Diagnosed with chronic illness, remote work changed my life
Jennifer has been working remotely in her dream job at InVision. She's a firm advocate of remote work as a life-changer for people with chronic illness.
1. Hey, can you please introduce yourself?
I’m Jennifer Aldrich, Sr Manager of Design Community Partnerships at InVision. I’m also a product designer, and a blogger with work in Net Magazine, Creative Bloq, Modus, A List Apart, UX Mag, Startup Grind, Inside Design, Yahoo News, and more. My writing and cartoons have appeared in various books and publications including the newly released book, "How To Have a Happy Hustle: The Complete Guide To Making Your Ideas Happen."
2. What motivated you to choose remote working?
My journey to remote work was a bit of a rough one. In my mid 20’s my health suddenly took a dive. After a boatload of testing, they identified that I was battling Mixed Connective Tissue Disease and a rare seizure disorder. My employer at the time was incredibly supportive, but my doctor pushed hard to get me to stop working and go on disability. Instead, my employer allowed me to work remotely part time whenever I was ill.
About a year into that arrangement I was contacted by InVision about a role that was my dream job, so I joined the team and have been working remotely full time ever since, having a blast. Rather than being on disability, I’ve had the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder from a safe environment. The impact on my health has been incredible. I’ve written extensively about that journey on my blog.
3. What were your initial months like? Did it live up to your expectations?
Since I had worked remotely part time for my previous employer, I knew what I was getting into.
As an introvert, being able to sit in my office or living room and focus 100% of my attention on work tasks is phenomenal and increases my productivity exponentially. I’m not suffering through an open office floor plan with people tapping me on the shoulder interrupting my workflow and focus, I don’t have to find an empty conference room to meet with coworkers—it’s glorious.
Since InVision is fully distributed, the entire company is centered around remote culture. We aren’t trying to loop in a lone remote employee during meetings, we aren’t forgetting to update that lone employee on side convos and decisions that are made between meetings, the ENTIRE company is remote.
I feel closer to my coworkers at InVision than I have been to many coworkers in traditional offices. The primary reasons for that feeling of closeness are that we have better lines of communication as a remote company than I’ve experienced in-house, and we have channels for every interest imaginable. One of my absolute favorites is the #invision-pets channel, which I visit daily. We also have a channel that allows InVision team members who enjoy travel to coordinate house swaps. For example, if there is an InVision team member in London who wants to visit New York City, they can coordinate a home swap for a week with an InVisioner that’s a New Yorker who wants to see London.
In general I’ve always enjoyed communicating digitally—I think it comes from my days in the 90’s on IRC and ICQ. I loved the global aspect of it then just as much as I do now. Having grown up in a small town, being able to reach and interact with people all over the world back then was incredible. Now I get to work with people all over the world on a daily basis for a living. It’s fantastic.
4. How did you find remote working roles?
Working remotely when I was ill happened out of necessity, but my interview at InVision came out of a conversation on Twitter! Never underestimate the impact social media can have on your career.
5. What have been the best, good and worst aspects of remote working for you?
The best aspects of remote work are definitely the drastic improvement in my health, and work life balance. Being able to attend my daughter’s school events, and structure my work days around specialist visits has been incredible. So many parents miss out on those moments, I’m so grateful to work for a company that provides that kind of flexibility. It’s a priceless gift.
Good aspects of remote work are spending time working with the best housemates (my 3 Bichon Frise pups), saving a significant amount of money on gas and eating out, and not having to deal with a commute. It has also let me pick back up hobbies that I haven’t done in years. I’m spending my evenings writing, painting, playing instruments (badly haha) and working on graphic art for fun. Prior to working remotely my energy was completely sapped by the time I got home at night. Now I’m able to truly enjoy my time off.
The only negative I can think of is that as an introvert it’s easy for me to slip into hermit mode if I don’t actively force myself to get out and about. With Amazon and other online retailers shipping everything to the door, Instacart doing my grocery shopping, and Grub Hub delivering my food, it’s really easy to fall into an anti social slump, so I have to push myself in that regard.
The other negative is probably battling the urge to slide back into workaholic mode. I’ve written about my experience with that so I won’t go into the gory details here, but I’ve had to set alarms to force myself to stop working at the end of the day. It’s really easy to get deeply involved in what I’m working on and completely lose track of time.
6. What tools do you swear by while working remotely?
All day long I’m in Slack, InVision, and Zoom for calls and video chats.
We use Freehand all day every day for cross functional team collaboration—it’s been a total game changer for us.
I listen to Spotify non stop between meetings, and use an app called Anylist that has an Alexa skill that allows me to add items to my checklist using my Echo devices. It was originally designed for grocery lists, but I use it for everything. It’s very convenient and helps me stay on task, especially when I’m in the midst of a project and small items pop up that I need to handle later on.
My most embarrassing moment by far was during an all hands company wide meeting. My CEO was in the mid sentence when I got a call from my pharmacy about an issue with my daughter’s seizure medicine. I had been trying to get the issue sorted for days and was in a bit of a panic, so I muted my laptop and quickly took the call.
I loudly verified her name and date of birth… then realized I’d muted my SPEAKERS not my MIC! And my CEO was in the middle of a presentation to our team (hundreds of people)! As soon as I realized my mistake, I unmuted my speakers just in time to hear our CEO, who could have publicly humiliated me when it happened, say, “No one tell her this happened, she’ll be so embarrassed!” Of all the responses he could have had to the situation, he chose compassion. I apologized profusely, and then muted again wishing I could crawl under my desk and curl up in the fetal position.
Later that day I sent an apology note, and he sent me a reply that said, “Never apologize for being human, or being remote.” He is one of the most genuinely kind people I’ve ever met, in addition to being an absolutely brilliant business leader.
My most exciting experiences working remotely have definitely been related to meeting my design industry heroes and building relationships with people all over the world.
8. What is your golden advice to a new remote worker?
When you’re working remotely, it’s incredibly important to truly unplug on nights and weekends. Sometimes there are major projects going on and you need to work some overtime, but the rest of the time, completely disconnect. Avoid checking your email on your phone, turn off alerts, don’t hit social media, just be present. You’re working hard to support your life, so you need to unplug and take the time to actually enjoy the life you’re working so hard to create. (I really, really struggle with this. It’s a work in progress!)
Also, block off time on your calendar to eat! It’s easy to get in the habit of eating at your desk while you work. Get up and shut your laptop while you eat. Take a real break.
These two tips will help you avoid immediate burnout.
9. How do you expect remote working to evolve in the future?
I’m incredibly excited that Twitter just announced that they’re shifting their model to allowing all employees to work remotely permanently.
Remote work is the future. It’s better for people’s health, work life balance, and the environment. Being crammed into small office spaces isn’t necessary now that we have the software and tech infrastructure in place to make remote work not only possible, but more productive than traditional office setups.
Also, remote work opens up opportunities to an entire segment of the population that is otherwise unable to work. People battling chronic illness have the same skill sets they worked their whole lives to develop, their bodies just don’t allow them to come into an office each day anymore to utilize them. Working from a home setting opens up jobs for all of the people who thought their career options evaporated with their diagnoses.
We’re at a tipping point in history as far as inclusion, accessibility, and diversity are concerned. Remote companies can hire literally the best talent in the world—I can’t wait to see where those brilliant, diverse minds take us next.