5 Options If Your Company Changes Its Remote Work Policy

There might be some wiggle room in the boss's new edict about working at the office.

When his company went remote at the beginning of the pandemic, the department manager moved from New York to Montana. Despite being 2,000 miles from his old office his performance flourished as did his team’s. 

But in 2023, his company’s overall performance has sputtered, and last month, his firm mandated that all employes work on-site at least three days a week. Besides the New York headquarters, the only other company office was in Missouri, three states away.

More than 70% of companies have issued return-to-office mandates, according to a new global study, with many of these firms targeting September as the time these mandates will start being enforced. But each policy announcement often has brought frustrated responses from workers. Many employees have built whole new routines around remote work. Now, those employees feel they have to make a stark choice, make substantial lifestyle changes to keep their jobs or stay remote and risk missing out on promotions and raises, or worse, get fired.  “Employees need to be meticulous in navigating this change because missteps can risk personal harm to careers and potentially disrupt organizational culture,” says Brittney Molitor, an executive senior partner in Korn Ferry’s Human Resources Center of Excellence.

While there’s no historical guidance for this dilemma, experts say employees might not have to take one of the most extreme paths. The return to office landscape continues to change, and employees might be able to negotiate with their employers on a variety of points. Korn Ferry’s experts lay out five steps employees can take if their company changes their remote work policy. 

Evaluate the “if.”

Get a sense within the company of management’s willingness to make exceptions. “Potential negotiation hinges on the premise that the company will even consider exceptions,” says David Meintrup, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. If a company makes an exception for one, they may feel compelled to make exceptions for all, which becomes a slippery slope of equity and fairness. If the answer is a hard no, then employees need to evaluate how much it would realistically inconvenience them to go back into the office.

Explain why you should be an exception.

If returning to the office is beyond a reasonable convenience for an employee, management should know. Experts recommend workers present comprehensive and factual reasons why their circumstances warrant an exception. Molitor says whether the reason is burdensome childcare, an arduous commute, or something else, an employer needs details to understand the “why” behind an employee’s request for an exemption.

Ask for details.

Don’t just read settle for the TL:DR summarized version of the work policy.

Inquire why the company is making a return to more daily on-site work and how it’s more beneficial than working from home. “Get as much clarity as you can on why the organization is shifting, and how they intend to differentiate remote versus office work,” says Frances Weir, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. For example, many companies point to increased opportunities for collaboration as the primary reason for remote work reversals. Employees can inquire about concrete plans for renewing company culture through in-person connection.

Negotiate a compromise.

When a company is open to exceptions, it presents the opportunity for negotiation. Whether it’s a later start time, working in person three days a week instead of five, or some other compromise, employees can present options for meeting management in the middle. “It comes down to candid communication,” says Ron Porter, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Global Human Resources Center of Excellence. Proactively establishing channels of conversation and fostering trusting relationships with management can better position an employee to ask for flexibility.

Make an ultimatum.

Saying you’ll quit rather than comply with the change in remote work policy is extremely risky. Everyone wants their company to fight for them to stay, Meintrup says, but they can just as easily let them go. “Employees can state that they love working for their company, but if management can’t budge, they have to walk,” says Meintrup.

However, if your performance is really good, or a hated rival will swoop in and hire you, or there’s no ready replacement for you, an ultimatum might move management to at least be open to a compromise. Meintrup emphasizes that it’s important to get a gauge of how receptive your direct boss might be to an ultimatum before throwing down the gauntlet. Having the boss as an ally who can make a compelling case to your company’s HR department could make all the difference.


Learn more about Korn Ferry’s career development capabilities from Korn Ferry Advance