WAUKESHA — Two years ago it took some getting used to working from home and communicating through Zoom. The pandemic has opened everyone’s eyes to the flexibility and convenience of working remotely. Now job seekers are looking for remote job opportunities and even changing careers.

Susan Jacobsen of Waukesha changed her career during the pandemic. She was a Greendale teacher who needed more of a work/life balance.

“I knew I needed a change just work/life balance-wise but also compensation and ability to move up. I was looking for something different,” Jacobsen said.

She wasn’t sure what that would look like as teachers have a specific skillset. She ended up finding a job with a global financial tech company on their learning team. When she learned it was remote she felt very excited.

Her closest colleague is based in Ohio but she says she speaks with her colleagues frequently online and over the phone.

She has an office set up in her basement, which keeps out kids and dog noises. She added it also allows her to focus on her children when they are home a little bit more.

The biggest change day to day is when Jacobsen was teaching she got up at 5:30 a.m. to get everyone out of the house by 6:30 a.m., then drop them off by someone else’s house so they could be picked up by the bus. She needed to be in Greendale by 7:30 a.m.

“Now I get up in the morning and if I have any morning calls I can take care of them. Sometimes I don’t if they are across time zones. It doesn’t happen very often,” she said.

Her manager is big on work/life balance and told her to take the time to get her kids off to school.

She handles teaching, meetings and other job duties and when her kids get home the work day is done.

“My manager said, ‘Your kids are home and all your stuff is done then, it’s done,’ It’s not about how many hours but how productive you are at that time,” Jacobsen said.

Her manager checks in once a week for both a one-on-one meeting and a team meeting. As long as deadlines and milestones are being met, her manager is big on trusting her team.

Jacobsen said working remotely is really up to the individual.

“I work best when I can focus on something. Some of it depends on people’s personality,” she said.

Heather Harris lives in Ixonia and has worked remotely since January 2020 and doesn’t plan to go back. She took a remote job in project management, which is located out of Chicago.

“Throughout my career in tech, there were days here and there where I would work remotely like based on weather. But that (remote work) was a driving force in taking this job,” Harris said.

Harris, like Jacobsen, said as a mom she likes the flexibility it brings. When she worked in an office she had to get her children to the daycare very early in the morning.

“If my kids are sick, I don’t have to take an entire day off, depending on how they are feeling,” Harris said.

She has been back in the office a few times since she has been remote. Harris said she feels less productive in the office.

“I’m having more conversations throughout my day and I get sidetracked. There are times for collaborations and those type of discussions but a lot of my work can be done independently as well,” Harris said.

In the beginning it was challenging for her to turn off her day. She never realized when she worked in an office how much she needed downtime. Harris had to put in some routines such as listening to a podcast while making dinner. She said it is very easy to work longer or after hours. Sometimes it is fine to catch up with work, but Harris added it is important to have boundaries in place.

Benefits a two-way street

Paul Decker, chairman of the Waukesha County Board, teaches small business classes at Waukesha County Technical College. Decker said there is discussion about remote work in companies as far as what is the appropriate amount of it and blend.

“It depends on the workforce or the workplace culture. What do you do? One of the things I’ve heard consistently is it depends on the people as well. Is someone a self-starter or capable of working on their own?” Decker said.

Autonomy seems to make a big difference in productivity and it's less stressful than when people are being looked at, according to Decker.

Decker added it is better business culture. It also matters what type of work is appropriate for working from home.

“Today with so much being data-driven, analytics and looking at information ... all that can be done remotely,” he said.

He has noticed companies using remote work to retain employees and award employees so there are certain parts of their job that they can do remotely. Decker said the employee can skip that commute one or two days a week, which is also beneficial to the worker and the employer.

Decker said it is up to the workplace to define productivity. Is it hours in a seat or by output? If there are good measurements, then remote work will work, according to Decker.

TRG Marketing President Chad Ritterbusch said the company has been around for 18 years and is based in Brookfield. They provide marketing services to small to medium companies mostly in Southeastern Wisconsin. The company has thirteen employees with four who are fully remote. One person is in La Crosse, one in Dallas, and two in the Milwaukee area. There are several employees who work a hybrid schedule with varied time being in the office and working from home.

“The pandemic accelerated our move to hybrid and remote work. It opened our clients’ eyes to the wonders of Zoom meetings. We have been allowing for and handling remote work and hybrid situations for well over a decade,” Ritterbusch said.

When recruiting, the company does discuss remote work as it is on the minds of a lot of people, according to the company president.

“It is on the minds of so many potential employees today and we try to set proper expectations. Some work is more appropriate to remote working than other types of work. More experienced employees tend to be better equipped to succeed in a remote environment than say someone who is right out of school and needs the benefits of collaboration and daily interaction with colleagues in the office,” he said.

He thinks employees want more flexibility. In the case of his employee, Jacob Werre, he was a full-time in-the-office employee. He got married and moved with his wife to the La Crosse area. Remote work allowed Ritterbusch to retain Werre, a valuable employee.

Werre said remote work has allowed him more flexibility. He can help out around the house more as far as laundry. Also having his own office set-up. It does take more effort to connect with other employees when he is training new hires. It is hard not having face-to-face time. Werre added it means he needs to add more structure and actively thinking about communicating even when it isn’t about work stuff.

Ritterbusch said he doesn’t think of remote work as good or bad, but an additive. It is another way to accomplish the needs a company might have and while accommodating the needs of employees.

“Our clients have been wonderful about remote work. They appreciate the stability we are able to provide to them because in accommodating our employees, we are able to retain and recruit employees. It is good for our clients,” Ritterbusch said.