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Remote Worker Profile - Emma Plumb

July 29, 2014 by

1. What are you working on?

I’m the director of an initiative called 1 Million for Work Flexibility, and I’m an advocate for improving the way that work gets done through increased flexibility.

2. What’s the biggest challenge of working remotely right now?

I think the biggest challenge of working remotely is that too many people aren’t allowed to do it! I spent nearly three years at my last job fighting for the ability to telecommute (by putting together proposals and research reports, making the business case to senior management, etc), to no avail. The organization I worked for was just completely unwilling to rethink their outdated, inflexible work model. Unfortunately, many employees around the country who would be highly successful remote workers are in a similar situation -- their managers just say flat-out “no”.

Today’s learning environment empowers students to learn outside the classroom.

The movement I’m part of, 1 Million for Work Flexibility, aims to change all that. We want to help ensure that employees are able to have the flexibility they need to be successful both at home and at work, whether that means working remotely, having a flexible schedule, job-sharing, working part-time, or some combination of those things. The traditional Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm, in-office model doesn’t make sense for the 21st century workforce, and it’s time for employers across the country to catch up.

3. Describe your workspace/ How do you choose a spot to work from?

Typically, I work from my home office, which I love to do because it’s a bright and sunny room. My desk is right in front of a window, and it’s a pleasure to look up from my keyboard and see flowers blooming and birds flying by at this time of year.

But of course the beauty of remote work is that you’re not locked in to any one workspace, so although I tend to stick to a routine when I’m at home, this past winter I was working-while-travelling for about 2 months (with five of those weeks spent in Hawaii), and during that time I worked from coffee shops, parks, the local library -- essentially I just bounced around!



4. What are the most important types of tools you use as a remote worker?

What excites me most about the technology options out there is knowing that it’s possible to find just the right tool for any given circumstance and any given personality. Most of the time for myself, that means keeping things pretty simple. When it comes to communicating, I’m personally most comfortable with just the basics of phone (VoIP, typically) and email. While travelling over the winter, I loved using my phone as wireless hotspot -- it meant that I could turn pretty much anywhere into a place to get connected and get work done.

Oh, and I also have a notepad and a pen next to my laptop at all times. Sometimes, the old tools do the trick.

5. What’s the biggest misconception about remote work?

There are a lot of misconceptions about remote work, unfortunately. I can’t actually pick just one! But I will stick to two:

  1. The misconception that remote work isn’t real work. Managers fear that if their staff aren’t at their desks, they’re goofing off.
  2. The misconception that remote workers miss out on serendipitous “water cooler” talk and so can’t be as innovative as workers in the office.
I could truly talk for hours about why these claims miss the mark, but in the interest of brevity, here are some responses in a nutshell:
  1. If a worker wants to goof off, they will goof off whether they are in the office or not. A manager who doesn’t realize their employee is goofing off isn’t a very good manager. And a manager who knows an employee is goofing off and doesn’t address why isn’t a very good manager. Either way, the solution lies in improving management, not forcing an employee to sit at an office desk.
  2. When I worked in an office, my colleagues and I hardly ever spoke face-to-face. Even my colleagues who sat steps away from me phoned, emailed, and messaged me when they needed to communicate. Proximity is not the key to collaborative innovation; rapport is the key to collaborative innovation -- and fostering rapport takes much more than just hoping people will run into each other at the water cooler. I write more about this here: http://www.startaskingquestions.com/blog/put-the-face-back-in-face-time/.
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6. Top tips for working remotely?

Here are a couple:

Get to know the people you’re working with.

If you’re part of a team, get to know the people you’re working with. It’s harder to do this virtually than in an office, but requires effort either way. I have “virtual coffee breaks” with my colleagues so that we can chat about stuff other than work for a while, and learn about each other. The more you know about where people are coming from on a personal level, the more effective you can be working together as a group, no matter where you’re all located.

Work 'out loud'.

Make sure your manager knows what you’re working on and what you’re accomplishing. If he or she doesn’t ask, then be proactive and reach out with quarterly plans and weekly updates. It takes some effort to do this, but you’ll never have to wonder if the work you’re doing is going unnoticed, and you’ll feel better for having it acknowledged and on the record.

7. Do you think remote employees more productive?

I think workers who prefer to work remotely are absolutely more productive when they are able to work the way they work best. Just like people have different learning styles, people also have different work styles. As adults, we are typically able to identify what environment is the right fit for us. For businesses to maximize productivity in the modern diverse workforce, it’s crucial to be open to whatever solutions will allow their employees to reach their potential.

And then I think it’s equally important to note that there are many people who simply could not work at all unless they were able to work remotely. I live in a rural and remote area where there is no industry, and as a result, I would not be employed if I couldn’t work from home. I live here because it’s where my husband needs to be for his work (which requires a physical presence) -- and many spouses (military spouses, for example) are in a similar situation. No one should have to sacrifice their own career for their spouse’s, when the clear and simple solution is remote work. Caregivers face similarly hard choices, and again, no one should have to sacrifice their career in order to take care of their family, when the clear and simple solution is remote work. The worst loss of productivity is the loss of someone from the workforce altogether.

Follow Emma on Twitter @startaskingQ

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