You’re right if you think that asking your new potential manager for flexible work options could impact your job offer or career progression. There’s still a stigma attached to those that request flexible, hybrid, or remote work options in the interview process or early on in a new job.
The real problem is this though: even if the company says yes to your request, you might still be at a disadvantage because most managers are not equipped to lead flexible work teams.
So if you’re a job candidate, what can you do if you want to both thrive in your new job and have location flexibility?
You can ask four critical questions during the interview process to your potential future manager about performance, creativity, culture, and inclusion.
Employee performance should be measured by achieving clear and agreed-upon goals – not an arbitrary idea of how well the manager thinks an employee is doing or how many hours per week that employee goes into the office to show their commitment.
1. Ask: How is performance managed and evaluated in your company?
You should be looking for a company with structured performance management, including a transparent goal-setting process, regular re-alignment of deliverables, and managers that provide consistent feedback to their team members. If the hiring manager can clearly explain the process and how it works, that’s a good sign.
If the answer is vague or the hiring manager defers you to an HR person, there may not be a formalized performance management process (or at least not one that managers can articulate). You might be disadvantaged as a hybrid or remote worker as it’ll be harder to prove your competence as a new employee.
If performance is about what you achieve, then creativity is about how you achieve it. Random water-cooler chats or attending an in-person white-board session at the office isn’t the only way to breed creativity – and should certainly not be the only way to reward it.
2. Ask: How is creativity encouraged and recognized in your organization?
You should look for how your new potential manager encourages team members to ask questions, suggest ideas, and take chances. It’s a great sign if the manager explains how the team uses virtual tools and asynchronous collaboration methods to unlock creativity.
Successful managers of flexible or hybrid teams encourage employees to document their brainstorms – giving colleagues a chance to review, reflect, and respond when they feel the sharpest. This practice allows more people to participate, creates more productive meetings, and generates innovative solutions regardless of where employees are located.
If the manager answers this creativity question by saying, “we generate creativity by being together in the office”, any flexible or remote workers will undoubtedly be at a disadvantage.
What defines a company culture isn’t the pizza parties, the ping pong table in the break room, or the happy hours. It’s a core set of values and behaviors against which employees are expected to operate consistently and against which management hires, develops, promotes, and even lets people go.
3. Ask: What defines the culture of your organization?
You should be looking for the manager to discuss the company’s specific values and what they look like in action. Ideally, the manager can also explain how they integrate new employees into the culture and what differentiates their culture from others – reasons that have nothing to do with the physical office space.
It’s indeed easier to work flexibly as a tenured employee because there’s established trust and a current understanding of the company’s norms, values, and expectations. Managers must have a plan to help integrate new employees into the company culture, especially those who work remotely.
Even if a manager gives you the green light to work flexibility from day one on the job, the manager may not be aware of their own proximity bias. Proximity bias is the idea that workers with close physical proximity to their manager and team will be perceived as better employees and potentially given more opportunities to succeed than their remote counterparts.
4. Ask: What do you do to address and minimize potential proximity bias?
You should be looking for an answer that acknowledges that while proximity bias is natural (we tend to value what we can see), the manager mentions specific steps they take to minimize it. If the manager hasn’t heard the term “proximity bias”, you can politely explain what it is and how common it is among hybrid teams.
A great answer to this question is where the manager shares how they routinely hold 1:1 meetings with all team members and how they intentionally solicit the input of all their direct reports regardless of their location. Bonus points if the manager themself works flexibly as they may have a better understanding of its benefits and challenges.
Yes, it’s way more common these days to ask and expect more flexible work options as a new employee, but it has nothing to do with a company’s obligation to fulfill that request nor with how well managers can lead flexible or hybrid teams.
As a job candidate, getting answers to these four questions before accepting an offer is key to assessing your possibilities of career success in your potential new company.
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