Working From Home: The Employee Experience

Technology has changed everything.

Time was, to work in the captioning industry, you needed an awkward double-monitor + CPU + VHS player set-up in order to get the job done. It was cumbersome, heavy, and expensive. Furthermore, it tied captioners and scripters to their office desks, since you’d never describe the essential equipment as portable.

With the shift from VHS media to digital media, the old-style hardware-centric setup has been replaced with Wifi and a laptop. That change has done more than free up desk space around the office; it’s freed Line 21’s employees to completely redefine where the office is.

But wait, there’s more to the story….

Trust and a willingness to experiment has changed everything.

While the change from analogue to digital made it technically possible for Line 21 employees to redefine their workspace, the fact that Kelly Maxwell and Carolyn Vetter-Hicks, co-owners of Line 21, were willing to embrace new work models is what made it practically possible. So, several years ago, when the first long-time Line 21 employee approached Kelly and Carolyn about working from home in another province, they said “yes.” Since then, multiple employees have moved across the country while retaining their positions with Line 21, and some of the Vancouver-based employees have shifted their work to home, at least part of the time.

Flexibility. The word came up repeatedly when talking to Line 21’s distance staff. For many, the shift to home has allowed them to adapt their work schedules around the needs of young families. They still put in a full work day, but the hours are tucked in and around preschool, story time and the inevitable doctors’ appointments. Others appreciate the freedom to adopt non-traditional hours which are better suited to their personal rhythms. Line 21 employs one notorious night owl. She’s worked the regular 9-5 routine, but now loves that she can work when she’s at her peak: in the wee hours of the morning. Not only is she happier, but she’s more productive during the hours she works.

Another recurring theme that emerged when talking to Line 21’s distance employees was a surprise. Virtually everyone reported that they now handle sick time much differently than when they worked from the office. From home, they are usually able to work through an illness. Not only is the fear of infecting fellow employees eliminated, but they can break up their day to accommodate their illness: work for an hour or two, nap, work for an hour or two, nap, etc., until they have put in their full work time.

Family factored into the decision to work remotely for almost all of the Line 21 employees who’ve made the shift: not just the flexibility to accommodate young families, but the desire to be closer to extended family. The fact that they could take their jobs with them made the decision to relocate from Vancouver much easier.

The other word that came up time and again was ‘trust.’ Over and over, I heard the same refrain: “it works because Kelly and Carolyn trust me to get the work done.”