Posts Tagged ‘work life balance’

Right job, wrong city– getting and keeping a remote job Part 1

map-of-north-americaI have accepted a new job at Microsoft. I work for a team in Redmond, but, I still live in Ottawa, Canada. I have spent the last 5 years working remotely for Microsoft Canada. I won’t say I’ve mastered the art of working remote but I’ve learned a few tricks to help manage a successful career remotely.

In Part 1 I will discuss:

  • How did I end up working remote?
  • When do you tell the hiring manager you won’t relocate?
  • Why is working remote such an issue?

Coming soon…

  • Why would a manager hire me as a remote employee?
  • How to thrive in the company as a remote employee?
  • Staying sane as a remote employee
  • Does working at home impact your career?
  • Is it worth it?

How did it start?

5 years ago I got a phone call from an employee at microsoft. At the time I was teaching programming, database and business analysis courses. I was a frequent speaker at Microsoft events. I figured the call was a request to present or help out at a local event. Instead the first words I heard after the usual greetings were “Have you considered your career”. To be honest I hadn’t given any serious consideration to working for Microsoft. Any jobs of interest were in Redmond, Washington (Microsoft head office).  I had two boys in school, and a husband with a good job in Ottawa. For me, moving simply wasn’t an option.

This call was a little different. It was for a job as a technical evangelist at Microsoft Canada. Canada! So no need to move to the US. The title alone was too intriguing to pass up. I submitted my resume and went through a gauntlet of interviews.  But once again location was an issue. They wanted me to move to Toronto. First things first, I convinced them we should go through the interviews and then discuss location. I never told them I would move to Toronto, I simply asked them to talk to me before deciding having me work from Ottawa was a deal-breaker.

When do you tell the manager you won’t relocate?

interviewRule number one: Don’t lie! I have never told a hiring manager I would move just to get to the interview.  I certainly don’t open the conversation with “by the way I won’t relocate”, but I never lie or mislead them just to get an interview.

When I find a position of interest, step one is always to find out more about the job. Set up a short call or informal meeting with the manager. In Microsoft we refer to this as an informational. It’s a chance for you to learn more about the job, and for the hiring manager to learn more about you. It’s a good idea regardless of whether you expect to work remotely or not!  It is hard to tell from a written job description what a job entails, and it’s also a chance to find out if you and the manager are likely to get along. I’d rather have a bad job with a good manager than a good job with a bad manager (of course what I really want is a good job with a good manager! but I’ve experienced all the possible combinations in my career). If the meeting is going well, i.e. I still want the job and the manager is encouraging me to apply, that’s when I break the news. I explain that I have some bad news, I am interested in the job, but relocation isn’t an option and would they consider hiring me as a remote employee..

More than half of the time, the opportunity ends there.

When the manager says remote is not an option, I always ask if they could wait until after the interview process before making a final decision. I encourage the manager to wait until I have deeper insights into the job, and the manager has deeper insights into my skills. During the interview process we can discuss the specific concerns around having a remote employee and strategies to alleviate those concerns. But, understand, that there are some jobs that do require an in person presence. If this is one of those roles, you are wasting your energy and the manager’s time pursuing the role. Accept it and move on. Finding a role you want remotely requires patience and persistance.

Why is working remote such an issue?

teleconferenceThere are a number of reasons a manager may not one someone working remotely. Understanding these concerns can help you determine if the working remotely is a deal breaker or simply an obstacle to be overcome.

 

The job

Some jobs are better suited for working remotely than others. Does the job require regular access to special equipment? Does the job require organizing in person events? If a job frequently requires your physical presrence in a particular location, then you are facing an uphill battle. In these situations you are unlikely to get the job without relocation.

Company culture

Does the company and the team already have remote workers?

Some companies are very open to working remotely, others actively discourage working from home. If the company has never had a remote worker you will run into all sorts of complications: How do you get IT support when you are having issues with your computer? What is the policy for expensing travel to and from the office? Does time spent in transit count as working hours? If there is an Annual General Meeting, a big in person announcement by the CEO, or a company holiday party will you travel to the office for those occasions?  Does the company understand the impact on your personal life when you have to travel to the office?  Are you expected to travel on weekends? What are the accepted methods of travel (plane? train? car? first class? economy?)

If the company does not have remote workers, do they have people in the office who regularly work from home?

Companies with a work at home policy are more likely to have a way for you to connect to the company network from home, an IT support team who can help you solve issues remotely

Does the company have customers they work with remotely?

Companies who work with remote customers are more likely to have tele-conferencing capabilities so you can easily present screens from your laptop and collaborate with co-workers remotely.  Office rooms as more likely to have cameras and microphones in meeting rooms so you can be a part of larger meetings as well.

