February 07, 2019
By: Shravya Kaparthi, Director, Analytics and Decision Sciences, RAPP Dallas
One vacation can absolutely change your life.
In 2017, my husband and I road-tripped from Texas to Washington for two weeks. Six national parks and tons of outdoorsy activities later, we were sold: The Pacific Northwest was a winner.
Later that year, my husband was offered a job in Seattle. We both knew relocating would lead to an ideal cultural and social fit, but could it work with my company’s needs or would I have to find a new employer? Although RAPP fosters work-life balance and flexibility — unique within the advertising industry — my position is client-facing and collaborative across verticals.
I had my doubts but was buoyed by the idea that perhaps I could transfer from RAPP to another part of the Omnicom group covering Washington state and neighboring territories. Surprisingly, though, my boss and senior mentors suggested remote work as an option if I could travel to Texas for meetings regularly.
Despite their willingness to make it work, I wasn’t convinced I was cut out for it. I’m highly social and derive a lot of energy from being with others. Technology would allow me to address time zone issues with ease, but could I find success not physically being in the office? I was game to try.
Testing the remote working waters
I thought my first hurdle would be isolation. Not in Seattle. The community workspace culture built around the freelance gig economy means bustling coffee shops, parks, meet-up groups and other locales filled with remote workers. Coupled with work travel every three weeks, I never feel alone.
Next, I figured scheduling might be a concern. It wasn’t. I worked Texas hours, which means early mornings for sure, but this allowed me to become a regular at the gym, take up yoga classes, head out on long runs, and make new friends. No problem there.
However, one snag I didn’t anticipate was delineating between work and home. I started tailoring my whole day around work, unable to figure out when I should be awake or asleep — plus a lunch hour is almost nonexistent! Setting boundaries became a tricky knot that I’m still untangling.
Despite the inherent challenges of being a remote worker, the experience has allowed me to hone several key career skills that make me a stronger employee:
- Personal discipline. Remote work demands ridiculous amounts of self-discipline and planning. You are in charge of everything from internet connectivity to keeping your extended team in the know. Have a dentist appointment? Don’t assume everyone realizes you’ll be out of action for an hour or two. Such items may seem insignificant when you’re working in a traditional office, but they become important when colleagues or clients expect you to be available.
- Personal output. When you’re working 1,000 miles away, no one sees the number of hours you sit at your desk. All they see is your output and results. When I realized this, I started cutting out unimportant meetings that took time away from core tasks and accomplishments. Every item I add to my calendar is essential when I am in Seattle. On the days I travel back to Texas, I can have more relaxed social meetings to catch up with co-workers without impacting my regular work.
- Personal advocacy. Being “out of sight, out of mind,” remote workers are at a natural disadvantage when it comes to communication. I have learned to be direct and raise my hand if I feel I am not being included. At the same time, if a scheduled meeting is running over, I let everyone know that I have other appointments and responsibilities. The onus is on me to make others aware of my needs.
- Personal balance. What’s the ultimate secret ingredient to making remote working less stressful? Leisure time. Agency business has peaks and valleys. Being able to play the long game requires an appetite for a mundane routine. Therefore, finding joy falls on the employee to schedule fun around the necessary habits. Thinking through work-life integration as opposed to work-life balance is what worked the most for me.
Remote work is still a bit of an experiment for me. However, I feel less daunted than when I started, especially because I am respected by RAPP and trusted by my clients. Long distance means little if you really want something to work. And what triumphs is good work. Always. The advertising industry has the luxury of innovating and crafting creative solutions from anywhere. If we don't explore that option now, in this day and age of smartphones and on-the-go-meetings, when else will we?