On Choosing and Managing Remote Work

Emily Sullivan is mother to Daisy.  Like all of us, she shared pictures of her newborn with pride and love. Her pictures, taken with her daughter in the NICU during those early weeks, instantly puts a sleepless night for me into perspective.  She carried herself during that period with such grace and positivity and came out the other side with a healthy family and a new perspective on time with her daughter. Emily shares the process of finding the right work situation that accommodated her wants for her career with her need to stay close to Daisy.   From the emotional to the practical, read Emily’s take on making "remote" work for her family.

Emily sullivan

I had been working remotely for about two years when my daughter Daisy was born last April, two months early. The glorious maternity leave spent holding each other in morning light that I’d dreamt of was spent shuttling back and forth from the sterile NICU where she lived for seven weeks. We were warned there was a strong chance she wouldn’t survive the rare conditions she was born with, so, when she began to flourish and eventually came home (healthy!) in June, my priorities shifted dramatically. The career that I had worked so hard to grow and nurture was yes, still important, but I felt that I’d been given a miracle to honor and cherish with every fiber of my being. I vowed then to work from home as much as possible and spend every minute I could have with her.

I went back to remote work full-time in July and decided to take care of Daisy full-time too. Looking back, I probably pushed myself too hard, but she had been through so much, I was terrified of leaving her in the hands of someone else. Every day was a balancing act – I’d try to group conference calls together around Daisy’s nap time and do the bulk of my real work at night after my husband got home. I changed more than one soiled diaper while leading a conference call. As time went on, I found that my round-the-clock schedule became an expectation from my employer and it was unsustainable. In December, I decided to start looking for a new role.

Finding the right job is hard enough, but, finding circumstances that allow you to be a mom first can feel almost impossible. I was offered a VP-level role at a Fortune 50 company I’d long admired, but, they were unwilling to accommodate remote work. Another opportunity required me to travel to the West Coast for a week once a month, which felt like too much time away from home.  My twenty-something self would’ve balked at the idea of turning these down but suddenly, my child was far more important than climbing that next rung on the corporate ladder.

In late January, I accepted a position managing proposal development for a software company in Philadelphia. We agreed I would work from home three days per week and come to the office any two days that worked for me. I put forth the reasoning that most people are, in fact, much more productive when they work from home and my hiring manager didn’t disagree. My husband and I hired an amazing nanny who cares for Daisy while I’m at the office or working at home. This, for me, is the perfect arrangement – I benefit from spending time face-to-face with my colleagues and the conveniences of working from home and being close to my daughter.

Remote work can be challenging in that distractions are always there: my daughter crying in the next room or my bed calling for a quick cat nap …  But I have learned to compartmentalize. I cram meetings into the two days I’m in the office so I can focus time at home on project work. Several of my direct reports are in India so we start the days I’m in the office with Skype meetings at 7 AM. On those days, I try to leave the office by 3 PM so I can be home with Daisy before the sun goes down.

Working remote gives me the flexibility to get things done around the house during downtime that would be wasted at the office – and time is everything these days. I can throw in a load of laundry between emails and prep dinner listening to a company financial update call. If I finish work and don’t have conference calls scheduled on a Friday afternoon, I’ll shop for the next week’s groceries so I can fully enjoy the weekend with my family, errand-free.

I firmly believe that it is possible to advance your career while working from home. It just takes patience and creativity – and a company that understands some of the most valuable contributors to an organization are women who happen to also be mothers. Luckily for us, most companies are starting to get it. Just in time.

Here are some tips I recently shared with a friend going remote:

1.      Create a dedicated work space in your home. Being able to close the door and block out sound and distraction is vital. I keep fresh flowers in my office to bring life and color to my workspace.

2.      Plan each day in hour-long blocks of time. I color code mine to ensure that I’m balancing my work appropriately (I.E. purple for “people management”, blue for “client deadlines”, yellow for “updates to executive team” etc.).

3.      Incorporate breaks to get fresh air and do something physical. It can be easy to melt into one spot in your house for a whole day working but it’s harmful to the body and bad for the brain.

4.      Make the most of any time in the office and get face time with executive leadership whenever possible.

5.      Keep a sense of humor. This or something like it WILL happen. People understand and life goes on.

You can read more about Emily's experience on her blog, MotheringDaisy.