Erin Sharp - Part 2 / Spouse of Remote Worker
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Jonathan So, that kind of segues into the schedule and how that plays out for us. So, there have been times where I’ve kept very traditional hours of nine to five.
Jonathan And then other times where it’s been a lot more fluid and flexible. Is there one that you have liked better than the other? What are your thoughts on the schedule?
Erin Well, going back to my love for unpredictability and the passion of just flexible with…we’re just rolling with what we got, I love that. Of course, there are both benefits and downsides to both sides, and I think the good…one of the grand benefits of working from home generally is that your schedule has been able to be flexible with the needs of the family. So, when Noel was very new, you were able to help me survive a newborn. As Noel has gotten older and, you know, she’s at school during the day, we can hold a little bit more of the basic nine to five kind of job. The other huge blessing and asset I see in you working from home and being in a little bit more control of your schedule is that your schedule can adapt to my schedule. I work out of the home. I work at the same outdoor camp that my dad did. And so, my schedule kind of changes and fluctuates out the year.
Jonathan It’s very seasonal.
Erin Yeah. In the summer, I’m very full-time. In the winter, I’m very part-time. And so, in the summer, we kind of need Jonathan to be very present and very available, and because I work with horses, my schedule, when I do work, whether it be the part-time or the full-time portion of the year, is very unpredictable, and while I love that, because it keeps work and life exciting, it can also put some strain on work schedules. But Jonathan, number one, is a very caring individual, and so if I tell him, “Hey, I need to come home an hour or five hours later than I thought I was going to,” he’s very gracious and does what he can to make that happen, and that’s been a real asset for us, and to me personally in my professional career, to be able to continue to pursue the equine industry, be a mom, a wife, and just operate within that.
Jonathan Yeah. It definitely became most apparent once we had kids, and the benefit to it.
Jonathan And when we were…when I was first starting out, post-college, we were in the Chicago area, and my daily commute was an hour and a half one way.
Erin That was rough.
Jonathan We were newly married at the time, and so that was three hours a day, and that was just brutal. That was soul-sucking and just…it’d take the life out of you. And so, that lasted about nine months, before we moved to Omaha, Nebraska to get out in the country a little bit more. And my commute then dropped to about 30 to 35 minutes, and so that was a huge breath of fresh air. And then once I started working remote, my commute dropped to ten seconds. So, that has been a great asset, of just recovering that time. One thing that’s come about, though, is the fact that there is no preparation time for the day in getting into work and no debriefing time, and I didn’t realize how much that was a benefit to me until I started working from home. And at the end of the day, you know, when it was time to be done and feel like, hey, you’re done, I’m like, yep, I’m done. And you’re like, okay, I need all these things, you know, to help with and to engage with the family again, and I was still swimming from the work of the day that was going on. And so that was a little bit of a challenge and really an effort of retraining myself to quickly engage with work and quickly exit work. And just one tip of how I exit work more quickly now is I’ll spend about 30 seconds writing down the last thing I was working on and the last thoughts of the day, and that way, I can come back to it tomorrow. But it helps to mentally free me and release me from having to process that.
**So, the next big topic is our relationship.
Erin** Oh, boy. Here we go.
Jonathan Here we go. So, like I said earlier, we’ve been married for about 11 years at this time. Eight of that has been remote work, to some capacity. And relationships are work. That’s just the nature of what they are.
Jonathan But for me and my perspective, I see it as having been a huge benefit over the past eight years of working from home, because it forces you to continue working on that relationship. It’s kind of easy when you’re commuting to an office to leave whatever’s going on at home at home and pick it up when you get back. But when you work from home, if we’re having a disagreement…
Jonathan ...or I did something that most husbands do, it gets me in hot water, we kind of have to deal with it.
Erin Yeah. Yeah.
Jonathan What are your thoughts about that?
Erin I think... I think a couple things come into play here. I think, at least for me, commute time to and from work can be a time to kind of process, as you’re leaving home, to kind of process and put away the stuff of home that’s on your mind and get to work and kind of be ready to just completely dive into… And, you know, there’s stuff going on at home, but it doesn’t matter, because I’m here now, and then when you leave work, that commute time allows you to process. And that lack of process time, I think, can be a disruption to your work in that if something’s going on in the house, and it could be something as simple as our daughter tripped and stubbed her toe, and suddenly, Jonathan has to get up and go address that…well, maybe you don’t have to address it, but it’s a loud enough commotion that you come out and check it out.
Jonathan Make sure everything’s okay.
