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It's very important to me that, in my job, I am able to occasionally work from home (WFH) if things come up.

I'm afraid that if I ask an employer about this directly, it will come off as flaky and lazy or uncommitted. I do seek a challenging and rewarding job, but my schedule is simply so busy that a 1hr commute can sometimes wear my time very thin (no jobs are offered less than an hour away from where I live)

How do I appropriately ask an employer about this?

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What kind of "things come up"? Employers may be more tolerant about caring for kids or relatives than other things. –  Stephan Kolassa Jun 12 at 13:50
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“…but my schedule is simply so busy that a 1hr commute…” Pardon me for stating this, but most people’s commutes are 30 minutes to 1 hour. So is this your argument for flex time? This kind of commute is the norm. –  JakeGould Jun 12 at 15:28
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“…for example, say I have a dentist appointment.” Take a sick day or personal day like everyone else. –  JakeGould Jun 12 at 16:09
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@StephanKolassa I would be very wary of someone who works from home to take care of kids. Taking care of small kids can be full-time work and cannot be done simultaneously with work. There can be many valid reasons to work from home (or remotely in other ways), but it seems virtually certain that taking care of kids is going to be very harmful to productivity. –  gerrit Jun 12 at 17:44
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@StephanKolassa a rethorical question - do sick kids somehow require less care than usual? Staying at home with sick kids is called sick leave, not working from home; in many places outside of USA it's explicitly handled that way legally (i.e., as not something that any employer can refuse). –  Peteris Jun 13 at 1:35

5 Answers 5

up vote 39 down vote accepted

It's very important to me that, in my job, I am able to occasionally work from home if things come up.

I'm afraid that if I ask an employer about this directly, it will come off as flaky and lazy or uncommitted. I do seek a challenging and rewarding job, but my schedule is simply so busy that a 1hr commute can sometimes wear my time very thin (no jobs are offered less than an hour away from where I live)

How do I appropriately ask an employer about this?

Anything that is very important to you means it is also very important to discuss during your interviews.

If you require the ability to work from home when you desire, then bring it up during your discussions. Don't be hazy about it - make sure you explain specifically what you are looking for in enough detail that they understand what you are asking for, and you understand their stance on meeting your needs.

If the potential employer decides that this request makes you "flaky, lazy, or uncommitted", then clearly that employer doesn't meet your needs and you wouldn't want to work for them anyway. You shouldn't be afraid of this happening. You want to know which employers can meet your needs before you are hired, not after.

Asking for permission to decide when and when not to work from home likely means that the list of potential employers is smaller, but that's exactly what you need - a smaller list of employers who will be more willing to give you what is very important to you. It will almost certainly take you longer to get hired, but once hired you will hopefully be happier.

It's perfectly appropriate to ask questions concerning the corporate culture during the interview process - probably after you get a sense that you are technically suited to the position, and the other aspects of the job are a good match.

For example, I don't want to do any business travel any longer - it just doesn't fit into my life these days. Thus, sometime during the interview process I make sure I ask about the need for business travel. If I hear anything that leads me to believe that travel is expected, then I thank the interviewer for their time, but tell them that the needs of the position just don't match my personal needs. And then I move on to other companies.

You could approach this question as "Tell me about your policy on working from home?" Then listen, and probe for understanding. Learn if you'll be able to take advantage of that while you are still a new employee or not. Learn how often it will be permissible to work from home (several days per week? only once per month?), and how much advance notice you must provide (if any). Then you will learn if both you and your employer will be happy with the situation, or not.

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You could approach this question as "Tell me about your policy on working from home?" Very tactfully stated. Worth adding to every interviewee's list of questions to ask a new employer... –  zipzit Jun 13 at 2:58
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It's a good thing to ask about working from home, even if you don't actually require or intend to benefit from such a feature. Asking about this can give you a significant puzzle piece of the company's culture. –  Radu Murzea Jun 13 at 8:04

I don't see that there is anything inherently wrong in asking if work from home is permitted and under what conditions. In today's world, working from home is a common benefit and I would find it no more off-putting than being asked if we have a 401K or flex time. After all you are judging the company to see if they are a good fit too and working from home is an important issue for some people. I don't think it has a negative connotation at all - just that you want to understand the working conditions you are signing up for if you join the company. And frankly a company that would be upset by you even asking the question is a company you don't want to work for even if you don't want to work from home.

I personally tend to ask such questions after the main part of the interview. If they have already decided they are interested in you, then they are more receptive to these types of questions. If the first thing out of your mouth is, "Can I work from home and what is my salary going to be and what benefits can I have?" before they have been sold on you, then that tends to make them feel that you are more interested in "what's in it for me" than in doing a good job for them. They may tend to reject you in that case before getting to the technical part of the issue as "not a good fit." So it is just a good idea to make sure that they have a good first impression of you before getting down to the nitty gritty of what you want in the job.

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"work from home if things come up."

That is IMHO the principle reason that employers in general distrust Work from Home. Working from home because you have a better home office than the noisy open plan cubical farm at work, or to get useful work done in the hours that would be wasted commuting is one thing, but asking to work from home so you can run errands sounds like you are actually just asking for some time off.

I wouldn't have a problem with an employee having to stay at home for a day because of a delivery or an appointment, and have them say they were going to get some work done from home - rather than have them then commute in for a couple of hours at the end of the day. But I wouldn't regard it as the same as having a remote employee.

In an interview I would ask about "flexible hours" especially if it is obvious that many employees must commute a long distance in your city, or the office is in a remote business park. But flexible hours to allow other activities and remote working are different.

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well said, someone comes in during a job interview and basically tells me their private life is too busy for them to bother coming in to the office several times a week, they're not going to get the job... –  jwenting Jun 13 at 14:39

Working from home requires trust and trust needs to build up along the way. If you are interviewing for a job, there is little trust from both sides. So asking if you can work from home immediately could mean you won't be considered.

Luckily there are ways to know if the company you're interviewing at has the possibilities of working from home for your specific team/field.

Try asking:

Who will I be working with and where can I find them during the week?

If anyone is working from home it will probably be told after this question. If there isn't anyone working from home in your specific team/field. Your company probably doesn't support working from home and in this case you probably do not want to work here. One can never be too sure so asking:

"What does the company policy say about working from home and am I able to work from home for X reason?"

If someone is working from home ask:

What must be done or what qualifications must be met in order to be able to work from home.

Do know there is little trust between you and your potential new employer and that might mean you will not be able to work from home for the first few months/weeks.

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Companies have different attitudes to 'work from home'. Some are fine with it on a frequent basis, or even most fo the time. Some will allow it only if absolutely unavoidable, and some absolutely forbid it (usually if there is a security implication).

The best way to find out is to ask at the interview "what is your attitude to working from home?"

If you need to convince a company to let you work from home, when they don't want to, then "my schedule is simply so busy that a 1hr commute can sometimes wear my time very thin" is not a good reason. It's not the company's business to accommodate your out-of-office schedule. If you don't have time to do the job, you should either adjust your busy schedule or decline the job.

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