Sara Sutton Fell has been tackling challenges in current employment from a young age – in her junior year at UC Berkeley, she took time off to found an entry-level job search website.
Years later, during a job search for a position that allowed her flexibility as a new mother, Sutton Fell was surprised by the difficulty she faced in finding a suitable job that allowed remote work. Her entrepreneurial spirit led her not to give up, but to actually create her own remote job – and help others find remote work along the way. The company she founded, FlexJobs, offers a pre-screened database of telecommuting and remote jobs to jobseekers. In the spirit of its work, FlexJobs is an entirely remote company, with employees scattered all over the country.
More recently, Sutton Fell founded Remote.co, a resource that offers information, tools, and management for companies and individuals looking to create remote teams.
Glassdoor reached out to Sutton Fell, who has been called the “Queen of Remote Work” to learn more about the benefits of remote work and how to achieve it – whether in your own career or for your employees.
Glassdoor: What inspired you to start FlexJobs?
Sara Sutton Fell: Quite honestly, I was going through a job search myself, looking for a job that would offer some work flexibility (remote work options, a part-time or flexible schedule, or freelance work) but that also in-line with my career. At the time, I was pregnant with my first child, and I knew that as I started my family I did not want a job that had a rigid traditional schedule or arbitrary requirements to be on-site when I was able to be just as productive working remotely.
Quickly in my job search, I became aware of the massive amount of low-quality jobs, scams, ads, and “too good to be true” jobs in this niche (especially “work from home” jobs, with some estimates showing 60-70 scam jobs for every 1 legitimate telecommuting job, for example).
From previous career experience, I knew that real, professional jobs that offered work flexibility did exist, so I knew that they were just buried under all of the clutter. As I looked at the job landscape, I realized that there were millions of other people looking for flexible job options just like I was, and I believed there had to be a better way.
And that’s where the idea for FlexJobs came from—I wanted to create a trusted, efficient site for people who want and need work flexibility to be able to easily find legitimate, professional-level jobs in one place, without having to weed through scams, ads, or “too good to be true” business opportunities. I firmly believe that working parents, and all professionals, shouldn’t have to choose between their work and their life, and that flexible work options are a win-win for both people AND companies.
Glassdoor: Why are many managers still reluctant to let their employees work remotely?
Sara Sutton Fell: Trust is the biggest issue because the type of trust many managers lazily rely upon is “face time.” In too many companies there is still a big reliance on 20th-century management practices such as where people needed to be in their seats in an office for managers to feel confident that they’re working. Unfortunately, that type of “face time” or “helicopter” management gives a false sense of control that, in this day and age, is far from guaranteeing productivity.
But for forward-thinking companies, that key shift from out-of-date managerial practices to more modern ones integrating current workplace technologies to focus on effective processes, results-oriented outcomes, and the having best talent regardless of geography is already starting to pay off. Remote work organizations that are going to be successful in the future will have to understand this a part of the workforce dynamic, especially with younger generations coming in who are completely mobile and tech-savvy
Glassdoor: Do you think the American workforce is heading towards greater levels of remote employment and telecommuting? What you think might help accelerate this trend?
Sara Sutton Fell: Absolutely I think we’ll see greater levels of remote work, and the data bears this out. This year, we partnered with Global Workplace Analytics to underwrite a report on the 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. We found that regular telecommuting (half-time or more) has increased 115% over the last 10 years. Gallup has also found that “occasional” remote work has increased as well, from 37% of U.S. workers in 2015 to 43% in 2016. According to the research done by Global Workplace Analytics, 56% of all U.S. jobs are telecommute-compatible, so there is clearly room to grow.
What will accelerate this trend? First, job-seeker demand. As the market for hiring gets more competitive, job-seekers will have increasingly more leverage to negotiate contract items that are important to them — which work flexibility has been shown to be — and employers will need to adapt or lose candidates. 97% are interested in being a flexible worker over the long-term of their careers. By not adapting to this demand, they also risk losing great employees–62% have left or considered leaving a job because it did not have work flexibility.
Second, employers need to honestly assess the benefits remote work offers them, and they are increasingly doing so. For example, FlexJobs and Remote.co host an annual event called the TRaD* Works Forum (*telecommuting, remote, and distributed). We get some truly unique insights from this event because it brings together leaders in remote work from Fortune 500 companies, fast-growing virtual companies, and “future of work” influencers to discuss the important business opportunities and challenges with remote work.
One of the biggest takeaways from TRaD Works last year was that to improve remote work across the board, companies need to begin or improve their tracking of the ROI of remote and flexible work programs. In past research, we’ve found that only a 3% of companies even attempt to measure their flexible work programs for things like productivity, performance, and engagement to figure out the real results. Imagine how powerful a remote and flexible work program could be if its managers could harness the data to expand on what’s working and improve what isn’t! This sort of data would also be hugely beneficial to companies considering remote work for the first time.
Glassdoor: How do companies that allow remote work maintain accountability for their employees?
Sara Sutton Fell: This is a very common question, and it’s at the core of building trust among managers and remote workers. At Remote.co, we asked leaders of over 130 mostly or completely remote companies and teams to tell us how they measure productivity and keep employees accountable. Here are some of the most common methods:
- “Quality of work completed; Customer satisfaction; Ability to meet deadlines; Results; Feedback from the business/360 Reviews; Performance Reviews; Objective Setting.” – Canonical
- “We focus on output rather than time spent. We track our weekly goals closely to ensure that we’re doing what we set out to do. We also have daily standups in Slack where team members share what they did the day before, and what they’ll be working on that day. It keeps us all on the same page as to who’s working on what.” – Groove
- “As with all of our customer care professionals, the primary measure of success for people in our virtual organization is how they deepen the relationships with customers. Recommend to a Friend – or RTF, our own service-specific version of the popular Net Promoter Score – is the primary metric we use to recognize and reward our front-line employees.” – American Express
- “We focus more on priorities than on numeric goals. We set then frequently adjust those priorities. Productivity is measured by how much progress we make on those priorities in a given time frame.” – Tortuga
Glassdoor: I understand that the employees of FlexJobs all work remotely. What are the benefits of remote work that you’ve seen in your own life?
Sara Sutton Fell: As you might imagine, founding a job search service that champions flexible work options means that I created FlexJobs with the same sorts of flexibility for our own staff, right from day one. So everyone on our team works remotely from their own home office, and the majority with flexible hours as well.
While I hear almost daily from my team members about why it’s important to them, I am personally and continuously thankful for the benefits that remote work offers me as a mom and as a CEO. Just not having to waste time in the morning dressing up for work, and eliminating the stress and time associated with a morning commute make it worthwhile. But also I’m able to be a better, more involved mom because of remote and flexible work–I can easily flex my schedule go to my kids’ school and sports events, to take them to the doctor when they’re sick, or pick them up from school and have an afternoon snack with them to hear the debrief of their day. Other lifestyle benefits are that I pick my lunch from my garden, walk our dog during my coffee break, or take a hike at lunch.
And when big things happen, such as when I got divorced or when my father was hospitalized or a friend needs urgent help, the time savings and schedule flexibility are even that much more important to help juggle what I needed to both in my personal life and in my work life.
Remote work doesn’t make it all easy, but it does make it all massively easier!