Erin Yeah. And so, you kind of are dual working, in that you are having to be present in one place fully and another place fully, and I can see that that is hard for you. It would be hard for me. I have, on occasion, had my daughter at work, and to be a mom and a boss and a leader is difficult, and so I see the strain of that on you sometimes is hard. And kind of swinging back to, what does that do to our relationship and the addressing problems right away? I feel like sometimes the stress of bouncing two places can be very heavy, and the emotions of work don’t have time to disintegrate on the drive home, and so, often the emotions of work are brought to our household. They’re just right there. They start in the room and then the door opens and they come out.
And I can only assume that it’s the same way going the opposite way. If stuff is hard at home, you don’t have time to put that into its box and then go to work, because let’s say you and I are having a disagreement, I am present within 50 feet, and so it’s kind of a remind and it continues to cook and weigh on you. Now, one of the great things that comes with being married to such a great guy is he has been available most of the time to take a minute from work and be like, “Okay, we need to address this and take care of it so…” frankly, so you can be a better employee, you can get that crater off of your mind, per se, and create peace in the home so it creates an environment that is able to support a good work day.
Jonathan I think that’s definitely one of the benefits to our relationship, is we are very proactive and very quick now at rooting out whatever disagreement or miscommunication happened. We don’t let things fester for very long now. It’s pretty quick.
Jonathan And that’s definitely a huge benefit. And the other is just the time and presence of being around each other.
Jonathan ...which is good and bad.
Erin Really, the toilet doesn’t flush in our house without Jonathan and the people he’s working with knowing it, so, you know…
Jonathan That’s right.
Erin We know each other pretty good.
Jonathan That’s right. That’s real life. You’re on a conference call and there flushes the toilet.
Erin Yeah. Woo-hoo! Yep.
Jonathan And it’s usually important to clarify at that point on the call that you are not the one on the toilet.
Jonathan So, honing in on the theme that you mentioned before, it’s really the collision of two worlds. There’s work life that has invaded home with the level of communication and video calls and conference calls and all of that that happens, and then it’s the invasion of family and home life on work, because it’s there.
Jonathan They’re really co-located, and they’re constantly intertwined. There’s not really a way to easily separate the two.
Erin Yeah. And it makes it pretty difficult when the work environment that you’re working in is not very family friendly, and the truth is that I can’t help that, but I can help making our home a work-friendly environment. And so, supporting you as a family and the needs of your work is really important, I think, for both peace of your work and peace for our relationship, and sharing that goal and responsibility and mission for our home with our daughter, so she can own it, too, so when you poke your head out of your door and say, “Hey, guys, I need it really quiet,” there isn’t a reaction of resentment; there is more so a reaction of, hey, to be supportive of Dad today, let’s go outside and play so Dad doesn’t have to worry about the noise that we’re making. And really, in the grand scheme of things, let’s go outside. I’d rather be outside anyway. So, just learning how to embrace that and to be supportive to you and your work, regardless of how work is supportive of home. You have always been supportive of our family, and we’re learning more and more about how being supportive as spouses and parents and just a family unit, as time goes by, just really, really diving into that, because our relationship is definitely affected by your work, and your work is so affected by us. And regardless of what’s happened at work, we need to make sure that we’re being supportive of you.
Jonathan Mm-hmm. And what is the impact, then, on Noel, do you think?
Erin I think her knowledge of business is probably beyond the average kid her age.
Erin She kind of understands what the nuts and bolts of a workday look like. The discipline that is required to work when there are ample opportunities for distraction and maybe more fun things going on, and so I think it’s been a really good example of discipline and passion and diving into things, even when you’re not in the mood for it. You’ve just been a good example of really good life skills. I think it has… I mean, there’s two sides to every coin. There’s definitely been some things that are unique to her and her life because her dad works from home, but I think the positives far outweigh the negative. It’s so good for a little girl, and pretty soon a little boy, to be able to watch their dad be an honest, hardworking man, and see what that actually looks like, you know. It’s one thing to tell your kids “This is how you be a good employee, this is what you should be doing,” and it’s a completely different animal, and I think more penetrating if they can see what that looks like.
Erin I think that’s important, and that’s been a real awesome piece to her growing up years.
Jonathan Very early on, when she was an infant and a newborn and started crawling, very often she would be in my office and just playing, and she was a really happy baby. And so that gave you the freedom to have some personal time, personal space.
