5 Key Things to Negotiate Before You Return to the Office

Free meals, back-to-the office bonuses, childcare support, drawings for daily cash prizes, trips to Barbados or a new Tesla—now that pandemic restrictions are coming to an end, some tech companies are offering generous incentives, upscale “digs,” and even new job titles to lure reluctant workers back to the office.  

Could this reassessment of employee rewards signal an opportunity to negotiate higher compensation or new working conditions?  As with most negotiations, it depends on the circumstances. Here’s a look at the requests employers are more likely to agree to (and potentially likely to decline) to get you back into the office.

A Flexible Schedule

If you want to report early or stay late (and leave at noon on Fridays), now is the time to negotiate a more flexible work schedule, noted Sarah Dine, a compensation negotiation expert at Levels.fyi.

With employers realizing that the traditional 9-to-5 workday is dead, you may finally have the autonomy to work during the hours that fit your personal needs, commute and most productive time of day.

“Find out what your colleagues want before negotiating,” Dine advised. You will have more leverage if you negotiate as a group or try to find a commonsense schedule that meets everyone’s needs.

Revised Duties and Responsibilities

If what you do every day no longer matches your job description or passion, you’re not alone. Many technologists had to give up stretch projects and spend more time on tasks outside their job description just to help their company survive the pandemic. 

Businesses are looking for ways to get employees back into the workplace, so this is the perfect time to negotiate for “more of the work you want to do,” noted Claire Wasserman, educator, author and founder of Ladies Get Paid.

Show your boss how you’ve spent your time and remind him about your contributions and sacrifices during the lockdown. If your case is strong enough, ask about the chance to move a higher level. Once you master new skills or a higher-level position, turn your efforts into cash by negotiating a bigger raise or another job offer. 

This is also a suitable time to ask for changes that reduce stress and operating costs. For example, ask if you can replace some in-person client visits with video conferences or make changes to meeting schedules. Companies that want to attract and retain top talent are open to new ways of working.

Career Development Opportunities

Employers are attempting to lure employees back to the office by creating a workplace culture of inclusivity where great talent feels valued, heard and encouraged to achieve their fullest potential, Wasserman explained. Plus, much of the money earmarked for employee development, guest speakers and similar activities has largely gone unused during the pandemic, creating a prime opportunity to attend a class or conference.

Offering to support the company’s cultural initiatives by spearheading a coaching, e-learning or on-the-job training program will increase the chances of receiving a thumbs up to your request for professional development. And don’t forget to take advantage of any educational stipends while those are still in the company’s budget.

All-Inclusive Stipends

After trying to match onsite perks one-for-one as employees transitioned from the office to home, employers are now gravitating toward all-inclusive stipends, paying one sum to office-based workers and another to remote workers, according to Amy Spurling and Linda Le Phan of Compt, a perk management platform.

Employees who return to the office should expect to receive the same stipends that they were receiving while they worked from home, Le Phan noted. It’s also reasonable to ask for a stipend commensurate with the total value of the perks that you were receiving before the lockdown.

On average, employers are offering health and wellness stipends of $50 per month to cover gym memberships, nutritionists, fitness trackers and the like. They are also offering $200 to $300 per quarter to pay for train passes, parking, meals, and more. To help you calculate a viable request, here’s a list of 63 stipends offered by leading organizations.

A Performance Bonus

Although salaries are in a state of flux as employers struggle with how to use geographic location to determine pay amid the switch to remote, hybrid and on-site work models, this is not the right time to ask for a raise. “Don’t overplay your hand or over-estimate your value,” warned David Lewis, CEO of HR consulting firm OperationsInc. 

Dine agrees. She says that many major tech companies are already paying above-market salaries, so they will probably go back to giving cost-of-living adjustments, at least until a new workplace model is fully established. The bottom line: managers will probably decline your request for a raise just for coming back.

If you feel that you are underpaid for your contributions, ask for a performance bonus instead. Employers more likely to approve a one-time payment, as it comes from a different budget than salaries and the decision requires fewer approvals from HR and higher-ups.