PhD in History, Non-profit Development, Remote Work and being a Super Mom
Lindsay has a PhD in History, a Super Mom, writes about remote working at doublefourteen.com
1. Hey, can you please introduce yourself?
My name is Lindsay Alissa King, and I currently work as a development coordinator for a nonprofit independent publisher called Deep Vellum. I actually live quite close to Deep Vellum’s office here in Dallas, but I work from home.
I have been working remotely since 2012, first as a Ph.D. student and program manager at a policy institute, then as a freelance writer, and now in my current field. Since last year, I have also been working from home with a small baby.
More recently, I began advocating for working from home on my blog, Double Fourteen. I use Double Fourteen as a space to talk about how remote work can benefit parents (especially moms and most especially breastfeeding moms), chronically ill people, and other groups for whom a 9-to-5 might not work best for their lives.
I also use the blog to talk about ways that we can expand remote work options to discriminated groups such as a Black and Latinx workers, as well as in sectors where transitioning to remote work is more difficult than it is in, say, the tech industry.
2. What motivated you to choose remote working?
I actually fell into remote working somewhat accidentally. As a Ph.D. student, much of my work could be done at home, and I found that I was more productive and happier when I was working from my kitchen table than when I was at the back of a cold library. I also lived in LA and found that I could buy two extra hours of time each day by skipping the commute.
When I began working at a policy institute during the last years of my degree, remote work “found me,” so to speak, because we were just launching the institute and did not have a dedicated office space for some months. By the time the institute was formalized, I had already developed a really efficient work-from-home routine so I only went in when we were hosting an event.
I assumed that after I completed my degree, I would get an office job like most people I knew. But everything changed when I gave birth to my child in early 2019. I had finished my degree a few weeks before giving birth and found myself on the job market with a tiny newborn. My husband and I decided to relocate across the country to be closer to family.
Twelve weeks into my experience of motherhood, I started looking for freelance gigs as a way to ease myself back into the professional world. I honestly could not imagine returning to an office, not only because I wanted to be physically close to my child but also because of the truly next-level torture in-office.
After doing several hefty freelance projects on my own hours in my own time, while playing with my child in between, I found that I really loved the way that working from home allowed me to integrate work and life. At that point, I committed to making remote work a non-negotiable in my job search.
3. What were your initial months like? Did it live up to your expectations?
As a Ph.D. student and program manager, working from home was incredible, from the beginning. I traveled and worked from all over the world, and I found that remote work worked well for me as long as I was pursuing creative projects that required me to use unexplored parts of my brain.
My first months of remote work as a freelance writer and then in nonprofit development were more challenging, but not because of the work itself. I simply found that having a child meant that I needed to develop not only daily routines, which I had always done as a program manager, but also strategies and habits to maximize productivity and stop wasting time on activities that had no real benefits to my professional life and my daily work goals and tasks.
For me this means that I became very good at determining what activities I should spend more time on and what activities I should do very quickly, without overthinking them. I’m a quick decision-maker, and for 90% of work life, that’s an advantage. I also rarely spend time on tasks that don’t meaningfully improve the deliverable or outcome.
Finally, I learned that procrastination just made me lose precious time with my child. Once I started implementing these strategies and habits, I got better at working from home.
4. How did you find remote working roles?
I think there are two main approaches to a remote work job search, but both approaches begin--as do all job searches--with networking. The best thing anyone can do for themselves is to network broadly with anyone and everyone who works in a field even tangentially related to what they might want to do. This applies for anyone looking for any kind of job. When I moved to Dallas from Los Angeles and started my job search, I basically cold emailed people for months to start getting my foot in the door, and it totally worked out.
If you’re looking for a remote job, however, I think you have two approaches for networking. One: you can network online - the same approach as above but online instead of in-person. This wasn’t my approach, though, so I won’t address it here.
Two: you can begin by looking for freelance work in your field. Freelance work typically happens in a remote context. If you can demonstrate to people who hire you as a freelancer that you are effective, productive, communicative, and trustworthy as a remote freelancer, then they are much more likely to hire you full-time with the expectation that you’ll be working from home. In all the freelance gigs I did, I sought to demonstrate that working from home, if anything, made me produce better results. That approach really paid off for me.
5. What have been the best, good and worst aspects of remote working for you?
From a personal angle, I love working from home for so many reasons. I spend more time with my husband and child. I eat so much healthier because I eat from home, even though it’s usually a scrambled eggs or salad situation. I get more exercise because I do mini-workouts throughout the day. And perhaps most importantly, I feel better about my carbon footprint because I drive so much less and use far fewer disposable goods common in office places.
