A Conversation with Sara Sutton ’92, CEO and founder of FlexJobs
Known as the “Queen of Remote Work,” Sara Sutton ’92 is the CEO and founder of FlexJobs, an innovative career website specializing in full-time and part-time remote jobs, employee and freelance jobs, and on-site jobs with flexible, part-time, and alternative schedules. Sutton also founded Remote.co, a one-stop resource for remote teams and companies, and the 1 Million for Work Flexibility initiative. Sutton is also the creator of The TRaD* Works Forum, dedicated to helping companies leverage the benefits of telecommuting, remote, and distributed teams. She recently shared her thoughts about what the COVID-19 pandemic has meant for workers, workplaces, and employers with the Taft Bulletin.
Bulletin: Your businesses seem custom-built for the workforce and workplace changes that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. Have you received increased inquiries from both workers and employers?
Sutton: On the employer side, we experienced an increase in remote job listings in April over March this year; even with widespread job losses, there are still many employers hiring for remote jobs. On the job seeker side, we’re also seeing many more professionals actively seeking remote and flexible work. This is surely a combination of necessity due to the global work-from-home experiment that’s been thrust on organizations and on the economic downturn. That being said, we’re seeing huge increases in the number of people who have decided they want to continue working this way in the long term, even after their companies reopen. In fact, 31 percent of people worked from home occasionally, before the pandemic began in the U.S., and by the end of April, 63 percent of U.S. employees said they had worked from home in the last seven days because of COVID-19 concerns. This exposure to remote work is driving more people to consider it as a permanent option for their professional lives.
What are the biggest challenges your clients are facing right now?
I think the biggest challenge from an organizational perspective is how to come up with a sustainable and strategic plan to integrate the “new norms” around remote working and health guidelines. It’s one thing to be in a crisis, all-hands-on-deck mode initially, but now is the time to regroup, take a deep breath, and start to plan what the next steps really look like to ensure resilience.
On a more personal level, I think for many of us distraction and being overwhelmed are among the biggest challenges. For those of us with kids, it’s a whole additional job with online school/camps and childcare. Work aside, with the daily news, worries about loved ones, developing a new normal at home, and creating your own personal protocols for leaving home, there is a lot to be thinking about right now. That’s why developing routines and processes can be so helpful to get us back on track.
Are there specific business sectors that have become more reliant on a remote work model?
The fields with the most remote work listings right now include customer service, sales, computer and IT, medical and health, and education and training. These industries have seen a massive shift in people seeking remote services rather than in-person services. For example, health insurance companies are seeing dramatic increases in telehealth usage by patients, and need to increase their remote staffing accordingly.
From the workers’ perspective, industries such as retail, travel and hospitality, entertainment, and event planning have experienced huge job decreases overall and record unemployment. We’re trying to offer as much support as possible to help people overcome layoffs and difficult circumstances to find jobs that better fit their lives going forward.
Do you think the workplace landscape has been permanently changed by COVID-19?
Absolutely. The shift towards remote work has been happening slowly and steadily for the last 10 to 15 years, but COVID-19 accelerated the shift significantly. The speed with which companies were able to successfully adapt to remote work during this crisis, and the positive results of implementing remote work to maintain efficiency and productivity during the most extreme circumstances show just how vital remote work is to the future—and truly, the present—of work. We’re already seeing companies that previously did not have large remote workforces making plans to keep at least portions of their teams remote permanently. Major companies, including Google, Microsoft, and CNN, have announced they’ll stick with remote work at least through the end of the year with permanent transitions to hybridized models. And other large companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Shopify have announced massive shifts towards remote work as a permanent business strategy.
Sutton’s Top Tips for Making Remote Work WorkThese are not typical times, to say the least. Even experienced remote workers are facing all sorts of additional challenges—children at home, online school, and partners or roommates sharing the space, to name a few. Still, Sutton says, there are a few tried-and-true guidelines that can help make remote workers successful.
1. Establish a routine
The best remote workers build work routines and a home work environment that help them stay focused and manage their work obligations.
2. Create a dedicated workspace.
Having a dedicated workspace—a guest bedroom, a true home office, or just the corner of a shared space—helps the shift to work mode.
3. Set boundaries.
Productive remote workers need to set boundaries—and communicate them to those around them—so that when they’re working, they’re really working.
4. Communication is key.
Communication needs to be a cornerstone in a remote worker’s day. Communicating with coworkers, clients, managers, and other stakeholders is critical to maintaining and strengthening strong working relationships, remotely. This includes impromptu conversations on chat, email exchanges, phone calls, and web and video conferencing. And remember, you do NOT need to use video as the default for every meeting, especially if it brings technical challenges or anxiety. I’ve had far more video calls in the past three months with people new to remote work than I have in the prior 13 years with well-seasoned remote workers!
To listen to a Taft online discussion with Sara Sutton on working remotely, visit the Rhino Crash 2.0 virtual events page: www.taftschool.org/rhino-crash-20