Karen LaGraff Works Remotely
VP, Employee Relations, North American Region
Fulltime Remote Worker Employee
How and why did you start working remotely?
I am onsite employee with an office, but started taking the option to work remotely about 10 years ago. In this day and age, where we all have laptops and cell phones, adding a couple of apps makes it pretty simple and makes business sense. I have meetings throughout my day with global teams. Some days I start very early; some I go very late to accommodate projects and different time zones. I often feel more productive and engaged if I work remotely because I avoid commutes and have more flexibility in balancing my workday and personal needs.
What advice would you give someone considering a remote job?
Make sure that you have a secure, dedicated space to work. It’s not about multitasking on the couch; you want to be free from distractions and have the tools and environment you need to focus.
How did you convince your company to let you work remotely?
Fortunately, I did not have to convince the company—remote work has been part of our culture and how we do business for more than 50 years. It’s a big part of how we’re able to operate on a global scale and provide a great workplace that supports employees’ work-life balance.
Where I did do some convincing was in helping obtain approvals to finalize a global work-from-home policy in 2014. This massive undertaking to standardize how remote work is managed across our footprint of more than 180 countries required the buy-in of many teams, from leadership and HR to finance, legal, and IT. Today, the policy applies to our global workforce of more than 131,000 employees who are supported to work from home as needed. In the U.S. alone, approximately 8,000 employees form our Virtual Office program, working remotely 100 percent of the time.
What are the biggest benefits to working remotely?
The ability to better balance schedules by eliminating wasted time in traveling to and from the office every day.
What are the greatest challenges to working remotely?
I think one of the greatest challenges is getting virtual private networks to work at the same speed as onsite networks. Conference calling tools and collaborative applications are often more geared toward an onsite setting. Improving the clarity and velocity of voice and video communication for VPN users would help streamline communication between employees, regardless of their location.
Do you keep a regular remote work schedule? What is it?
Not really, though I often start my day very early with global-team conference calls and end my day the same way. Since I schedule my workday around meetings, it depends on what’s going on in my line of work for the day. Sometimes I start very early, take care of some personal items, and work later. That’s the beauty of the flexible schedule.
How do you avoid becoming distracted when working remotely?
I believe that it is critical to have a secure, dedicated space to work. In other words, a real work space, not sitting at the kitchen table or on the sofa. It helps to have a room with a door. The room to my home office has a door, and when I am in there, my family understands that I am “at” work.
What is a remote work pain point, and how do you address it?
There is sometimes a perception that you can be available 24/7, and it is difficult to “turn off” work. If I make myself physically “leave the office” when working from home, that helps make a clean break for the day.
Do you work from a home office? How is it organized?
Yes—I have a desk, a monitor, and headset ready to plug into my laptop; an office chair; and a printer. My office has a door I can shut for privacy and a window to allow natural light. It is upbeat and work friendly.
How do you stay in touch with virtual teammates?
I am on the phone most of the day, as most of my team is not located in the same city as I am. I have biweekly one-on-one meetings with my direct reports and a biweekly leadership team meeting, sometimes in person and sometimes on the phone. I also do video conferences with my team once a month to further personalize employee engagement and ensure they get face time with their colleagues. Email and instant messaging are essential for continual communication. I come into the office a couple of days each week, and sometimes see or talk to people who are offsite more than I see the people down the hall!
Do you have tips for saving money while working remotely?
Telecommuting itself saves money on gas, car wear and tear, mileage, and parking. You can also streamline wardrobes, considering you are not required to “dress up” every day.
What’s the hardest part about working with a traditional team while you’re remote?
Sometimes it’s a challenge to overcome perceptions from “traditional-thinking” people who believe in the old paradigm that work and productivity can only be achieved in the office. I love using my softphone because the person on the other end sees my office number on the caller ID. In that way, it appears that I am in the office, even though I am working remotely from home.
What’s the best way to find a remote job?
Career websites that provide an aggregate picture of remote jobs at various companies can be helpful. Connecting via LinkedIn and other social networks also helps explore options.
Would you consider returning to a traditional office job, or are you remote for life?
I really like having the best of both worlds with a split schedule of onsite and work-from-home days. I am a “people person,” so I like the human interaction, but need flexibility with my schedule for the other half of the week.
How has working remotely impacted your career plans?
I honestly wouldn’t consider working for a company where working remotely would be an issue. Beyond my personal preferences, I see how it helps staff. I know my staff benefits from the ability to work remotely and are generally more productive. They don’t have to waste time and energy on commutes, and they feel empowered and trusted to balance their work-life needs. I think that not allowing remote work says something about a company’s culture.
How do you stay connected to your professional community virtually?
Social networks like LinkedIn and conference calls help.
What's the best way to develop professional contacts while working remotely?
I think that utilizing social networks and really understanding how to optimize those tools is important and helpful.
How has your remote job impacted your life outside of work?
I think it has helped me be more balanced with my health and family. I try to go to the gym a few days a week, and really like going before I start work. I can accommodate gym time much easier on the days I work from home. If I need to get prepared to go into the office, I may skip the gym because it’s harder to fit it in. Remote work also facilitates taking a break in the middle of the day, as needed, to do things with my family without cutting my workday short so I can still complete my work.
How has working remotely impacted your family life?
It’s helped me to be more available, since I can flex my schedule to be there for my family when I am needed.
How do you stay physically active while working remotely?
In addition to scheduling in time for the gym, I try to get up every hour or two to move around, or run up and down the stairs. I have a stand-up desk at my onsite office and am thinking of putting one in my home office.
How does working remotely impact your diet?
I stay in better control of my diet because I have my kitchen at my fingertips versus being tempted to go out and overeat.
How do you cope with feeling lonely while working remotely?
Not at all. I am interacting with people all day long.
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