From a professional angle, I am so much more creative at home! I love friends and co-workers, but I am one of those people for whom extended conversation tends to stifle rather than stimulate creativity. Working from home gives me space to be creative. And I’m definitely more productive. Working from home allows me to tune out distraction.
6. What tools do you swear by while working remotely?
Does tea count? I’ve written about this on my blog, but putting on over-the-ear headphones transports me into work mode. I absolutely rely on them. I also think that it’s impossible to work at home with an under-performing computer. I live in a small apartment with a baby so I don’t have a dedicated workspace other than my kitchen table, but I do think a clutter-free table is essential. I’m also a big fan of standing while working. I have the most janky standing desk arrangement, but it’s done wonders for my back and absolutely saved me during the pregnancy.
In terms of software, I use G Suite, including Docs, Drive, and Gmail, and Dropbox very heavily for asynchronous writing and editing and for file storage. I do use Box for some projects, though I prefer Dropbox. Zoom is my preferred software for meetings and for hosting online events.
7. Your most exciting/ hilarious experience since you started working remotely.
I have conducted so dang many work calls while breastfeeding my child! If you’ve been on more than one work call with me over the past year, then I can pretty much guarantee that I was feeding a baby for at least one of those calls.
My first work call after giving birth to my child was the hardest. I stupidly scheduled an informational interview by phone a mere two weeks after my child was born. I was almost shaking by trying to simultaneously breastfeed my child to keep him quiet, recall professional language and concepts that in the haze of new parenthood were simply not coming to mind, and basically just not fall asleep.
But at the end of the call I told the woman with whom I was speaking that I had just given birth fourteen days prior, and she was totally blown away by how I had still managed to sound relatively normal and confident on the phone despite being exhausted and very far from my “normal” self. That encouragement boosted my spirits for months! Also, rest assured that I’ve had plenty of conversations since that didn’t go as well--but, man, that one gave me energy!
8. What is your golden advice to a new remote worker?
Communication is key. You absolutely must be in frequent contact both horizontally and vertically to tell people what you are doing, what you’ve accomplished, what you need help with.
In an office so much of this communication happens casually, and that isn’t in the case in a remote setting. People don’t know if you don’t tell them! I also think that it’s important to develop ways to communicate a kind tone in emails. We all get a lot of email, and if you’re working remotely, you probably send and receive more.
If you consistently come across as curt, rude, and insensitive, then you’re cultivating a bad work environment. Even if you have to write emails in a tone you wouldn’t normally adopt, I would advise that you do it just to make sure you’re being perceived as kind and friendly. That’s why exclamation points, emojis, and full sentences etc. can actually be helpful.
9. How do you see your career shaping up and your goals?
I can see myself following a number of different career trajectories, but what’s most important to me is to work in fields where I am allowed to take a lot of initiatives. I find that I thrive when I’m able to run a bit free.
I like creative problem-solving, making new friends and developing new partnerships, and planning new programs. If I can work in a field where that is possible, then I can be the best version of myself.
I really enjoy working at Deep Vellum, in nonprofit development, because it’s a bit like a competition with myself: can I find better ways to communicate with donors and book lovers? Can I write better grant applications? Can I find more creative ways to raise money for our (totally awesome) books?
I don’t like competing with others, but I love trying to set personal records. That said, I do very much see myself continuing to advocate for working from home. Whether that remains a side-hustle or becomes more central to my career remains to be seen.
10. How do you expect remote working to evolve in the future?
I think COVID-19 has really provided stimulus for the remote work movement, which was already transforming work culture. I hope that we’ll see a transition to remote-first not only for the most privileged workers but also for more BIPOC individuals and in industries where finding remote solutions takes a little more creativity and flexibility.
As an advocate, I’d like to encourage employers to make sure to extend trust not just to their white employees or to their employees with no caregiving responsibilities. It’s important to trust from the beginning that all remote employees, no matter their skin tone or gender or personal responsibilities, will do their work. Only if an employee demonstrated that this is not the case should trust be rescinded.
I also think that we’ll see an increasing move away from the 9-to-5 schedule, toward schedules that allow workers to move more fluidly between work and other activities like hobbies and parenting. I hope this means that employers will focus more on deliverables and projects than on requiring their employers to work specific numbers of hours. Hourly work encourages us to be less productive with our time. Project-based work lets us be productive and then head outside for some sunshine.
11. Where can we follow you on?
Follow me on my blog at doublefourteen.com!