In celebration of National Working Parents Day on September 16, 2019, we sat down with members from The Parents Professional Network group at DHG, Darien Sutton and Becca Welker.
Darien Sutton is a Senior Manager in our Winston-Salem, NC office. Becca Welker is a Tax Managing Director who works remotely and is actively engaged with the Raleigh office. They both join us to share a few noteworthy experiences related to working and managing a flexible schedule.
AGH: Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of our DHG podcast series.
I'm Alice Grey Harrison, your host. I love this venue because we get to hear the things that matter the most to us. Flexibility, careers and of course, our people. Today joining me, I have two people from our Parents Professional Network. The mission of the Parents Professional Network is to connect working parents and facilitate information sharing on issues that are relevant to the group.
For this Common Interest Group, that means looking for information on becoming a parent, managing My Time and parental leave benefits, learning tips about returning to work, navigating childcare options, getting guidance on preparing teens for college and honestly, just figuring out how to get it all done as a parent who works at DHG.
Joining me today is Darien Sutton. She's in our Winston-Salem office and she works in forensics and valuation services as a senior manager. And Becca Welker - she's a managing director in our Raleigh office, but actually spends most of her time working remotely. And they are going to share some of their key learning, wisdom and input about being a working parent. So, before we get started, I could have introduced your family, but it's much more fun for proud moms to talk about their family. Darien, tell us about your family?
DS: Sure. I have two girls, ages five and six. My six-year-old just started first grade and my five-year-old will go to kindergarten next year. I grew up in Winston-Salem and moved back about seven years ago after being gone for a while, so it's still home. Never thought I'd move back. But I did, and I love raising my family here in Winston-Salem.
AGH: That's awesome. Okay. Now Becca, tell us about your family.
BW: I have two children as well. I have a little boy who is eight who just started the third grade and my baby girl just went to kindergarten. I live in Wilmington, North Carolina and work from home for the Raleigh office and have been working from home since 2007 when I joined the firm.
AGH: That's amazing and you and I both collaborated together recently when we were in person about our babies going to kindergarten. That was a hard week as a working mom - a hard week for me just trying to juggle it all. So, Becca, I'm going to start with this first question and it's going to be for you. What does it mean in terms of working remotely? How do you do that without your career being compromised? You clearly are paving the way in this area.
BW: Well, I think it is whatever you make it to be. I started with DHG in 2007 as a senior associate. And just last month, I was promoted to managing director, so I was climbing the ladder remotely and also had two children and two tax seasons. You can do it and just take a little time - sometimes it takes a little bit longer because you're focused on your family. And I mean, I work from home primarily because my family lives here. But it also helps me be a mom because I can do things at home, just be where I need to be.
I stay connected to Raleigh by making the trip up there; it's only two hours away, so I'm frequently in the office to see faces and meet with them and meet with clients.
AGH: And we were just talking before the call, for our listeners, Hurricane Dorian is knocking on her door; she's got kids at home and she's recording this podcast. I'd say that working from home, being a working parent means you juggle a lot, right?
BW: Yes, that's exactly right. I'm juggling hugely, doing laundry with kids and pickups and drop off and practices and podcasts and tax returns, you name it. Lots of balls in the air.
AGH: So, Darien, what are some of the success strategies for remaining connected to your team even when you're not in the office or in the field with them?
DS: I'm just laughing over here because I feel like we have exactly the same life, which is funny. Yeah, I think you mentioned so many balls in the air. I think one of the hardest things is transitioning back and forth between being a mom and work. I think that was one of the things I was nervous about when I started working. I work less than full time; it doesn't feel like part-time, but it's just about 80% time.
But in order to do that, I'm not always in the office. I'm out doing other things with my family or whatever else in the community. So, I think in terms of staying connected with my team, the things that work really well is typically at the beginning of the month, I send out an email that says, "here's when I'm going to be gone, here's when I'm on vacation or here is when I'm traveling for work." And then also, on like a day to day basis, I'm in the office on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.>
That's just kind of a known fact, and then on Tuesday and Friday, I don't work from like eight to 11-ish. And I work from home in the afternoon. So, the team knows that we share a calendar and that's not just my appointments and my out of office but theirs as well. But I think the biggest thing that's worked is I also have a very new team. A lot of new and young faces and a lot of big projects going on.
