can I apply for a temporarily remote job and then insist on remaining remote?

A reader writes:

A work friend and I are on the hunt to escape our hell office. I like remote working, was doing it for mental health reasons before the pandemic, and am trying to apply to permanently remote positions in my field. My work buddy (who was also working remotely before COVID for health reasons) is including “remote during COVID” positions in her job hunt and plans on insisting to be kept remote if there’s any pushback. To be clear: we work in social media and the kind of stuff we do is entirely digital — so, any listing that asks for in-office work strikes me as as boomertastically out-of-touch.

I realize our situations are unique in that we may be able to negotiate remote work by requesting an ADA accommodation (I don’t really want to deal with that, hence why I’m going for perma-remote jobs), but I know my work friend isn’t alone in her line of thought. On one hand, I think “good” because it will put pressure on companies to get with the times, but on the other hand I see how it can be a bit of a gamble. So, what are your thoughts? Is it a bad idea to apply for “temporarily remote” jobs with the intention of staying remote?

Yes, it’s a bad idea. It’s not just a bit of a gamble; there’s a very good chance you’ll be told you need to work from the office as was stipulated up-front when you applied and if you don’t do that, they’ll simply stop employing you.

It’s naive for anyone to think they can just demand it and the company will have to give in. In a lot of cases they wouldn’t budge, especially for a new-ish hire. If you have a lot of leverage (in-demand skills, impressive experience, political capital) … maybe in some cases but still not definitely. And even if they did give in, it might not be the win it seems like; it could use up most or all of your capital, with very little grace extended to you after that, which is not a great position to be in.

And of course, it’s operating in bad faith to take a job knowing you don’t intend to fulfill its clearly stated requirements, but it sounds like your friend might not be terribly concerned about that.

I also wouldn’t assume that you know better than a company you’ve never worked at that they can’t have good cause for wanting the role eventually back on-site. Even jobs where the primary responsibilities are digital can still benefit from having regular in-person contact with colleagues — for training, mentoring, ad hoc brainstorming, and all sorts of other things.

Let me be clear: I fully support remote work when it makes sense for a role, and I’m thrilled that companies are becoming so much more open to it. I work from home and love it and am sympathetic to anyone who wants to stay remote. But there are drawbacks to having remote employees too, ones that are sometimes clearer when you look at a team as a whole rather than an individual role, and you don’t have enough grounding in their context to dismiss those drawbacks out of hand when you don’t even work there. Preferring employees to be in-person isn’t always an indicator that a company is behind the times. Sometimes it’s BS. Sometimes it’s not. Assuming it’s all just “boomertastically out-of-touch” is frankly pretty naive!

If you want to stay remote, apply for permanently remote jobs. Don’t apply under false pretenses to one that isn’t and assume you’ll be able to force the employer to keep it that way.

(ADA accommodations are a whole different thing, but even then employers aren’t required to give you the accommodation you ask for if they find another accommodation that would work.)