Erin Personal time, and then continue with my career, which is… You know, first, I’m a wife; second, I’m a mom; third, I get to have a career that I’m passionate about that, honestly, I wouldn’t be able to have if you hadn’t worked from home when Noel was little. I spent a lot of time traveling to clients’ houses to trim their horses hooves, and if it hadn’t been for you at home, I probably would’ve never had that opportunity. And so that has been awesome—awesome—and has been truly a gift to me and my passion and my passion within my career.
Jonathan Yeah. So, Noel really has seen both of us working and carrying out a career.
Jonathan And then, as she got older, one thing that I heard a lot from Noel was: “Dad, you have to work all the time. Dad you’re always working.”
Jonathan And then she got into kindergarten and now she’s in third grade, and she kind of realizes that, oh, you’ve got to go to school. There’s that. But then summer vacation rolls around. She gets out of school and she goes, “Well, Dad, don’t you get to get out of work for the summer?”
Erin [Chuckles] Right? We wish.
Jonathan [Chuckles] I wish. And so, for her, it’s given her a greater awareness of what it’s like once you grow up, and I think, for us, we’ve really been driving home the point of just be a kid. Just be a kid. Don’t worry about anything else. Enjoy what you have going on right now. Enjoy your friends, learning, and all of the interests that she has.
Erin I think, also, another important thing that she has been able to witness, something that’s important to us and our family, is the health of our family as a unit. And we talked a little bit before about how we support each other, and so, relationally, she’s gotten to see real up close and personal us work through things, but she’s also seen your career support my career and my career support your career, and both of us working hard to be flexible around each other so we can both fill the needs of our jobs and do what we felt we needed to do to be good employees of our jobs. I think that’s been really important, too.
Jonathan Yeah, definitely. So, let’s take a moment here and kind of, if we could itemize the pros and cons or the benefits and the impacts, and I’ll cherry-pick one here. I think one of the top benefits for me is our relationship and our marriage, and how much stronger it is having worked from home.
Erin Yeah. You know, the whole “don’t let the sun go down on your anger”, well, don’t let a moment go by on your anger when you can work from home, because it pops up and, oh!, I’ll be at work in another 15 minutes because I need to address the fact that I left a cup in a place I shouldn’t have, or what…who knows. Name the thing, whatever that is.
Jonathan That was just a hypothetical there.
Erin Right. Yes, of course. I think that is a positive, the health of our relationship, both between husband and wife, as well as father to daughter and mother to daughter. I think those elements have benefitted. I think one of the downsides of working from home… And we kind of touched on how the stress of work can come into the home, but I think something that we didn’t touch on was how when you’re contracting, contracts can last a week, they can last a day, they could last a year, but there is a fairly high turnover. You know, there’s…
Jonathan There’s some shifting.
Erin I mean, depending on the job… There’s shifting, and…
Jonathan At some point the contract will end.
Erin Right, and it’s not the long-term, five-year, generally plan to be at one place. I’ve never heard of a contract lasting, like, 10 or 20 years. Maybe it’s happened, but I am not familiar with it.
Jonathan Yeah, very rarely.
Erin And the stress and the unfamiliar ground of starting a new job feels very much like every time you start a new contract. You’re getting used to the people and the way things are run and what’s expected, and what are some things that they really don’t focus on and where are things where they won’t let anything slip. You know, it’s all of the normal “I just started this job and I am adjusting”, and so that comes up often. And as a wife, I find that I need to find in myself a lot of grace for that because a stressed-out man is something to tangle with, and to just be supportive and understand that that is going to be a common occurrence because of the type of career Jonathan has chosen, and truly how…that Jonathan and myself have chosen, because we chose it as a couple. And so that’s just one of the pieces that comes along with it.
Jonathan Yeah. I think a benefit for me that I see is we have three dogs, and they are coworkers of mine.
Jonathan I love having them around. They help keep me normal and sane, and I love having them around. So, that’s a benefit to working from home.
Erin Bring your work… I mean bring your dog to work day every day!
Jonathan Every day. I know a number of places offer that, but I have it guaranteed pretty much.
Erin Right? And all three at once.
Jonathan That’s right. Okay. So, if someone were currently working in an office and had a commute and that type of thing, and were in the process of transitioning to working from home, what advice would you give them, and what is something that they should expect?