We try to set very clear expectations and timelines. I also don't micro manage. I don't check in all the time, but I spend a lot of time coaching the lead on my engagement so that it's not solely on me to manage the project. I think it's really important that I bring my team up so they can take on a lot of that responsibility and that allows me to leave to go take my kids to school, or yesterday I left early to take my kids to gymnastics for the first day. It was at 4 o'clock and they were fine.
I had to leave in the 'middle of the day.' So, just having a team in place that knows and understands the expectations and also when I'm going to be around and when I'm available.
AGH: I mean, it sounds like – and I know from my own experience that having that constant and very deliberate level of communication with your team is one of the main points in making all of this work. So, speaking of communication Darien, this one's going to be for you too. What's the best way to begin a discussion with management about exploring a flex schedule such as 80% like yours?
DS: I think it comes back down to over-communication. I think the whole culture breathes communication. I think if you're scared to have a conversation with your manager about hey you know, 80% time or working remotely or whatever it may be. It sounds like a good idea, but I'm afraid I'll get shot down, or I'm afraid that it's not going to be well received.
From just what I know about the culture at DHG - is that is probably more of a self-imposed feeling. So, I will say before I pursued the option, I was about to have my second child. And I knew, my oldest was eighteen months old when my second was born. I knew that it was just not going to work. Especially with my husband's schedule, for me to come back full-time. Before I had that conversation, I got on the Compass, and I did some research. I thought, "When would I work? What would my hours be? Would my clients know? Would the team be affected?"
I thought about it a lot before I went to my – the partner in our group at the time. And I was a very honest about it, and I got zero push back because I think – I mean, I feel this way, but I think he feels this way that if someone's a strong contributor then it's a lot easier and better to work with that person and come up with that right arrangement than lose them all together. And I think you know that Becca and I are success stories, where we would have maybe, well I can speak for myself, gone somewhere else if I didn't have that possibility - if I didn't have an option.
I think doing research and then being honest and having a conversation. And if listeners feel like maybe they're not ready to have that discussion, they can just call me, and we can talk about it and I can help you get prepared for that conversation.
AGH: That is really great advice and so true about our culture. I don't have an official flexible arrangement myself, but I do know that my job is to get a job done and how I get that job done - I do have flexibility. And I often work from home on Fridays in order to be able to accomplish all that I can to juggle things.
So Becca, you've always had a remote arrangement. How did you know that that was going to be right for you?
BW: Well, I want to echo what Darien said exactly and it sits on the communication end of flex. And I'm also at 90% which is not as much as full time but it does give me the flexibility. I feel like to work a little bit less in some busy times, and also, I have to think about my day and at that 24 hours, right?
Not just think about it, but I not having to be at the office from eight to five or eight to six or whatever the time frame is. So for me personally, I have all those hours to work with. I have to get in the gym and get the kids to school. I got to do the client meeting and do the client work, do the compliance work, cook dinner, all the mom stuff, all the beds, bring the books and then work and get around.
So, communication is key. I mean, with the team, they know when my Skype light's green, I'm around at my desk. And if it's yellow, I'm probably running the kids somewhere and if they really need me, text me on the cell phone. But yeah, I try to stay available when I'm needed and it just works for me I think because I knew, like Darien said, when she came back, I knew I couldn't be the mom that I wanted to be and work in office, full time. It just wasn't going to work for my family.
My husband also works in accounting, and we just both couldn't do the full-time thing. Working remotely for me; it's huge. It saves me time in the morning from meetings in the office by not having to take a shower and get dressed for the office. It just saves time for me. I think that and they're in the same time frame as management. I find it so awesome. I mean I think this #LifeBeyondNumbers, we really live and breathe it around here. I think anybody around here.
I started in 2007 working remotely. That's how long ago; that was what - 12 years ago? We've come a long way, and I think there's a lot more remote working happening like Darien said, if you're good at your job, they want to keep me.
AGH: That's right.
BW: Anybody in the firm can do anything to help make your life easier or your work life balance better. I have seen no push back from anybody.
