Working Smarter

Telework is business as usual for Newnan family

by Clay Neely

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Kent and Erin Smith have been teleworking full-time since 2006.    

An alarm clock buzzes and we begrudgingly remove ourselves from the warm, inviting comfort of our beds and begin our morning rituals.

For many, getting out the door and facing the new day unfortunately begins with a grueling commute to our places of work. We hop in our cars and right into the stop and go grind of morning traffic and all of its inevitable delays, all the while watching the clock tick away.

By the time we arrive at our destination, our mood hasn’t changed much from the moment we woke. So, just what were those first few hours for anyway? What if we could regain this valuable time and begin our workday with a different perspective?

For one couple, teleworking from their Newnan home is not only the “norm,” but it’s also a way of life they would never dream of giving up.

Meet Kent and Erin Smith.

Erin is a program manager for Davaco Inc., a retail and hospitality service company based in Dallas. On any given day, she’s running teams from all across the country whose jobs are to ensure products from clients like Nike and Kenneth Cole are set up correctly for the specialty stores they will occupy. Her day begins at 8 a.m. and winds down around 5 p.m.

As president of both Tattoo Artist Magazine and Tattoo Culture Magazine, Kent stays pretty busy. He recently founded his own website as well, Illustrated.monthly.com — a website which specializes in digital reference guides for artists. He wears many hats in business. “PR, administration, bookkeeping, art design, art direction and janitor,” he laughs. “It’s even on my business card: ‘Vice President/ Janitor.’”

Add a four-year-old daughter and a newborn son to the mix and one might imagine things could get complicated quickly.

Not so much.

Erin and Kent have been working from home since 2006, and have established a routine maximizing the harmony between both productivity and a happy family life.

Prior to her current role at Davaco, Erin has held three other positions, all via telecommuting. In fact, she was the first to incorporate Skype into her division.

She grimly recalls the period before Skype was utilized.

“Not only were we spending money flying out to meet the candidates, we were losing the candidates as well since we had to wait until a certain amount were eligible in order to even begin the interview process.”

Skype changed the process and savings have been tremendous. The savings are seen from across the board — from financial savings to smarter time management, not to mention the carbon footprint.

“It just makes more sense,” she says. “If a meeting is canceled, we simply move right along to the next order of business. We’re not stuck trying to catch a flight back or experiencing a high volume of downtime.”

Erin recognizes that telework is still a growing phenomenon and the learning curve associated with using Skype can be tricky. “Mainly operator issues,” she laughs.

“We’ve conducted job interviews with candidates who have laundry baskets in the background, maybe a bathroom door is open. People still need to realize they are, in fact, still in a business atmosphere.”

When the topic of possible distractions from home is brought up, Kent is quick to elaborate on the subject. Kent says a distraction-free environment is what led him to work from home.

Prior to working from home, Kent was running both of his publications out of an office. He often found himself distracted by people who liked to drop in and take a glimpse into the inner workings of an internationally-published magazine located in Newnan. Being at home allows Kent to manage his time more efficiently, thereby increasing his productivity and focus.

Kent acknowledges that there are distractions in almost any kind of work environment. However, he finds the home distractions much easier to manage than those in a standard workplace.

His deadlines remain the same but his schedule is malleable, allowing him to take care of things that matter most to him: picking up his daughter from school, having lunch with his family or being there for Erin when things get busy on her end.

“When I was working in an office atmosphere, the 9 to 5 mentality was so prevalent,” he recalls. “At the end of the day, you’re more focused on simply getting out of work so you can rush home to do all the things you weren’t able to from the office. You miss your children.”

Kent shakes his head, “Oh, never again.”

“Waking up at 6 in the morning so I could start the 40-minute commute to the office only to get off at 5 and begin the long grind home. If you’ve already had a rough day at work, a brutal commute home will only exacerbate it. It’s not difficult to understand how road rage is so prevalent.”

Erin also experienced the pros and cons of telework and admits there are some aspects she misses about working on-site. As a young woman in the workforce, Erin wanted to learn as much as she could from those above her. Due to the constraints of working from home, she understood that she simply had to try harder to obtain these things.

“You have to be able to push yourself,” she elaborates. “Because of the nature of telework, it’s imperative that you must go above and beyond in terms of standard learning and going the extra mile to foster a working dynamic between you and those above you.”

“That’s the only thing I really missed about an office atmosphere — the mentor piece. It’s certainly doable, but you have to really try and have someone on the other end who is willing to do the same.”

With telecommuting becoming a new and effective method of work over the last 10 years, some people may envision a more laissez-faire approach to working from home. The Smiths emphatically refute the notion.\

Erin spends a good amount of her workday communicating with company teams from across the country, ensuring that every criteria is met and any problems or questions are resolved in a timely manner.

“It takes diligence to stay in the forefront of people’s minds. They can’t see you at home working hard, but they can see my assistant in the office with her nose to the grindstone.”

Erin laughs, “She’s working so hard because I’m making the work for her!”

In terms of her ability to communicate with others, Erin’s record speaks for itself.

When her company wanted to promote her to an on-site position at their home office in Dallas, Erin had to pitch to the president of the $100 million dollar corporation her desire to not only remain in Atlanta but also her ability to make the off-site proposition work.

It was a successful pitch.

“Needless to say, you have to be extremely self-motivated,” she smiles. “I made it very clear what my intention was. Excellent communication skills are the key to this job.”

Because of her unique working position, Erin didn’t have to choose between a corporate career and being a mom.

“I’m extraordinarily lucky. I love my job and working in a corporate setting, but because we live in Newnan, I can’t see myself having to give up so much time for my children just so I can commute back and forth to Atlanta. It’s not fair as a parent. You miss so much of what’s happening with your kids. You’re only seeing them on the weekends.”

So how does a married couple handle working and living under the same roof?

Kent has fielded the query so many times at this point. “It’s always ‘Oh my gosh, you have to work with your spouse all day? How can you stand it?’”

“Well, it’s pretty great, actually,” smiles Kent. “She’s my best friend, I married her for a reason and we’re working hard all day. We really don’t have much time for chit-chat. I’m firmly ensconced in my work and so is she. That’s where time management is paramount. We make time at lunch to discuss family and personal matters. Otherwise, our heads are directly in a work space.”

Erin understands that this method of work isn’t for everyone.

Speaking to the current suspension of telework by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Erin sympathizes. “If your numbers are down and you need a collaborative effort, I can understand her point of view. It’s not for every company.”

But things are much different now than when Kent and Erin first began telecommuting in 2006.

“The entire nature of the business model has changed,” she says. “The utilization of Skype along with new programs that allow clients to interface online simply didn’t exist before.”

“Now the quality of life is immensely different, and for the better, along with the quality of work.”

Both Kent and Erin are living proof of the efficiency and practicality of telework. With a proven success record of seven years and counting, they still field the occasional query from friends regarding their independent work from home.

With the arrival of their newborn son just a few weeks ago, Erin’s found herself fielding a question from a friend:

“Are you really going into labor or do you just want to skip this meeting?”





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