Sondra Suazo, a product manager at oDesk, knows all about working flexibly—she recently moved from Silicon Valley (a few towns away from the oDesk HQ office in Redwood City, CA) to Santa Cruz. While she gained a breathtaking beachfront view, she also added more than 40 miles onto her commute—each way! We caught up with Sondra to learn how she made this move work (hint: it involves more frequent work-from-home days), how she works remotely, and what her favorite work-from-home tips are.
You're a product manager at oDesk. What does that role entail?
As a product manager, my job is to deliver features that oDesk users need and want. I work closely with our engineering and design teams to manage feature development from concept to launch. I primarily focus on building features to help new clients get started and be successful on oDesk.
Do you always work in the oDesk office?
I usually work from home 2 days a week, and the rest of the time I work in the oDesk office.
Do you work differently at home than you do in the office?
It's quieter at home than in the office, so when I'm working from home I spend more time on projects that require long periods of focus, like creative tasks and deep dives into our data. When I'm at the office I usually spend the majority of the day in meetings. I try to take advantage of the face-to-face time with others in the office.
What does your workspace at home look like?
I love working in my living room because it has huge windows and a great view of the beach. I have a little desk that I can set up right in front of the windows or even out on the front balcony. The sunshine and fresh ocean air keep me happy and energized all day. When I need to take a call or use a monitor bigger than my laptop's screen, I'll move to another room that triples as an office/guest room/storage space for my fiance's surfboards.
What does your workspace in the office look like?
Well it doesn't have a view of the beach... But I do sit near a window so I still get some sunshine at the office. My workspace in the office is pretty standard. I recently ordered a Roost laptop stand and am looking forward to setting that up in the office when it arrives.
You recently moved to Santa Cruz. How do you make that work?
My fiance and I moved to Santa Cruz recently because we love the city's vibe and he surfs, so we wanted to live on the beach. Santa Cruz is a one-hour drive from the oDesk office when there's no traffic. The commute is really long, but avoiding rush hour traffic makes it less painful. I get to the office very early and also head home earlier in the afternoon. I log back in to check emails and wrap up projects when I get home. Working from home two days a week also helps a lot.
When you moved to Santa Cruz, you added an extra day of remote work. How did you go about asking for that?
I had been thinking about moving to Santa Cruz for a while, but I didn't want to commit to adding an extra 40+ miles to my commute (each way) unless I would be able to work from home more. I talked to my manager months in advance to find out if she would be comfortable with me working remotely; I wanted to give her enough time to think about it and discuss it with her boss too. I also gave advanced notice to my colleagues who I work with regularly so we could adjust meeting schedules and communication techniques if necessary. Because of all the upfront planning, the transition was very smooth.
Do you like working remotely? And what are the biggest challenges?
Yes, absolutely. Thanks to a flexible schedule and work-from-home days, I'm able to have a job that I love and also live in a city that I love, despite the geographical distance between the two. The biggest challenge I've noticed is that I have less face-to-face time with my colleagues. When I'm remote I miss out on those impromptu hallway meetings and in-office birthday celebrations. To make up for this, I work hard to keep in touch via Skype and email when I'm remote, and to catch up with people in person when I'm in the office.
In your role, how much do you collaborate with other people remotely? What are your go-to tools for doing so?
Constantly; I connect daily with several remote developers. For tools, I stay logged in to Skype all day to chat with colleagues. For remote meetings I prefer Google Hangouts, and I always use Google documents and spreadsheets to make sharing files easier.
What do you think are the three most important things you'd advise others to do or consider when collaborating with people remotely?
1. Make sure you have a reliable internet connection. Technical difficulties can eat up the bulk of a meeting, but much of that can be avoided with a reliable internet connection.
2. Keep documents in the cloud for easier sharing. We use Google Drive for sharing written documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Sending a link to a remote colleague via instant chat or email is much faster and more reliable than emailing files back and forth. And real-time, collaborative editing is great.
3. Dress as if you are going to the office. It's harder to focus on work if you're in your pajamas all day, plus you never know when your boss will want to video chat with you!
Have you used flexible work arrangements to make a big move or change your working situation? We would love to hear your story in the comments section below!