AGH: You know, I think there's something that you said that's really important to highlight and that is that you make yourself available. And I think that's one thing that people have to understand, whether they're working a flexible schedule, they're 80%, they're part time or they work from home two days a week. I think the most important aspect is that you have blurred lines in your life, and it isn't like you turn DHG off and you turn your family on or you turn your family on and you turn DHG off.
That availability and being able to communicate becomes really critical when you're working in an alternative schedule. I wrote a blog about this. I don't know, probably when my daughter wasn't even two at that point. One of those things that I said was I'm there for DHG when DHG needs me and DHG's there for me when I need to be there for my family. I think that that point is a really important one that you guys brought up.
So, this one's for either one of you all or both of you really. What are some of the pros and cons that people should keep in mind if they're considering this arrangement or what are some of the main things to think about? Becca, you want to go first?
BW: Sure, I'll take this. To kind of just piggyback on what we were just talking about it's a pro and a con, you know, being available. I'm available 24/7 in a way, right? It's kind of my choice because I'm volunteering in my son's classroom on Monday, from 10 AM to 11 AM which is a difficult work time. But that also means, I'm there with him but then I'm probably going to make up some time. When the kids go to bed, I work a little bit and that's my choice, and that's me doing everything I want to be doing.
It's just like I said, back to the 24 hours; I'm getting it all in. It's just in a different, non-traditional time frame. To me, that's a pro and con because sometimes I'm working when I don't really want to be. But it's kind of like, "well, I had the flexibility to be at the dance recital or the soccer game when I would be typically working."
It's finding that balance when you turn on and when you turn it off. My home office is at my house, you know? So sometimes it's hard for me to close the door and go back to the laundry or the dinner. I try to set specific times when I'm not working, especially when there are busy seasons with more work.
Now that my children are older, they kind of say, "mommy, you're working too much." I try to keep that balance, but it's hard. I mean, it's not the easiest thing in the world, but I make it work.
AGH: You absolutely do, and you've been so successful with it. Darien, do you have any thoughts on the cons? Things to consider?
DS: Yes, I'd say the exact same thing. I think Becca brought up some really good points. I schedule times. You know, whether it's being in the kid's classroom so that's obviously time that you're dedicating to other people or I need to sit down and review this report for an hour or I'm not going to be worried for this hour because I've got to go run this errand.
I'm very deliberate with my time, scheduling and being organized about it. But in terms of like pros and cons. The pro is definitely that I can pretty much make it to anything. I mean, I have to obviously schedule around existing meetings or things that are obviously very important at work. But you know, it's like, my daughter has a field trip coming up and I'm like, "oh, I'll be there," which is just a really good feeling. But I will say, I have a very good support system where if I need to turn it up at work, I can rely on other people. My family and my husband do a whole lot, and then I have a full time nanny because we both work a lot.
And so, I have a support system to turn it up when I need to turn it up, but I think the con that Becca alluded to is that it's hard to balance to go back and forth, to turn off and turn the other on. It is a 24-hour thing, so I think maybe some people really just want to be in the office from eight to five; I don't. I'd prefer the flexibility.
I prefer the balance and sort of the struggle associated with the flexibility because the benefits of the flexibility far outweigh the struggle, in my opinion. So, I think being able to do so much more that is accessible to me because I have a flexible arrangement. That's definitely a big pro with what I'm working with and I know Becca probably feels the same.
AGH: That's all very good things to consider and pros and cons, and I just want to say, before we wrap up that both of you truly are role models for everyone because it's not easy. It's definitely not easy. I always tell some of our friends that I didn't have a child until I was 38, so I was well into my career and you know, I had friends now who have kids who are graduating from college and I'm like, "it is no joke being a working mom."
I'm sure that you all would agree with me that it takes an extraordinary amount of energy, scheduling and communication. Thank you both for being role models here.
DS: Happy to do it!
AGH: And thank you all for joining us and sharing your perspectives. Thank you for listening to our Life at DHG podcast series. If you like what you just heard, we hope you'll tell your friends and colleagues. If you want more information about this important group we have at DHG, be sure to visit the Compass and check out our blog for more great stories about our Life Beyond Numbers. Join us next time for another edition of Life at DHG.