Erin Okay. I would… Truthfully, what I would tell them is throw away every notion and idea you have about working from home, and don’t listen to people who have never worked from home’s opinions of people who work from home. It can be very hard and judgmental, and they’ve never done it. They can’t understand it. I can’t expect them to understand it. And when they’re like, “Yeah, your husband basically doesn’t work. He can do whatever he wants to, when he wants to,” are all completely inaccurate comments, but I hear them all the time. And it’s not just regarding you; it’s just regarding anyone who works from home. But, you know, any time there is an area of lack of knowledge, things are said that are untrue, and so just being able to hear that stuff and just let it roll of your back. The other thing I would say is be flexible, both with the schedule that is about to happen and how it will change all the time, and the needs of the person who is working from home, because they’ll change all the time — contracts may and/or maybe they’ll need to travel this week and then the travel date gets moved. You know, it’s all that normal stuff. You’re just…
Jonathan Being flexible.
Erin …very much a part of it because it’s in your home. And have grace for the people that your husband works with, who are in your home, and giving them space to just be exactly what they’re supposed to be. And the best thing you can really do is stand behind your husband or your spouse who’s working from home 100%, regardless of the situation.
Jonathan Yeah, I would say… The advice that I would have is expect it to be more intense. There are some very intense office situations, but, for me, I found that working a full 40 hours from home, there was a greater level of responsibility, I felt. And I have been more productive and I have advanced my career faster, I think. And that responsibility is a heavy one, and so be quick to nip any distractions.
Jonathan So, the final question is: What are our future plans with working remote and some of the things that we have coming in this next year?
Erin Well, first of all, I’ve learned of being a spouse of someone who works from home is plan to have the unexpected, but some things that we do expect is we have a little boy that is due to make his arrival on May 4th, and so I think that will have a huge impact on working from home.
Jonathan Very much so.
Erin But the good news is Jonathan has been hard at work in creating and building an office that is probably the best space that you will have worked in since you started working from home, because you designed it with working from home in mind. And so while the distraction level is about to increase, I think maybe it will be muffled a little bit by the ideal working space from home.
Jonathan Yeah. Those are the two big things that we have coming in this next year. So, we’re expecting a baby boy, as Erin mentioned, which we’re very grateful for. And, along with that, I had started renovating a portion of our basement and building a home office down there prior to us getting pregnant, so it was actually very fortunate that I started that process before we found out because I would’ve been a little bit stressed. But it’ll be a wonderful space and, like Erin said, it was really dedicated to being a home office. I actually have an “On Air” light that I’ll be able to turn on outside each door.
Erin So, he can throw away his handwritten signs that he puts on the doors of our house, so as I come home I can see that he is in fact “on air” and I need to stomp quietly as I enter the home.
Jonathan That’s exactly right.
Jonathan Now it will be a lighted, professional sign. So, this wraps up this interview, and thank you so much, Erin, for sitting down with me.
Erin It was my pleasure.
Jonathan Jonathan Sharp here, and I have the opportunity to sit down with my daughter Noel. Say hi.
Jonathan How old are you, Noel?
Noel I am eight.
Jonathan And in your eight years of life, how many of those years have I worked from home?
Noel Um, about… all of them. Yeah, technically.
Jonathan All of them, that’s right. So, recently, you and I were talking, and you kind of thought that all dads worked from home. Is that the case?
Jonathan So, what’s it like having your dad work from home?
Noel It’s fun to have you home when I want…when I need you.
Jonathan Yeah, when you need me.
Jonathan So, like, if you get sick at school or something and…
Jonathan …you need someone to come pick you up, I’m pretty close, aren’t I?
Jonathan Yeah. So, what are some of the challenges, though, with having me work from home?
Noel Um, sometimes I need to be really, really quiet because my room is so close to your office.
Jonathan That’s right. Do I have to be on call sometimes?
Noel Yeah, you do.
Jonathan So, do you know what it is that I do from home?
Noel Um, you work on software and you tell the computer what to do, technically.
Jonathan Mm-hmm. I’d say that’s pretty spot on. So, thumbs up or thumbs down about me working from home?
Noel Um, sometimes it’s thumbs up, sometimes it’s in the middle. It matters what you’re doing.
Jonathan Mm-hmm. Is it ever thumbs down?
Noel Um, it really matters if I have to be super quiet and I’m just sitting in my room bored.
Noel It’s sometimes that happens.
Jonathan That does happen. Excellent. Well, thank you so much for being here.
Noel You’re welcome.
Jonathan Give me a fist bump.
Jonathan Boom. What do I tell you every morning when I drop you off at school?
Noel Go be awesome.
Jonathan And then what do we do? Fist bump?
Jonathan There you go.
Jonathan Okay, and that wraps up that interview.