In 2014, due to life and professional circumstances unrelated to my job as Operations Manager at Cx Associates, my wife and I relocated from Burlington, Vermont to Chicago, Illinois. Having worked for Cx Associates since 2009, I was reluctant to leave behind my job – I was happy there, the people I worked with were fantastic, and the work was meaningful and interesting. Luckily for me, when I approached the owners about the possibility of continuing to work remotely for CxA from Chicago, they agreed to let me stay on. I was ecstatic!
Short Commute, Big Adjustment
After getting settled in Chicago, I began working with the shortest, easiest commute in my life – about 20 feet (and no, I don’t work in my pajamas!). It’s a great feeling to not feel rushed each morning in order to make sure I got on certain bus. However, it was also a big adjustment. I no longer had that downtime of catching up on podcasts, reading books, or listening to music that I had on the bus every day. And even though my wife also works from home for her company remotely (from a completely separate office space in our apartment), it felt pretty lonely at first. Despite being somewhat of an introvert, back in the office I still enjoyed plenty of interaction with my coworkers – quick work questions, jokes that made their way around the office, team meetings, and occasional lunches or drinks out after work. But now, as far as my coworkers back in Vermont were concerned, I was a head on a screen broadcast by webcam, a voice on the other end of the speakerphone. I soon grew ever more thankful for my dog Astro because I quickly realized how easy it would be to go for days without leaving the apartment if I didn’t have him to walk!
After a few weeks, I got into the rhythm of the new arrangement and made an effort to take plenty of walks during the workweek. I also fly back to Vermont a few times a year for big projects and just to check in, catch up, and have some valuable in-person time with the owners and my coworkers.
Allowing Remote Work Has Advantages
I acknowledge that remote workers may not be a good fit for every company or every position. But, for a worker like me who handles the accounting/bookkeeping, human resources, marketing and proposals, and other systems and processes that support the work of the engineers at CxA, it has been a great fit – thanks to a fast internet connection and a VPN. I applaud the owners for being open to this arrangement because if we had parted ways instead, they would have lost a loyal, dedicated employee with five years of tenure at the company (and I would have been pounding the cold streets of Chicago looking for a new job!). Figures on the cost of employee turnover vary, but some put the cost of replacing a mid-level salaried employee at six to nine months’ salary on average – amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. My being remote also saved the company logistics costs by freeing up a work space at our growing office in Burlington, leaving space for another engineer instead.
But How Do They Know That You’re Working?
If you’re a manager or business owner and you’re unfamiliar with or unaccustomed to having employees work remotely, even for a day here or there, you may be wondering how one can guarantee a remote employee is in their seat putting in working hours and not binge watching the latest Netflix series. While there is no guarantee, in my case my employers trust me. This trust was earned over the previous five years of working closely together where they learned that I am a conscientious adult who is interested in putting in an honest day of interesting work rather than being on permanent vacation. And even for employers considering a new hire for a remote position, there are plenty of interviewing techniques that can be used and ground rules that can be established that can help weed out the slackers from the good workers.
In my case, they also know I am working because, well, I’m getting things done! In fact, I dare say I am even more productive than I was when I was in the office where side conversations, water cooler talks, and sick days out from catching colds that inevitably circulate through an office interrupted my work. I’m in frequent communication with everyone back at HQ, I’m delivering work on time, and everyone knows I am only a phone call/email/instant message away (more on that in part II next week). I have structured, weekly check-ins with the managing principal, and use tools like the newly redesigned Google Meet (formerly Hangouts), to jump on a quick meeting or screenshare to hash out questions.
Next week in part II of this post, I’ll address how to manage all those notifications you might get as a remote worker, and tools that work for us that make collaboration across a time zone a snap.