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The benefits of remote work: A case for humanity

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This is a post about the benefits of remote work, but it cannot be written without recognizing that our work selves are also ourselves.

The moment when everything I’ve ever been afraid to imagine came roaring to life, I was boarding a plane in Chicago, heading to New York.

Within a matter of moments, a phone call rendered me nearly unable to move. The initial sensation of free-falling in a dream passed, then every nerve in my body was suddenly on fire. Sitting in my seat, with my eyes shut, I thought, “no, no, no, no, no,” then remembered who I was, and knew what I needed to do.

Within a few hours, I was back home, facing down an old enemy that I thought I’d finally come to terms with, but this time, it was my youngest daughter on the front line. Her headaches, exhaustion, inability to concentrate weren’t from general teenage malaise; rather she had a growth in her head. We’d gotten an emergency consult in Ann Arbor the following day, so I came home, packed her up, then she and I were off again.

Being an employee and being a human are not two different things

The opening paragraphs are a lot to consider, but in the context of this post, I’m focusing on the part where I said I remembered who I was. We don’t turn our true selves on or off based on where we are or what we’re doing. Our cellular make-ups don’t change because we’re on the clock or off the clock, in an office, in our homes, or in our communities.

We’ve all heard the mantra that we ought to leave our personal lives checked at the door when we walk into work, as though walking into an office would somehow solve the problems keeping us up at night, or make anxiety, sorrow, frustration, or worry disappear.

This concept has always been foreign to me; a juxtaposition of reality – we’re human – and we have human problems. Why are we told to pretend that we aren’t? How does this make you a better employee, leader, or person?

The benefits of remote work: It fosters deep connections and motivates employees

Business case after business case has been made for remote work: From increased productivity, happier employees, and a healthier bottom line, the benefits of remote work are quite clear.

The argument that not sharing an office somehow diminishes teamwork and the ability to connect with co-workers couldn’t be further from the truth. My coworkers hail from around the world, and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to forge wonderful relationships with many of them. Teams within my company are stronger because of the diversity and talents that each person brings to the collective table.

When employers afford employees the flexibility and trust that the job will get done, and the freedom to navigate their lives while doing it, incredible things happen. The stress of trying to maneuver life outside of the hours of 9-5 dissipates, allowing creativity and productivity to grow instead.

After taking the call from my daughter’s doctor, one of the first five calls I made was to my boss. Within an hour, her boss contacted me, telling me that whatever needed to happen, my work family was 100% behind me, and would do whatever they could to support me – not support me professionally, or support me personally – but simply to support me and my family, period.

I also called the crew at NewsCred, because that’s who was flying me out to New York so we could workshop ideas. In real life, I’ve never met the person who was my main point of contact, but I’ve communicated with her regularly through our work, and she contacts me regularly to check-in. Only remote work made these kind of relationships possible.

Within a day, I had more text messages and emails than I could count; all filled with light and love, from all around the world. Those connections are not diminished by the fact that I’ve rarely – if ever – shared a room with these people – rather those connections are strengthened by the shared humanity among us.

Ring the bells that still can ring; forget your perfect offering

I missed a couple of deadlines over the week, and didn’t think about work at all while dealing with the specialists, nurses, and lab work that needed to be coordinated. We did normal things; shopped for a dress for her 8th grade graduation, had lunch, walked Ann Arbor while showing her my favorite haunts.

But soon enough, the moments between those moments arrived, and the feeling of helplessness grows wild in those down times. Because work is a big part of my identity, and because it allows me the ability to focus on things that I’m good at and things that challenge me, I opened my laptop as she slept or talked to her friends, and the ability to do my job, focusing on normalcy and routine, soothed me.

Had I been working in a traditional job in an office, I’d have had to taken leave; perhaps even unpaid, and then also worried about how I’d catch up, when could I return, what would I do with all of the time waiting between appointments and tests. Saying things like “relax and read a book” are unrealistic – emergencies and times of turmoil don’t change who you are as a person.

As a person, I’m someone who gets things done, who is reliable, who overcomes odds, and mostly does it all with a smile. I’m proud of my work and it gives something back to me, besides a paycheck. Without the benefits of remote work, in addition to the chaos of coping, I’d also be struggling with my own identity.

Yes, bad things happen. Things that upend our worlds happen. Life happens. Inconveniences happen. But it’s the small mercies that save us – whether the small mercy is your flight boarding eleven minutes late, making it possible for you to have taken a call, or whether the small mercy is the kindness of airline employees, coworkers, and friends who lift you up in light – and it’s only our humanity that makes unthinkable things survivable.

I’m a person who loves words, and some of my favorite are by Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that still can ring; 
forget your perfect offering,
there is a crack in everything;
that’s how the light gets in. 

Our humanity is that brokenness, and our humanity is that light. Modern workplaces should reflect the reality of modern lives by recognizing the benefits of remote work.

Jenn Vande Zande
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Jenn Vande Zande

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