Team culture

Just because the company has policies in place for remote workers, doesn’t mean the team you are applying to knows how to deal with it. If you join a team in the habit of walking down the hall for impromptu meetings, making decisions in elevators, and having all their meetings in person, you have a challenge ahead of you. Best case scenario you will often find out after the fact that decisions were made, because they simply forgot to start up the conference bridge, or just had a quick chat in the hallway and didn’t think it was necessary to bother you. It’s not malicious! It’s simply human nature. Everyone is trying to get things done, you get caught up in a good conversation you don’t always stop to think, wait there is someone who isn’t in the room we need to call in! The simple fact you are not physically present means there is a risk you end up out of the loop. Worst case scenario (and sadly this can happen) you have someone on the team who actively takes advantage of your absence to make themselves look good an make you look bad. So far as I know, that’s never happened to me! So assume best intentions!

Your work habits

Have you worked remotely before? It’s a different life waking up every day having breakfast and walking 10 steps to your office. No-one popping by your desk to ask if you saw the latest episode of Game of Thrones. No donuts in the kitchen (though you still get the email telling you there are donuts in the kitchen at the office). No-one to sit with at lunch. Instead you have your home with all its distractions: dirty dishes, laundry, house cleaning, weeding, tele marketers calling, odd jobs to be done, maybe kids coming home from school before you finish your work day? It’s not for everyone, and not everyone can thrive in that environment. It takes some discipline to get your work done and stay connected.

Networking

At many companies networking is key to a successful career. It can help you get things done. It can help you get credit and visibility for the things you do. It can help you find little projects that are ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ that get you the raise, the award, or the promotion.  It is also how you will your next job in the company. When you work remotely networking is more difficult.

Your success

I am very fortunate to have work at a company and to apply for jobs with managers who really want to see me succeed. Some of them have had remote employees in the past who were unfortunately unhappy and unsuccessful for one or more of the reasons outlined above. Some teams at microsoft are very dynamic: roles and responsibilities change frequently. The job I am applying for might work remotely, but what happens in 6 months when they re-org? What if my original job disappears? You want to be sure you join a team whose goals you can support in different ways. You don’t want to get caught in a position where there is only one thing you can do remotely. How will you grow? How will you get promoted? How will you keep yourself challenged and motivated?

Elevator meetings

Sometimes the most important conversations don’t happen in the meeting room, they happen immediately afterwards when you are walking out of the meeting and discuss the meeting in the elevator on the way back to your desk. Sometimes a chance encounter in an elevator gives you a rare opportunity to talk to a senior team member in person. Remote workers don’t have this opportunity.

Budget

If you work remotely how often are you going to visit the office?  Will you travel by plane, train automobile? Hotel, meals, and transportation costs add up fast! Spending money for you to visit the office may mean less money for doing business! 

Stay tuned for part 2…

Women in Tech–10 Tips for balancing family and business travel

ViewFromAPlaneAfter twenty years of working in high tech and just about every one of those years involving business travel, I won’t even pretend to have perfected the family/work balance but, if you are about to embark on a job that involves travel, I have a few tips that might help.

1 – Accept you may catch some moments in reruns

First steps, losing a tooth, scoring a goal at the hockey game, as a parent you will get to witness many amazing moments in your child’s life. If you travel for work, you are going to miss some of those moments.  It’s not the end of the world, find pleasure in listening to your spouse or child tell you all about that awesome moment. They will be thrilled to have an opportunity to relive it with you when you call or get home.

2 – Find a farewell routine

Life is easier when you have a routine. It helps to have a routine when you leave on a trip. My routine is fairly simple, when I leave town I give the kids (and my husband) a bedtime kiss and hug for each night I will be gone (a little tougher now the boys are teenagers). This is my way of letting them know that even though I am not home, I am still thinking of them. It also gives them a sense of how long I will be gone. A 3 year old doesnt really understand the difference between a 2 day and a 5 day trip. But, kids figure out quickly that only one extra hug meant a short trip. I still remember the night before a two week trip, my 7 year old son stepped back and looked at me and said ‘that’s a lot of extra hugs mom.’  Some people count sleeps until mom or dad gets home. You could make a countdown with post it notes or tear out pages from a day by day calendar and leave them behind one per day. Whatever works for you. Just make sure it doesn’t require too much work beforehand, if you are travelling regularly, you won’t always have the time and energy for complicated rituals.

3 – Do what you can to make your time away easier for your spouse

Leaving for a week? maybe you should call a cleaning service to come and clean the house while you are away, or arrange for someone to mow the lawn. Maybe, the best way to help is by getting someone to help get the kids to and from their various activities. I try to make arrangements for someone to drive my son to his hockey practices so my husband has doesn’t have to manage supper, dishes and driving to and from the arena. Sometimes I can make his life easier by doing something as simple as baking the kids favorite cookies before I leave, so there are peanut free snacks to put in the kids lunches. When I had a two week trip I made arrangements for a friend to come to the house and take the kids to dinner and a movie over the weekend, so dad could have a night off. (We don’t have the luxury of grandparents in town to help out, but if you do, they could also be a great resource to give your spouse a break when you are away)

