My freelance pal Paula Hendrickson introduced me (electronically) to Scott when she invited me to participate in the weekly #RemoteChat on Twitter. Scott is a fantastic host, and I love being part of a group of smart, funny, resourceful, talented, compassionate people all over the world.
I wanted to know more about Scott and his book, THE ART OF WORKING REMOTELY.
Devon Ellington: What factors played into your choice to work remotely, and how long did it take for you to make the transition?
Scott Dawson: Honestly, it was a total accident. I was almost two years into my new job and I was engaged. My fiancee and I had looked at housing, commutes, and jobs, and decided that living in New York City wasn’t for us. I was honest with my boss. I told him I was about to be married and wanted to live in another area. I wanted to let him know I was going to be searching for jobs — either an internal transfer or a job with another company. I had no other angle. No other motivation. He considered what I said. After a few moments he asked, “How would you like to work from home?” I hadn’t considered that, but months later I was working out of a spare bedroom of our new Massachusetts apartment. I had a laptop, fax machine, an ISDN line (twice the speed of dialup!) and easy access to New York City if I needed to go into the office for a few days. It was couched as a 3-month trial, after which I’d return to the office if it wasn’t working out. It did work out, and I continued in that job for 17 years.
DE: Is there anything you thought was necessary before you made the switch that you discovered was not?
SD: Yes! Hindsight, they say, is 20/20. We rented a 3-bedroom apartment, thinking that I’d need a dedicated office apart from our bedroom. Another room was set aside as an art studio, since my wife loved to paint. We definitely didn’t need the third room. We didn’t have kids yet, and my wife taught most of the day. I was alone, and totally could have carved out a corner of our living room or bedroom to do my work. It’s true that having the separate room was nice, but it would have been nice to save a little money while we could, too.
DE: How has it improved both the quality of your work and your life?
SD: On the work front, I find that I can get into flow so much easier than if I were around a lot of people. I’m rather disciplined at home, and when I’m in the zone, I can be incredibly productive (I’m a web designer and developer). It’s just not the same in an office environment. The impact on my life is unquantifiable. I was there for all of those moments that mothers and fathers want to see when their kids are growing up. I got support from my family throughout the days and years, and I gave support right back. Most meals, when we’re all in the house, are at our dining room table. No commute gets in the way of me connecting with my family before and after work. All of that sums up to a lower-stress, far happier me!
DE: Do you miss anything about on-site work?
SD: I travel occasionally to the office, and so I’m reminded sometimes of the things that I miss. If you subtracted the commute, the social benefits of working alongside other people would be compelling. Going out to lunch, sharing playlists, ranting about this, or celebrating that … it’s all easier when you’re co-located. I try to fill that gap as a remote worker by being far more intentional about my social commitments. It’s important to make plans to connect with other people.
DE: Can you share one of the strangest anecdotes about working with a remote client?
SD: Sure! It’s an anecdote that, at the time, was not strange at all. Time and change have conspired to make it strange. Now, asynchronous collaboration is all the rage. Slack, social media, and other collaboration platforms vie for our attention throughout the day. These platforms enable a lot of teams to be efficiently distributed around the world. When I first started working remotely in 1998, my business counterpart and I were collaborating on a web site prototype. I updated a clickable prototype and uploaded to a server. She clicked around the prototype when she was free, and printed out the pages to mark them up with changes. Then she FAXED them to me. Yeah, it was the age of fax machines and modems, and it worked great! I made the changes, and the process repeated. She and I worked so well together, and it was the first example I can think of where asynchronous collaboration was as seamless as it could be at the time.
DE: What is your best suggestion for a person who wants to negotiate a remote work option to set out positives such as heightened productivity, better quality of work, and less sick time/lateness from commuting issues balanced against so many managers’ need to stare at their workers to make sure they’re actually working?
SD: You’ve actually cited a lot of the business benefits of remote work in the phrasing of the question. https://usefyi.com/remote-work-statistics is my go-to resource for statistics about remote work, many of which can be pretty compelling for a negotiating table. Armed with facts, you can then think about how working remotely can work in your unique situation. Perhaps suggest a trial like my manager did, and keep tabs on your output and productivity as compared to the office environment. When you do get the opportunity to work remotely, demonstrate your efficacy and highlight the big wins. If you’re more productive, make sure that they see it. Lastly, position things in terms of how it benefits the employer. Sure, you’ll derive big benefits, but the ones that seal the deal are the ones that matter most to the decision maker.
— The Art of Working Remotely Excerpt
Cornell’s career center was quite an operation. New companies arrived weekly, vying for the attention of Cornell’s upcoming graduates. Microsoft. IBM. Motorola. Morgan Stanley. We were also vying for their attention! We pored over the sign-up sheets posted in Carpenter Hall. What companies seemed interesting to me? There was no real intention to this “job search.” I hadn’t thought about what I wanted so it was a scattergun approach to my professional destiny. I wasn’t prepared for some of the more technical interviews. Microsoft didn’t even call me back after my session with them. I signed up for as many interviews as I could. I knew that time spent interviewing was good practice.
I walked into the interview room at the appointed time for one of these “practice” interviews. A major bank had sent a representative to speak with job hopefuls like me. The interviewer started off with the softest of pitches over the plate. “So, Scott, what can you tell me about the private banking business?”
I hadn’t prepared for this interview. Heck, I hadn’t prepared for any of these interviews. I assumed I’d talk about me, my skills, my path. Big mistake. How could I reply? As with most things in life, the truth seemed the best option and most in line with who I was.
“To be honest, I don’t know what private banking is.”
He smiled. The next half hour was surreal.
— Author Bio
Scott Dawson lives in Trumansburg, New York with his wife Amy and two children, Elizabeth and Xander. He’s a web designer and developer and enjoys writing, acting, creating art, and making music. He’s an avid skier in the winter and runs year-round on the roads and trails of Tompkins County in upstate New York. Connect with him at scottpdawson.com or @scottpdawson.