If you have ever thought that telecommuting or remote working is just for the young crowd, or for singles in their 30s or 40s, it’s time to completely change your way of thinking. I recently spent an hour talking with Pat Davis, a woman who has spent years telecommuting for not one but TWO huge companies: EDS/HP and CA Technologies. Her story is absolutely inspiring, and I hope that it encourages you to take the leap and find a way to work from where you love to live.
JM: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your family.
PD: I grew up in Eastern Montana on a ranch. I love the outdoors, and I’m a country girl at heart and would rather be outside doing most anything than stuck in an office. Being in a big city surrounded by concrete and tons of people is very hard for me, though I’ve done it when I needed to. While raising my 2 sons I quit a full-time job to start college, thinking I must be crazy! My youngest son and I would study at the kitchen table at night. I started out at Montana State University studying Computer Science – it wasn’t quite what I wanted so I went to a college in southern Oregon and studied Information Systems. I completed 2 years of curriculum in 3 quarters, then returned to Montana and finished up my core at MSU.
My oldest son has worked for a heating and air condition company since he was 19, and now is the Field Superintendent and Project Manager & Estimator – all here in Montana. My youngest son is a welder – he commutes to ND so that he can still live here and enjoy all Montana has to offer. I love that I am able to live and work here, close to my sons and my grandkids, and that I can live in such a gorgeous place and ride my horses anytime I want.
JM: Tell me about your work history.
PD: After getting my degree in Information systems I went to work in Helena for 3 years but really wanted to move back to Bozeman – I missed the area a lot. I was able to find a job and have been in Bozeman ever since.
Initially I worked at EDS/HP as a Programmer and Consultant for a resource center, coordinating with clients and working on programming projects for them as well. When I went to work for them at their brick and mortar center in Bozeman, it was not a remote position, and most of us traveled a lot. As the reputation of our resource center grew we were able to do more projects from the center without the travel. Once EDS closed the center and directed us all to work remotely (much like Jen Haley) I found that I loved the freedom that telecommuting gave me.
After 11 years with EDS/HP, they started downsizing and I was part of the Bozeman group that was let go. I then contracted out as a freelancer working with access control products with CA Technologies; I spent close to 7 months in California and 4 months in Philadelphia. While in Philadelphia I took a permanent position with CA Technologies. One of the biggest draws to working with them was that they offered the position as a remote-work option, so I could keep living the lifestyle I loved.
At CA Technologies, I worked with their Identity and Access Management products and also worked directly with clients, implementing and configuring CA’s products on the client’s systems and teaching them how to use and maintain these products
JM: What drew you to that particular line of work?
PD: When I started college I still had 2 kids at home and was working 2 jobs – eventually I decided the time had come to make a change. I liked problem solving and enjoyed working with computers so I found programming to be the perfect career opportunity.
So many young kids go to college and get a hyper-specific degree that doesn’t hold a lot of promise for career placement or steady income. Programming and Computer Sciences are fantastic career paths because of the flexible career options and the pay scale available to those working in those fields.
JM: What tools or software or equipment did you and your remote teams use to make long distance communication work?
PD: We used email and Lync (for instant messaging) to communicate; we used teleconference bridges for audio and WebEx for video. All remote employees had their own accounts on both. We could use this for client meetings as well, making things seamless no matter where people were located.
JM: What major issues have you faced while telecommuting?
PD: It is so easy to walk back into the office after the day is done and find yourself still working way into the night. There have been a lot of weeks and months where I spent way more time at work than what I would have done if I was in a traditional office setting. My work ethic drives me to solve a problem – how I grew up was that you worked until the work was done, so definitely for me turning work off at the end of the day can be a challenge.
Even though I like telecommuting, some people do not like working from home – they NEED the interaction that an office provides. I know of one gal that really struggled to make the transition when HP sent us all to work from home (she likes it now, but it was hard at first).
Another major issue I found was when I had to travel to a client site … flying out of anywhere is not easy … especially to the east coast. It takes most of a day to get there. That makes getting in a 40 hour week at a client site difficult. Thankfully being at the client site wasn’t the norm, though it is so good that we have great airports here for when travel does need to happen and working remotely 100% of the time isn’t possible.
JM: What successes have you seen while telecommuting?
PD: It’s always good to get rave reviews from your client. That was always what I strived for and was my greatest success.
I think the companies I worked for did a good job equipping employees to find success in a telework situation through virtual conferences, etc, too. I think my teams collaborated and helped one another very well too – we all had one another’s backs. Our remote team status was a shared bond that made them a more tight-knit team.
JM: Do you see telecommuting as a solid ongoing work opportunity for others like you and also for those that might have a different career track?
PD: I feel telecommuting is an excellent way for companies to keep their costs down (don’t need so much office space) and to keep employees happy and therefore maintain their employees. I believe companies will continue to go in this direction – at least I hope so. Telecommuting is not suited for all careers, however there are definitely some lines of work that would really work well as a remote position.
JM: What 3 pieces of advice would you give to someone considering becoming a telecommuter?
PD: Good question. I would say:
Enjoy being isolated. She would sometimes go for days without talking to someone face to face. Part of that is because when she got off of work, she would head out for a ride, etc. But if someone is not comfortable being by yourself, it may be a tougher transition.
If you know your co-workers so you can chit-chat during the day via IM, that helps as well. It allows for camaraderie that can be lacking when working completely remotely.
Create personal discipline and routines so that you are on the ball. Feel free to set hours that work for you, if it works for your company or clients, but make things as consistent as possible.
JM: What 3 pieces of advice would you give to companies thinking about implementing a remote work option for their employees?
PD: Wow – there’s a lot there…but I would say:
Make sure you have employees with good work ethics.
Give employees the tools they need – maybe give them an allowance for office equipment or expenses (i.e. if they need a printer or internet access, or a phone, etc.) or purchase those items for them directly.
Leave them alone. If they are producing good work, let them do their thing. Resist the urge to micro-manage. If you truly trust your team, then let them do their job.
JM: What is your favorite “telework perk?”
PD: For me is was the ability to start work at say 6 AM then take a break about 8 AM and go out to feed my horses. Also when having a rough day I could take an hour for lunch, saddle up a horse, and go for a quick ride. This always seemed to clear my head. I could then go back to work and usually solve the problem I was fighting.
JM: Lastly, tell me why you love living and working in Montana.
PD: I grew up in Montana; it’s home for me. I love the open spaces – the mountains are so close I can hike or ride almost any time I want. Montanans are truly thoughful, kind, and generous people. I love the 4 seasons, well actually 2 in Montana: winter and construction! Seriously though, I could never live where there isn’t truly 4 seasons. There is nothing as beautiful as Montana in the spring of the year, though I love summer and fall and yes winter too even though sometimes it’s colder than I prefer.
Thanks so much to Pat for sharing her story – talk about inspiring! If you are a telecommuter and want to share your store with the WhyTelecom community, be sure to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.