Todd Helfter, Director of Database Services: Lessons Learned as a Long-Time Remote Worker
Working remotely is not a new concept. Until the Industrial Revolution, most people didn’t travel for their livelihood. It was only when production shifted from farms and local workshops to mills and factories that the nature of work changed overnight. It wasn’t until the Digital Revolution when new technology once again allowed us to reevaluate how (and where) work was done.
I’ve been working remotely full-time for over 15 years, and it’s significantly easier now than it was back then. That’s not to say there aren’t challenges, but the technology we all rely on for telecommuting is a lot more advanced than it was even just a few years ago.
I’ve been working remotely full-time for over 15 years, and it’s significantly easier now than it was back then.
When I started working remotely, VPN and remote desktop technology didn’t have the necessary capabilities to properly support telecommuting. Instead, we had to put together our own solutions to fill in the gaps however we could.
For example, we customized open-source instant messaging tools to allow people using *nix operating systems to communicate easily. Even having an office phone took a little ingenuity. We used double-sided tape to attach a dedicated VPN router to the back of an office phone to create a secure tunnel. We called it “The Frankenphone,” but it worked!
Today I can do more on my smartphone than I could on my old desktop, and I even have a comparable work experience because the tools are designed for multiple platforms. I definitely don’t miss the experience of working with email attachments on an old BlackBerry. I’m thankful we have all kinds of SaaS tools to keep us connected and properly equipped to do our jobs.
With COVID, more people are working remotely than ever before. If this is the first time you’ve spent a significant stretch working from home, you’ve probably noticed that the technologies and infrastructure available are more than capable of letting us do our jobs remotely. However, we are also facing the unique challenges of sharing our home office with children and partners adjusting to working and learning from home.
Even during these times, I think the most important aspect of making remote work successful is finding (and maintaining) your work/life balance. I know it can be difficult to step away from your computer when you work from home and you’re a stone’s throw from your desk – especially when you genuinely like what you do.
Even during these times, I think the most important aspect of making remote work successful is finding (and maintaining) your work/life balance.
Still, simple things like keeping regular working hours can make a huge difference. It was hard for me to do this at first, but I make sure to have dinner with my family every night. That’s not to say I don’t put in the occasional late night or early morning, but I prioritize keeping that balance. It can be really easy to fall into the trap of thinking “I must sit at my desk 100% of the time so that it’s clear that I’m working and being productive.” Be mindful of these thoughts and don’t feel guilty about taking breaks. You have to establish healthy boundaries and realistic expectations so you don’t burn yourself out.
Technology has made the world smaller, and as companies become more global their employees are likely already working with people they don’t see in person on a day-to-day basis. Telecommuting obliterates the limits of geography, giving people access to opportunities regardless of location as well as giving companies access to a much larger pool of talent. In addition, the same technology that facilitates remote work makes it easier to engage with customers.
I think the general perception of remote work has changed for the better. Companies are starting to realize what my team and I have known for well over a decade – if done properly, remote work won’t have a negative impact on job performance and can even result in increased productivity. Providing employees with the right tools (including SaaS- or cloud-based applications), maintaining consistent communication, and trusting them to do their jobs remotely has been proven to not only increase productivity and engagement, but can also reduce stress and increase general well-being. It’s win-win for companies and their employees.
I’m curious to see if the trend toward remote work will continue once people start feeling more comfortable working out of office spaces again. I certainly hope it does.
Todd Helfter is the Director of Database Services at Effectual, inc.