Using the Power of Flexibility to Edit a Book and Counsel Non-Profits Remotely

Cathy Plourde learned the ins and outs of remote work while she co-edited the book, Making Out Like a Virgin: Sex, Desire and Intimacy after Sexual Trauma. She was living in London while the other editor remained stateside. The contributors to the book were from all over the globe.<

She is back in the U.S. now, working from a home office as a management consultant with Powering Non-Profits co-owned with her wife, Kara Larson. She says her secret love of working from home is sometimes being able to dust mop the drifts of dog hair during calls.

What do you like about working remotely?

Photo credit: Kris Hall

I tend to create work for myself with people whom I like, and they don’t always live next door. This has been a way to curate colleagues and projects.

What was it like to work on a book with people who weren’t even in the same country?

We had 17 contributors, each with their own deadlines and cycles. I relied on Asana for project management and Skype or Google hangouts to connect with people.

I found that it was really important to be flexible. We would schedule meetings, but we could never be sure if the connection would work. It depended on the country and what the government felt like doing that day. If there was an issue, we would either reschedule or switch to another option like chat. It helped that my co-editor was in a different time zone because we could divide and conquer.

The remoteness helped in a way, given the sensitivity of the subject. I found that the conversations I could have with people over the phone were more productive and intimate because they didn’t have to see me frantically taking notes and I could give those reassuring vocal cues. One of the people was in Ireland. She would never have told her story to my face. Another was in Dubai. Our conversation couldn’t have taken place in a coffee shop. The distance provided a safer environment, sometimes emotionally, sometimes physically.

What are your challenges with remote work?

I am an extroverted introvert. I need people in my life to keep my energy going even though my most productive time is alone. It’s also hard to be disciplined when it’s a nice day and I’d rather be digging in my garden. And then there is the difficulty of turning things off at the end of the day. When I’m deep in a project, it’s so hard to extract myself.

But of course, this is all solvable.<

Right now, the noise is a big issue – someone taking down a tree outside my window or the cacophony of lawnmowers. My house isn’t soundproofed.<

How do you handle the noise?

Sometimes, when things are just too loud, you reschedule. Sometimes, you put on the headphones and play music or a podcast. And sometimes, you say, “It’s a beach day and I’ll work on Saturday.

How do you manage having limited time on site with your non-profit clients?

You have to make the best use of the time you have. When Kara and I go to a non-profit, we have very structured visits. We like to consult in a way that is not disruptive to what they are doing. So, we come in for a very specific project based on their schedule and we get to work on a specific set of variables.

How do you build trust when so much of your work is remote?

It’s through active listening and being very clear about your deliverables. Follow up when you say you’re going to follow up and ask for clarification when you need it.

When you don’t hear back from someone, don’t make up stories about the reason. It’s likely not because they’re ignoring you. It could be a symptom of something larger that you should be paying attention to such as they’re having a block on something you’re working on with them. Or, it could be something going on in their business or their life that has nothing to do with you.

What is your advice for people who plan to work remotely?

Get an excellent wire-free headset. Not all of them are created equal.

Recognize when it’s valuable and healthy to get out of the house. Sometimes, it’s better to stop what you are doing and take a ten-minute walk. I get more done in less time than if I take a break.

Clear communication is important. I’ve adopted a habit from one of my clients who would start each meeting with a recap and end it with a review of who is doing what for the next time, making sure we set when that next time will be.

Find a way to delineate when you’re ending the day. There are two of us working in my home office. We take turns with who has the desk and who works at the dining room table. At the end of the day, that table has to be cleared because it’s where we eat.