4 – Set expectations on when you will call home

In this world of text messages and Skype, there are lots of ways to stay in touch when you are on the road. But, it’s still a good idea to just have a quick chat with your spouse to manage expectations. Will you be available during the work day to exchange a text message or an email? A call may take some planning. What nights will your spouse be busy with kids activities?  When will they be busy with bath time?  When will you have privacy for a voice call? a video chat? Are there nights when you have evening commitments on your trip? Are you going to talk every night? Are you caliing to talk to your spouse at one time and your kids at a different time? In my early days of business travel (pre cell phones) my husband used to call my hotel room in the evening, on my first couple of trips I missed the calls and came back to my hotel room to a blinking light and it was too late to call back (don’t forget to factor in time changes as part of your planning). You may be busy on your trip, but your spouse is still at home dealing with all the day to day activities and may be craving some adult conversation, or a chance to unload after a bad day. Sometimes you can just call on the spur of the moment, but it’s good to have a couple of pre-planned times just in case!

5 – Don’t buy everyone presents on every business trip

If travel is going to be a regular occurence, you don’t want the kids to expect a gift every time you go away. Don’t hesitate to bring home a little something from time to time, but you don’t need to be rushing around the airport gift shop every time you have a flight. Like everything else you need to find a balance. My approach was to pick up a gift when I am visiting somewhere new or out of the ordinary. Of course, sometimes you stumble across something you just can’t get at home, a favorite brand of chocolate bar, an interesting bottle of wine, a cool pair of socks (no seriously, my son loves wearing funky socks, and I never know when I will find a cool pair). When it’s unexpected it’s a bigger treat.

6 – Share your travel perks and points with your family

If you have status on the airline, make a point of going to the airport with enough time to visit the lounge with the family (assuming your kids are old enough to get a kick out of the free cookies and drinks). Can you cash in some air miles to get free admission to the zoo? How about using your hotel points to stay at a fancy hotel for one night, cash in your upgrade coupons on a family trip and give your spouse a turn in first class. If your kids are older and are well behaved travellers, consider giving them a turn in first class as well. Please remember that smaller children should not be sent up to first class on their own, I have a friend who when upgraded ended up sitting next to a 3 year old (not sure of the age, but he got my friend to cut his meat up for him so we are going to guess the 3 year old range) this boy was providing his own loud commentary as he watched the in flight tv, was rude to the staff, kicked the seat in front of him, and was generally loud and disruptive. Meanwhile his father was somewhere in economy oblivious to the whole thing. My friend was getting the dirty looks because they thought he was the parent. So while I applaud taking kids on trips and giving them the opportunity to experience first class, with younger kids that should only be done supervised by mom or dad. But I digress, the main point here is your family is affected by your business travel, it’s stressful for them, so if you get a few perks try to share the benefits with them.

7 – Listen and ask questions

When you come home from a trip or you call home during a trip, chances are your spouse or kids will have news to share. Even if you had an exciting day/trip listen before you tell your story. Ask about the science test, the doctor’s appointment, recess, bath time.

8 – Try to be home before bedtime

I’ve discovered that if my kids see me before bed, they don’t consider that a day away. So sacrifice a little sleep in the hotel bed to catch that early morning flight so you can be home by suppertime. When going on your trip, try to avoid those early morning flights so you at least have breakfast with the family before you take off. 

9 – Set limits on your travel

How much travel is too much? Best to discuss that with your spouse before it happens. You should also ask yourself which family events should not be missed. Sometimes the answer when the boss says ‘can you do this trip’ is no. I call it my domestic air miles balance. When I take a trip I am cashing in domestic air miles, and when I get home I need to earn them back. Occasionally, if I am travelling somewhere really interesting or in a city where I have friends or family to visit, I cash in a few extra domestic air miles and spend an extra day in the city to explore. If I have had a few trips back to back and another one comes up I might tell my boss that I have cashed in all my domestic air miles and need some time to earn them back before I travel again (If you do turn down a trip, tell your spouse you did it, I’ve discovered letting them know I said no to a trip helps me earn back a few more of those domestic air miles). Saying no from time to time is not going to hurt your career. If you have accepted a job with very heavy travel, then it’s important to stop from time to time and discuss with your family if the job is worth that much time apart. 

10 – Give your spouse a chance to be an awesome parent

When you are away, the household routine may vary. maybe the kids get ice cream as a bedtime snack instead of fruit. Maybe they get to watch a tv show you normally don’t let them watch, or they get more video game time than you would normally allow. A little rule stretching can actually help the kids feel a little closer to dad. Maybe there is a restaurant, tv show, or movie that you don’t like but they do, what better time to do it then when you are out of town! They will still want to spend time with mom, and tell you about their days and adventures when you get home. If the kids get a little quality time with dad and bond doing something you wouldn’t normally do, even some minor rule breaking, maybe that’s okay. I honestly believe that my kids are a little closer to their dad because I am occasionally out of town.

Jobs which require business travel can be exciting and great opportunities, but they will absolutely impact your life at home. A little foresight and planning will make it easier on everyone! Safe travels and share your tips as well!