Steps to take when a remote job turns out to be more office-based

Fix the problem by communicating, agreeing work expectations, and presenting an evidence-based business case to your boss, while considering backup options.

It is a very recent work problem. Late in the intense pandemic period or shortly afterwards, you changed jobs. The job you applied for was sold to you as largely or wholly remote. But slowly you have found yourself being asked to come into the office more and more. There’s always a reason, but now you’re in three or four days a week. This is not what you signed up for. So, what should you do?

Take a step back

Ask yourself how bad it really is. Were you sold a completely different job, or is it just a bit different? Think, too, about the role itself. Has it changed, or have external circumstances changed? Ask yourself if you’re being unreasonable and if this is instead just a minor annoyance. Next, think about the changes that are required to make it right. Is it just a day more at home? Two days? More? Can it be fixed easily?

Ensure you communicate about work expectations

Some managers still think that people they can’t see aren’t working. If this is the case, ensure that expectations are clearly agreed by both sides in advance so that you can demonstrate you are delivering. This can also be a symptom of micromanagement. Here it may help if you give your boss what he or she needs. Provide regular updates and communicate. Ensure you participate in chat, group calls, and video meetings — even those where your presence is optional. Yes, it’s a bit performative, but good work doesn’t always speak as loudly as it should.

Get some context

You need to determine where the change is coming from. Is it an edict from the CEO, who has decided to go office-based? Is it directed at just you or at the people who work for your boss? Sound out your colleagues. You might discover that many people are in the same boat, which is great — you have allies. One person approaching the boss is easy to dismiss, half the team less so. Alternatively, you might find out that it’s only you. Again, this could work in your favour. Why can Jenny do four days at home when you’re expected to be in the office for three days a week? Finally, your co-workers might see no problem. This is the least desirable outcome for you. But it should at least provide you with a check — are your complaints reasonable?

Understand your boss’s position

This is key. If everyone is being affected by this, your boss might be shielding you from its worst effects. In this case, you want to make a kind of general complaint, rather than blame the boss. Conversely, if the problem is localised around your boss, you should try to understand why he or she is behaving in this way, in order to find the most constructive way forward.

Build your case

“But I don’t like it, and it’s not fair!” is not a persuasive argument, even if you’re right. So, make a list of real instances where you are having problems. If, for example, you chose remote work because it fitted around childcare or other family commitments, these can be presented as extremely difficult to deal with. Worth pointing out, too, is that your commute is lost time and makes you less efficient. Stress the positives. You are calmer, more effective, and more productive if you are allowed to work partly or wholly from home.

Find independent evidence

One of the key arguments in favour of remote work is that it makes employees more productive. Thanks to the pandemic, a great deal of research has been done on this in the past few years. So look up some studies such as one from global not-for-profit Catalyst, which shows that remote employees are 68% more likely to report high organisational commitment, or one from PwC, where 57% of business leaders said remote or hybrid work boosted productivity, at least in the short term.

Focus on areas such as productivity, engagement, retention, trust, and happiness. Look at what your competitors and global examples of excellence do. Finally point out that it is the norm: According to McKinsey & Co, 58% of Americans are now offered remote or flexible working.

Ask for a meeting

This is an important issue and could materially impact your future at the company. So set up a proper meeting to discuss it. While you are asking your employer to stick to an agreement that was made, you need to be reasonable, too. So, think of some concessions that are relatively easy for you to make but would be important to them. You might commit to being in for certain days. Stress that you want to find a positive outcome for everyone and try to offer solutions. Say, “To make this work, what do you need me to do?”

If they say no

Here you have a number of choices, and these depend on whether the disagreement is with your immediate manager or is more of a company-wide issue. In the former case, if you get on well with those above your boss or others in the hierarchy, you might approach them informally. A more formal route would be to speak to HR. You could also get an employment lawyer to look over your contract. Your rights here will vary widely by jurisdiction, and, as with all disputes of this nature, it is worth bearing in mind that the further you escalate it, the more likely you are to permanently damage your relationship with your boss or company.

And if this fails?

If you have a serious work issue that is proving intractable, it may be worth asking yourself if you might be happier elsewhere. You may decide the legal route is simply not worth it or that a company that is inflexible is not for you. Here, you are in a strong position. In many countries, there are more jobs than applicants. What is more, many companies are now very supportive of remote work and even when it’s entirely remote. Moreover, these tend to be forward-looking companies. So, start job hunting. And you can be completely honest in your interview when they ask why you want to leave your current job.

Rhymer Rigby is an FM magazine contributor and author of The Careerist: Over 100 Ways to Get Ahead at Work. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Oliver Rowe at

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