Many of us have dreamed of giving up that hectic commute and the morning rush of coffee to go, and a recent Gallup study found that more Americans are working remotely than ever before. In search of workplace flexibility, #MINDRMAMA Deanna Neiers decided to switch both her career and industry, leaving her coworkers in the beauty world in order to work remotely, from home, for a nonprofit in another city. We asked Deanna, Director of Northeast and Central Regions for Global Impact, to share her experiences as the sole NYC-based employee of her organization. She talks us through her journey - from the perks (like taking calls in PJs) to the challenges (like sometimes feeling isolated and missing out on learning from co-located coworkers.)
After working in the beauty industry for nearly a decade, I knew it was time to make a change. The world of nonprofits had been calling to me for a while and it slowly began to eat away at me. I knew what I had to do. So, I left my job with a luxury beauty brand and my office in the Meatpacking District to work for a nonprofit. What this also meant was that I became a remote worker. I took a job with Global Impact, a nonprofit dedicated to building partnerships and raising resources to help the world’s most vulnerable people. Their headquarters are located in Alexandria, Virginia and they do not operate an office in New York City, where I am based.
When I took the job, I was newly married but without kids. It was a big contrast going from lunches with my boss at top restaurants in New York City and a beautifully designed creative office space... to a tiny spare bedroom in my apartment that would serve as my office, all alone.
Like any work environment, there are perks and pains to working remotely. During my first week of remote work at Global Impact, I could not believe the amount of extra time I had in my life. From packing my lunch, picking out clothing and getting ready, to commuting, and getting settled in at my desk with a cup of coffee - I never realized what a lengthy process it was! My new working situation - specifically the lack of going into the office - translated to nearly 3 hours of extra time a day for “real” work. I also found that my ability to concentrate improved. There wasn't that noisy desk neighbor who is always on the phone or rolling their chair back to talk to you. I could complete my projects very quickly and efficiently.
I also realized that, working remotely, I would now have a lot more control over my workday. I’m not tied to a set schedule of hours where I’m expected to be in the office even if I have finished current projects and am all caught up. In many offices, its taboo to just walk out and leave for the day when you are done working. Working remotely allows you the flexibility to be a bit more in control of your own schedule. When I worked in an office, as soon as I got home, I would immediately change into comfortable clothing. What a luxury it is to now be able to spend each day in comfort!
While it is nice to be in control of my time and schedule (and my clothing), I found that there were also a number of real challenges to my new working set-up. First, since I was taking on a new style of working as a remote employee, my learning curve was incredibly steep, especially because I had also joined a new sector. Without colleagues co-located with me, I missed out on the ability to join meetings and glean knowledge from conversations overheard around the office. I also was not able to quickly learn the terminology people around me used. While my new team was great about doing Skype video calls and offering as much training as possible, I still found it very challenging to learn a completely new business from afar.
I also felt a little isolated and longed for the camaraderie—and maybe even missed that noisy desk neighbor a bit. It’s hard to build relationships with people over instant messenger and email. Working with a group of almost strangers felt a lot different than the close relationships I had while working at my previous office. And I missed the little things: the group birthday cupcakes, the leftover catering that we could help ourselves to, and the bonding over the huge snowstorm that we all had to trudge through to get into the office.
Even with all the challenges, I would say the benefits of working remotely grew exponentially after I became a mother. I chose to have in-home childcare so that I could be with my babies all day, and I feel very fortunate to have what I consider to be a dream situation. I get up with my children in the morning and spend time with them until my nanny arrives at 9 am. And then I close the door and go to work. I can pop my head out any time to see them and we often eat lunch together. I never feel guilty or like I’m missing out, because I’m there all day.
This was a total game changer as a breastfeeding mother. I rarely pump and instead just block 15 minutes off of my calendar throughout the day to nurse my baby. For me, there’s nothing more valuable than that.
It’s also very comforting to be around when they’re sick or hurt. I am always available to run them over to the doctor or come out and give them a quick hug when they need me. At the end of the day, I sign off and a moment later am back spending time with my kids, instead of rushing home and missing out on more time together.
No working situation is perfect, and working remotely is not for everyone. For some, the disadvantages of being physically far from your coworkers and team may outweigh the advantages. Some people may feel incredibly lonely or find it hard to remain motivated every day. But for me, I would even go as far as to say that my work from home gig has made me a better mother. I still get tons of time with my kids, but I get to tune into work that I am incredibly passionate about. I genuinely feel part of something bigger - and my work for a nonprofit helps me feel that I contribute to making the world around us a better place. As society becomes more open to the flexible workplace, I think things will get better for remote workers. For now, though, I will relish every second of the extra hours every day I get to spend with my babies. There’s nothing more important to me than that.
Deanna Neiers works as the Director, Northeast and Central Regions for Global Impact from her home on the Upper East Side of New York City. She lives with her husband, two kids (son Jack, 2 and daughter Sorin, 1) and cat George.