When I first decided to write a blog, it was immediately clear to me that I wanted to start with a topic that’s important to me. That’s why I’m going to share how I started working how I want and when I want— with phenomenal results, if I do say so myself!
I entered the workforce about 20 years ago. I worked in a lab, and since you can’t do chemistry from the couch, driving to work every day was an integral part of the job. After about five years, I became a recruiter. I had a computer and dial-up modem at home (yes, I know, dial-up). I had a phone. And I talked to people pretty much every hour of the day. The company culture didn’t embrace working from home, and I wasn’t confident enough about my value to the company to even consider asking for something outside of the norm. Plus, to be honest, I was young, had no kids, and didn’t really need much flexibility.
When I was a few years into my recruiting role, kid no. 1 came along. I’d recently been promoted to manager after having hired more than 300 people per year for a couple of years in a row. Unsurprisingly, I felt much more secure about my contributions and my value.
During that time, I started working from home on Wednesdays. Basically, I refused to show up at the office. I even refused to take virtual meetings. Wednesday became the day I actually got work done—and I protected it like a mother lion protects her cub. No one messed with Jamie’s Wednesdays. When you add the complexity of another human to your life, you develop this kind of survival technique.
Fast forward another few years and another kid. I was still working from home on Wednesdays. Just like everyone else, I’d get calls and LinkedIn messages from headhunters. My polite response (and you should always respond, especially if you’re in the recruiting industry) was that my husband and I were tied to the Chicago area, so sorry, but I wasn’t willing to uproot my family and interrupt my husband’s career for a new job in a new location.
Then it happened. On one of these calls, the recruiter said something amazing: “You don’t have to move. You can work from wherever you want.”
Interesting, right? Of course I engaged. And after 18 years with a company I thought I’d never leave, I was gone. Just like that.
Nowadays, I work from my basement—sometimes in my pajamas. I start at 5am. I’m home when my kids get off the bus. Occasionally I do laundry while taking conference calls.
Since this was a completely new way of working, I started this job by doing all of the right things. In the beginning, I frequently flew to HQ so I could meet as many people as possible in person. Now, I use Skype a lot so I can have a face-to-face. When I talk with my new boss, we use video chat. Of course, I don’t wear my pajamas—but I don’t put on a suit, either. I just smile and focus on the important matters with him. I doubt he cares—or even notices—whether I’m wearing makeup or not.
Am I productive? Absolutely! More productive than I’ve ever been? Maybe, but I won’t swear to that. I think it probably all washes out for those of us who just like to work hard and get things done regardless of where they are.
What is new and different, however, is my response when I get those headhunter calls. I still respond politely, but I have no interest in making a change. Even though I’ve been a recruiter for years and convinced thousands of people to take new roles, this experience taught me an important lesson: to attract great talent, you, the employer, should want to be flexible. When you meet top talent on their own terms, they will commit to your company and start producing amazing results.
Some very smart people have performed studies and surveys that provide data and trends about virtual work, and that’s where this blog series is going next. So stay tuned, and I’ll bring more information and perspectives about how the virtual world is transforming work with data and facts. But on a personal level, I think my own experience offers some good insights, too.