Negotiating a Fair Contract: Remote Work

By Cody Yorke
Working remotely

When it comes to the process of finding a new job, negotiation is one of the most tenuous areas for many employees. Many employees have anxiety around asking for “too much” while still getting a fair offer, and this can give employers the upper hand during these conversations. While many people focus on salary and other economics, more employees are using the negotiation stage to ask for other perks.

We will be breaking down all the areas of a contract that an employee try to negotiate, starting with one of the newest and most popular subjects: remote work.

Asking for Remote/Hybrid

While many jobs have remained remote since COVID, the market is seeing a steady increase in jobs that are listed as in-person or on-site. Certain industries will of course necessitate this, but many jobs which were previously considered in-person were performed perfectly well during quarantine. In these instances, employees may have an opportunity to negotiate up front for a fully remote or a hybrid position.

During early screening calls with recruiters and HR staff, get as much information as you can about the current arrangements. Something being listed as on-site may not capture the full company culture and any flexibility it offers, so understanding that can be helpful. You will ultimately want this flexibility captured on paper during the acceptance process, but these conversations may give you an understanding of the possibilities to help you assess if you even want to pursue the job.

Once you’ve received an offer, you can begin negotiating around this topic. The most important thing to do is to highlight the benefits of working from home not just for you as an employee, but for your team and the company. If you worked efficiently at home in the past, talk through that and how it looked for you. For some jobs, you may even be able to argue that you can do a better job at home, free of distractions.

Keep in mind that each company differs and the person who can agree to these arrangements will differ as well. Some companies may have a unilateral policy or require HR approval around work location, while others will leave the decision up to individual managers. Understanding who to appeal to and what they may look for in return is an important piece of reaching your goal during a negotiation.

However, it is important to remember that if you get to work remotely (or on a hybrid schedule), it is a concession as a part of the negotiation. You may be giving up certain stipends and benefits that one can expect with remote work, or even need to make concessions on salary and other benefits. In these cases, it will be a personal decision whether you are more interested in remote work than other potential benefits or perks that can be used to make a package attractive.

Remote Job Offers

Being offered a job that is fully remote from the start doesn’t mean your negotiating stops there. While remote work has many perks, there are also additional considerations to make when it comes to your work life balance and financial implications. Companies differ in how they treat remote work from a compensation and benefit perspective, so understanding additional policies is important. 

Stipends

During the early days of COVID, many companies offered a one-time stipend to help employees set up their home office. Because working from home was a requirement at that point, it made sense that there was a cash infusion to help make that possible. Now that remote work has become more optional, not all companies are willing to do this- especially if you are already working from home.

However, if this company is fully remote, it does require you to have a home office of some sort. Asking for a small stipend to help you set up a space in your home, buy office equipment not provided already, and otherwise ensure you have a productive workspace can be a reasonable ask that many places will accommodate.

Utility Payments

Working from home means that you will be using your own home internet and maybe your own cell phone to conduct your business. While these are bills you would likely pay no matter what, it is also common for businesses to cover a portion of them and consider them a work expense. Some companies will offer a set monthly amount toward these bills, while others may allow you to expense them and be reimbursed up to a set amount.

Co-Working Allowances

If you are in a scenario where there is no physical office you can visit, you may sometimes crave interaction or the feeling of being in a working environment. One perk you can request is a monthly or quarterly allowance to use toward renting a co-working space to allow yourself that experience occasionally.

Flexibility

Remote work does not always mean more flexibility. In fact, most studies have shown that people working from their homes tend to do more work in general and work outside of business hours more often. Understanding what remote work looks like at a given organization can give you a perspective into what the role will offer in terms of work-life balance, as well as give you opportunities to ensure an offer fits your needs. Ask about expected working hours and schedules, as well as how performance is measured. The latter may help you understand whether there is a tracking software in place to “monitor” employees during work hours.

Childcare

Some remote jobs can be done while watching children in the home, but after the childcare struggles many faced during COVID, it is also common to see a contract that stipulates you cannot be the primary caregiver of a child during work hours. If this is the case, or you otherwise need to hire a caregiver in order to work, asking about caregiver stipends can be a way to ease this burden.

Location

Most of us equate remote work to working out of our existing home. But in recent years, there have been huge shifts in this mentality, with many people flocking to less populated areas or taking advantage of remote work to take extended vacations and work from all over the world. While these are great options, you will want to be sure that your contract allows for these. Some remote work requires you to be in a certain time zone or region, while others will be concerned about taxation if you are out of state or out of the country -  and of course, you need to make sure you are not running afoul or immigration laws or regulatory bodies. It is important to define what remote work means upfront to ensure that you are on the same page as your employer.

It is also important to keep in mind that with remote work, cost of living in a certain area becomes less important. While an executive in the Bay Area will have much higher costs than one in the rural Midwest, the company may feel that there is no requirement to live in a more expensive area and pay each person the same amount - on the other hand, it may take the position that those working remote should be paid a lower salary because they do not have the same cost of living as those working in the office. If you choose to move while working remotely, there is an element of that cost you may be shouldering.

Negotiating for Remote Work

With any negotiation, it is important to go into the conversation confident, prepared, and with all of your priorities laid out. Only you can know whether remote work is a dealbreaker or simply a perk and what exactly you would need to make it work before walking away. It can be helpful to lay these things out in writing for yourself, both to help you make these decisions and to effectively communicate them to the recruiter.

Finally, ensure any agreements are put in writing as a part of your formal offer so that you can return to them as needed.