process. The catch is the local/contract situation. The customer may dictate that all work be done in a specific location. The local office could also decide to be more strict or less strict than the corporate policy describes.

You need to ask about it without sounding like it is is a deal breaker. Ask in the concept of a scenario. "At my current company some employees have laptops so that some work can be done from home when they are home during bad weather/doctors appointments/work on the weekends, another place I worked had a VPN setup for these situations. Does your company have similar policies in place." You might have to ask some follow up questions, depending on how they answer.

You could also work in a similar question about alternate work schedules such as 4 days a week or off every other Friday.

If their answer is truly a deal breaker, then you should let them know. If it isn't an ideal answer but they imply there is some wiggle room, then I would keep going forward with the process. Of course If they have no problem with working from home, then that is great news.

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Don't start off the question by telling them that it is a deal breaker until they give their answer. If they misunderstand your question they might eliminate you before you can determine if it is acceptable to you. I discuss what to do if their answer is a deal breaker. Remember questions shouldn't be deal breakers, topics shouldn't deal breakers, answers are. –  mhoran_psprep Dec 3 '13 at 15:05
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I wouldn't assume that a policy/benefits document will talk about the company's work from home policy, or that what it says necessarily matches reality. It can vary depending on what job you're doing and whom you report to, and it isn't necessarily written down. (I suppose it's more likely to be documented in larger organizations.) –  Keith Thompson Dec 4 '13 at 0:54

Working from home/remotely has become such a popular benefit and many job searches have this as a criteria/filter. I'd be surprised by a company that offers it doesn't mention it early in the interview process. I've also worked in large cities, so commuting is also an issue. Many companies will ask where you live and want to know if the commute will be a problem for you.

You have to decide how much of a deal breaker this is. Here are some tips:

  1. Hold off on asking until you learn more about the position and possibly progress further into the interview process.
  2. Mention working from home in response to, "What do you want in a career?" type of question. If they don't respond to this, either the answer is no or they're not paying attention.
  3. Make this one of your direct questions when they ask do you have any other questions.

Don't hesitate to negotiate this. Many people don't want to work from home, so they never bother to ask. They may not be offering the salary you want or the number of vacation days. I've been with a few companies where I was the only person who did this. You'll probably be required to work from the office for a period of time before they'll consider this. Try to get a specific timeframe to have this discussion and then ease into it.

Also, not all companies have the technology to make this work (VPN, SAAS apps, etc.). Your manager, clients or people from other departments may want face to face meetings, so the company/hr department policy may not be able to over-ride this.

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I like your answer a lot...except tip #2. I think you could shoot yourself in the foot revealing you really want something that does not fit their culture. While, on the one hand, it might be a deal-breaker so you don't care if you shoot yourself in the foot, I would prefer to keep the ball in my court to decide whether there are enough other positives outweigh a single culture issue I dislike. –  Jessica Brown Dec 4 '13 at 20:02

"Work from Home" Is a Question of Company Culture
Surely at some point during your interview(s) you will be asking many questions of them to understand the culture of their company and whether you will fit well into that culture, including questions such as this. (Example of another culture question: Asking about dress code). Generally, culture questions fall toward the later parts of the interview once you've discussed the technical skills, etc. required for the position itself.

Does everyone here work on site, or do some people on the team work remotely?
One angle to approach "work from home" is to ask about your future coworkers first and learn about how people at the company in general collaborate with off-site employees, whether they have mandatory core hours, and so on.

It is certainly appropriate to also ask question about how you fit into this picture--whether your position has flexibility about where you will work, or whether it requires being on site full time, etc.

If it appears that their policies are too restrictive, and you've asked enough questions to get a feel for how set in stone their policies are, you have multiple choices about how to approach it depending on how strong you feel about it and how much wiggle room you perceive in their policies. You could wait until you are in a negotiating stage to see if more wiggle room is possible, or if it is a total deal-breaker you may wish to not waste their or your time by politely declining any follow-up interviews.

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This is the way I like to ask this question. Another good angle is what is the normal day/week like. If you ask this of a developer, you may find out if they work like slaves 60 to 80 hours a week, or if they have a game night every wednesday. –  Bill Leeper Dec 9 '13 at 21:47
    
"Does everyone here work on site, or do some people on the team work remotely?" -- be careful, I've worked at a company where several long time employees worked regularly from home, but it wasn't an option for new employees. It seemed quite "unfair", but was how it worked. –  Miro Mar 5 at 21:00
    
This is a very important point - even if you don't want to work from home, their response goes a long way to showing you their approach to company culture. –  AviD Mar 6 at 8:14

Yes, it's absolutely appropriate to ask - it's going to affect your life and your choice to work there.

The right way to ask is straight up - "What's your work from home policy?"

That doesn't imply anything other than simply asking what the policy is. Don't apologize, don't justify - just ask.

Be prepared for a fairly well-rehearsed answer and hopefully a pointer to something documented formally. It's also OK to ask follow up questions - like:

  • what equipment do you provide?
  • do you require a certain degree of experience or demonstration of good performance?
  • do you have requirements for the working at home employee?

Keep the wording open and judgement free. For example, "do you require a certain amount of time in the job or degree of experience before you allow work at home?" is fine, "what hoops do I have to jump through before you let me do this?" sounds like you think the hoops are unreasonable.

There's a point where at around 5 or more questions, it'll be pretty clear that you are REALLY interested in working at home and that any other option may be a no go with you. If that's true, then there's no harm in asking. If you would work there whether or not they have work at home, then ask a few questions, and see what you learn, but don't make this a 15 minute Q&A experience.

If you don't like the policy...

Depends on how far you want to push and what the market may be. If this is the 1 job opportunity you've had in the last 3 months and you know that you have a lot of competition, leave the critique to yourself if you want to work there. If you have tons of offers and it's hard to find people with your skill set, point out gaps that would be a real value add to you.

A job offer/acceptance goes both ways and has to be good for both parties. You don't want to take a job that doesn't work for your life - but they don't want to hire an employee who is such a special case, that it causes a problem with the overall pool of people working at the company.

Work at home has worked really well in some places and very badly in others. It's hard to know, across all industries and businesses whether you will be interviewing with a business that really likes it, or really hates it. If there has been a recently failed program, realize that now is not the time to create change.

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Is it appropriate to ask about a company's work from home policy during an interview?

If it has any influence on your decision to work with the company, then yes.

... how should the question be asked so as to avoid reducing my chances of being selected for a position?

Something to the effect of "Can you tell me about your work remote policy?" should be polite enough. I've never received any push back when asking this way.

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Yes it is appropriate to ask, but the answer may be misleading. Be specific about the question. I asked if it would be possible to work from, and the answer was "yes, it is possible." Should have asked if it was possible for me to work at home. The company answer was correct because it is possible for certain people like managers, and the person on-call to work from home, but as a rule it isn't.

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If it's a contract/consulting company I think it's okay to ask the question right out or phrase it as a "work/life balance" question. For full-time positions you might consider exploring more into their project management and change management maturity. When you've either got a solid PM or BA and technical architect backing up your team, then working remotely is productive and works well for the organization. If organization is immature, then it can be difficult to work from home (either politically or productivity wise.) But if it is a deal breaker then confidently sell your skills and just present it as part of your package when you interview with your direct potential bosses.

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I didn't -1, but working from home gives you higher quality of life. Some people misuse it, but it is ok to ask at the interview if they allow it. –  BЈовић Dec 4 '13 at 9:08

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