Judy Dunn and her husband, Bob, both work from home. It’s great for them because working remotely enables them to live in a tiny town on the West Coast far from where they might otherwise have on-site jobs.
There’s just one tiny problem.
Judy is a writer who needs quiet to focus and long chunks of uninterrupted time to concentrate on the words. Bob produces several podcasts and spends much of his day talking and interviewing guests.
Their solution is separate offices. Bob works downstairs in a space set up for sound quality while Judy works upstairs in an office suited to her tastes. With this special arrangement, the couple has been happily working remotely for years adapting to changing technology and evolving their business to suit their needs.
What was it like when you first started working from home?
Judy: It certainly wasn’t as common. I did freelance writing for awhile and then I decided to apply for a job as a grants manager for a school district. I didn’t tell them right away that I wanted to telecommute, but it was a four-hour drive away and I didn’t really want to move. Later during the interviewing process, I brought up the idea of wanting to work from home. I wasn’t sure how they would react, but they didn’t say no. They just asked how that would work. That made me pretty certain I was going to get the job. And I did. I kept the job for 14 years.
Bob: In those early years, we relied more on phones and faxing. You didn’t have all the technology or the programs we have now. I spent more time out networking and meeting with people. Part of that was the location. We were closer to big events. There were people working from home and telecommuting, but it wasn’t getting attention the way it does now. My business has changed too. I used to do more work with clients and helping with their marketing but now I am more focused on the podcasts and providing information.
How does it work with having you both working full-time in the same house?
Judy: We’ve done this together so long that we’ve figured out how to make it work. We each have our different strengths so we each get to do what we’re most interested in.
Bob: You need to be sensitive about what the other person needs. It may not be right for everyone, but for us, this lets us have the lifestyle we want.
How has being able to work remotely affected your lifestyle?
Bob: We live in a beach community in Washington with fewer than 5,000 people. It’s the kind of place where we want to live. It’s mellow.
Judy: But there aren’t a lot of professional jobs here. The nearest town is 20 miles away and we’d have to drive at least two hours to get to any sort of an urban area. We appreciate being able to live where we want and do work we enjoy.
How do you meet people when you are so far away?
Bob: I used to go to networking events and meet people in person. I do less of that now, as we’ve become more remote. But there are so many ways to meet people online now. I have kept in touch with the people I’ve met in person over the years, but I also keep building new relationships.
Judy: It’s certainly easier now than it used to be. There are so many ways to connect online You can more easily reach out. And, you need to do that.
How do you stay in touch?
Judy: When I was doing the grant writing, I knew it was important to keep people closely apprised of what I was doing. I would send reports and faxes and show people what I was working on. I figured out these systems, so I could be a part of things even when I wasn’t in the same place. Now there are more options with the file sharing and other programs, but you still need these systems.
Bob: There are a lot of options. For me, I don’t like to be on the phone much, so I use emails and online chat. I like being able to be more direct and focused.
How do you stay relevant?
Bob: We’re at the age when people think we’re not adaptive. But we grasp on to the next thing and figure it out. It’s a matter of being flexible. We’ve survived as long as we have by being flexible.
Judy: We work well together, and we use each other’s skill sets, which are really complementary. I love blogging, for instance, but I don’t like technical aspects. I let Bob handle that, but interestingly enough, he has become much more adept at the writing/blogging part – and seems to enjoy it, too.
What’s the best advice you got on how to work remotely?
Judy: I never really got advice before I jumped in, but between observing in my time as the manager of a department of grant writers and the lessons I learned when I became an off-site consultant, I quickly discovered two things. One, connecting human-to-human and letting your personality shine through makes you less expendable. It’s easier these days with Skype and all, but showing your face regularly helps to strengthen those personal relationships. And two, become known as the dependable one by always meeting your deadlines and contacting your point person right away if you see problems with a project or assignment.
Bob: I echo a lot of what Judy said. Over the years, I’ve heard lots of advice on how to make a success of working remotely. But in the end, it all boils down to taking those shared tips and finding your own groove. So, take the suggestions and mold them to your own needs. On the other side of the coin, some tips will conflict with your experience working remotely and in those cases, you get a clear idea of what not to do.