I still remember that first meeting where I said it out loud. “I’m moving. I want to work remotely, or this is my two weeks notice.” The shocked look on my manager’s face said it all. She wasn’t expecting this request, let alone an ultimatum. Not from me. I was moving up in the company. Hired as a social media manager, I was now managing four marketing channels and more than half of the marketing budget. She was expecting me to ask for a promotion, not a pay cut.
She knew I wanted to stay, but the reality was too significant. My father-in-law had “unique” cancer and was given a diagnosis of just months to live. It was an all too sudden reminder that life is short (and unique is never a quality cancer should have.) The doctors didn’t know what to do, and neither did I.
It was an excellent job. I loved the people. I didn’t even hate the open office environment. That’s a big compliment coming from someone whose life goal is to end up in the middle of the woods with no neighbors. There was an energy in that place. We cared, and it showed. It was a place where you could try anything. Where hard work paid off. It was everything many previous jobs weren’t.
But I couldn’t stay in Boston.
My manager asked for time to talk to our CMO about my request, and I remember feeling so nervous. All the what-ifs running through my mind as fast as I could ponder them in-between the logistics and coordination of moving an entire life from Boston to Nashville.
A remote work test.
I was one of the first people to go remote with the company. They wanted to make sure it was going to “work out.” Remote was a radical concept in 2009. At the time, working from home was seen as unproductive time off. How would this work out?
It’s funny to think back now. What does “work out” even mean? Why was remote work so taboo? I was sitting somewhere else - what is there to test?
It seemed so simple until the first day of work. Looking around the room, I immediately acknowledged just how hard it would be to stay focused. There’s always a to-do list - something to be done. I worked from home many times before only to find myself distracted by TV or a pile of laundry at some point in the day. With no office and nowhere to go in my new town, I felt stuck.
Then I felt anxious. My manager would find out I was struggling to keep myself focused. I would be fired. I told myself all kinds of stories, questioning if I was the kind of person who could really work remotely. I went into overdrive, trying to show up remotely like I did in the office. I’d work late into the night, sending emails well after midnight to show them I was working hard.
I never had something to prove. I needed to unlearn the “rule” that hard work must be done in the context of your cubicle. I had to accept the joys of remote work without questioning my value to the company simply because I wasn’t sitting there.
I’ve been a remote worker for 11 years now. I still don’t know that I have it all figured out. I have routines and structures that keep me in line, but there are days when my head spins. Sometimes I want to do anything but sit at my desk. Then I remember remote work is a gift, not a punishment. It’s empowering. It allows us to be there for the hard moments and our people. To live a little while we work through our already far too short lives.
A lot of people are learning this lesson in real-time this week as some businesses take their work home. I feel for those people who are so used to commuting into the office and suddenly find themselves in remote work with no real preparation or time to get adjusted. It’s not as simple as moving a laptop, although it becomes simple if you take the time to remember one thing. You can (and should) still connect through an internet connection.
Every day, in fact.
As humans, we can’t survive without feeling connected to this world somehow, and work is often the place where those connections are made in adulthood. Especially with a worldwide anxiety like we face now.
One of the places we so often connect is on social media. A like or comment can make us feel alive, and so much more connected. But no one wants to connect with a person that has a weird profile picture, especially on LinkedIn. That’s what I wrote about this week, with some advice we can all use to pick our profile.
I’m also sharing an article from Paul Hebert about change and a video from the Netflix team on allyship. Probably just two more distractions as you take on remote work but I think they’re worth it.
Stay healthy -