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Teresa has worked remotely since 2010 in a variety of management-level roles. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College and an MBA from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Based in Vancouver, Canada, she specializes in strategic analysis and operations management. When she isn’t working, you can find her running in the forest, or knitting a sweater.
Check out Working Remotely: Secrets to Success for Employees on Distributed Teams
Available: January 7, 2020
“Secrets of the Remote Workforce is a terrific map for helping employees who work remotely take charge of their own career. The authors have all survived and thrived as remote employees… While other resources focus on how to manage remote employees, this book highlights the power that employees have to drive success for themselves.” -Susan Cates, Strategic Advisor
What’s your current profession?
I am a People Manager and Analyst for Kaplan Test Prep.
How did you get started with working remotely and how did you make this transition?
Back in the Fall of 2010, my company decided to transform from a brick and mortar business to one where it’s employees worked remotely. I had to either make the jump or find a new job. I decided to take the plunge into remote work because a few things lined up.
1) I really liked my job and the company I worked for.
2) I was 7 months pregnant and I thought remote work would let me see my kids before they fell asleep for the evening.
3) Remote work seemed (to me) to be a new, scary challenge, and I wanted to know what it was like. In my early twenties I was a freelance writer, and after a while, I was just too lonely. I hoped that working remotely with other employees would be different. It was different, in so many good ways.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently researching psychological safety. The plan is to write a book about how that works in the remote environment. There’s a lot of good research from people like Amy Edmondson on the benefits of psychological safety in the workplace. I have a feeling that it’s even more important for the remote workforce, where employees aren’t collocated. How do we help people who don’t work in the same building feel safe enough to take risks and try new things? It’s a question I’d love to answer.
What’s your typical workday like?
I live on the West Coast but work East Coast hours, so my day starts at 6:30am. I don’t turn on any of my instant messaging apps because I set this time aside for my analyst work. I look at spreadsheets and numbers and the financial health of certain products. That portion of my job wraps around 8:30. If the day is miserable and wet (I live in a temperate rainforest in Vancouver, and it can rain at any time) I drop my children at school.
The rest of the day is spent talking to the teachers I manage, in between team meetings. Most of the time I talk to my teachers via email. We talk about classes they can teach, and the support they need from me to help our students succeed. I talk to a lot of people every day. It’s great, but I’m introverted, so I build in a break in the middle of the day to recharge. I use my lunch break to run in the woods or on the beach near my house.
At 2:30(ish) I log out of work and start either writing or researching. I put out a weekly blog post about remote work, and I have an hour between when my day job ends and when my children come home to work on that uninterrupted. Once 3:30 rolls around I switch into mom mode.
What do you like about working remotely?
I love the flexibility of it. Two years ago I ran 4 half marathons in a year, and I did all of my training during the day. I would start work early, take a long-ish break in the middle of the day to log some run time, and come back later to finish off my task list. Right now I work an early schedule so I can write without kids in the house. I also get to explore the beautiful place I live during off-peak times. In the future, I look forward to taking long trips to far off places, and that’s only possible because I can take my work with me wherever I go.
Remote work also helps me focus more. Back in the last office where I worked, people would drop by my desk constantly to ask me questions. Now, if I need to think about a thorny problem, I can turn off my notifications, turn on my out of office, and dive deep into whatever it is. I really wish I had a mute button everywhere I go in the physical world.
What do you not like about working remotely?
I miss easy transitions. I live in Canada, and I’m thrilled to miss the winter commute to work. But I miss the downtime that comes with a commute. My husband reads on his 45 min bus ride to and from work. I’ve replicated that a bit by waking up 30 minutes earlier so I can read in bed, but that time comes out of my sleep budget.
I also miss lunch with my coworkers. My wallet is much happier that I eat at home, but I miss the magic that happens over a shared meal. I can (and do) attend company happy hours over video call, but we haven’t figured out how to share a meal in a cost-efficient way.
Which city or country have you worked at since working remotely? Which one has been your favorite?
I started out in Los Angeles, California, then moved to the San Francisco Bay Area a year or so later, then moved to Vancouver, Canada in 2014. There’s something to love about every place I’ve lived. The sunsets on the beaches in Los Angeles are out of this world. Livermore has great wineries, and Alameda had a small-town feel without the small-town isolation. Vancouver is my favorite though. I love the deep quiet of the forest, and the abundant marine life in the Salish sea.
Do you have a dedicated workspace to work?
I do! I’ve moved around a lot, and often my office is a corner of my bedroom, but right now we live in a place with a small room right off the master bedroom. You will often find papers and yarn scattered everywhere, because I craft in that space when I’m not working or writing. It’s a small office but it’s all mine and I love it.
What tools do you use when you’re working?
Nearly all of my tools are apps on my computer. I’ll pull out actual paper here and there if I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around something, because sometimes hand writing lists helps me think. The apps I use most are: Google Docs, Slack, ToDoist, Trello, Hootsuite, WordPress, and Canva.
How do you stay focused when working?
Routines. I try to work on the same things at the same time of day, every day. I also take breaks. No one can focus for 8 hours straight and expect to produce quality work. It’s a lot easier to buckle down and get my work done when I know I’m going for a run around noon.
What’s the best piece of advice that you’d like to give to those that want to work remotely?
Build in a support structure now. In Buffer’s State of Remote Work (https://buffer.com/state-of-remote-work-2019) remote workers said that unplugging after work and loneliness were the top things they struggled with. These findings have been consistent for the last three years. The good news is that you can put routines in place to help. Find a tribe—there are groups for everything—and attend their meetings. Make dinner plans with friends or family. Find a local coffee shop or coworking space to work in when you need to get out of your home office. Volunteer. Set up a weekly or monthly social call with different people in your company. If you build this support structure now, you will have people to turn to if you’re feeling low.
What kind of services do you provide, if any?
Aside from my work as an employee, I write articles about remote work. I am also available to speak on the topic.
Do you have a portfolio that you’d like to share?
What prompted you to create a book to help out fellow remote workers?
This is the advice I wish I’d had when I started my remote work adventure. My first response to a new situation is to find a book on how to deal with it. I was that awkward kid who checked out books like ‘how to start conversations.’ The books I found about remote work were geared toward founders and CEOs. There wasn’t anything (that I could find) for people like me—employees who wanted to do a good job. While we touch on the physical aspects of remote work like how to set up your office, I’m most proud of the section on the psychological side of remote work. How do you get what you need when you can’t physically track down your coworker? How do you progress in your career when the decision-makers are based in another time zone? This book helps with that.
What advice would you give to companies looking to hire remote workers?
Remote workers can provide a lot of value if you set them up for success. Just as you would set aside time to find space for someone in a physical office, and give them their access codes and tools, take time to set up the virtual environment for your remote workers. How will they communicate with the wider team? How will they be trained? If you plan to hire people in different locations, have you studied the relevant employee regulations? If not, either hire someone with this knowledge or contract with a service to handle this for you. Remote work is more than sending people home with their laptops. There is an entire ecosystem that you need to support it.
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