We found work in a remote place

Known as a popular holiday destination, Mont Tremblant offers something for everyone all year-round. In the winter, the town, nestled within the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec, provides perfect slopes for avid skiers and snowboarders. In the summertime, water activities fill the days and live shows liven up the night. But for people like Jennifer Thorne and Simon Gascon, Mont Tremblant is more than a mini getaway. It’s home. They each come with 20 years of experience working in the Government of Canada (GC); Jennifer is currently working as a Senior Advisor for the Privy Council Office (PCO), while her other half, Simon, works as a Director for Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). But get this – they both work remotely full-time from their home in Tremblant, where they are surrounded by beautiful scenery. I can attest to this as I had the chance to check out the view when they took me on a tour via video chat.

Love at first sight

Picture this: You grab your morning coffee, sit down at your desk and with a blink of an eye, your workday is over. You’re sitting there scratching your head thinking to yourself, “where did the time go?” Except you’re not actually scratching your head because you don’t have time for that. Instead, you’re running out the door to make it in time to pick up your kids from school. You made it. You may have been the last parent there, but you made it. You walk into your house and realize you forgot to take chicken out of the freezer. Looks like it’s pasta for dinner again. You sigh.

Many of us have experienced days like this. And for Jennifer and Simon, it had become their reality. To balance out their hectic workdays, they decided they would spend their weekends in Tremblant whenever they could. What was supposed to be just a mini getaway, seemed to really improve their mental health and overall quality of life. “We need to find a way to stay in Tremblant” Jennifer said to her husband. And so they did.

Health is wealth

“There’s this idea that if we can’t see our employees, then we don’t know if they’re actually working and I think that is absolutely false.”

“When you reach the Executive Levels everyone generally assumes that you aspire to become an Assistant Deputy Minister someday,” Simon says. And it’s true, we are all guilty of being so consumed with work and getting that next promotion that we sometimes overlook our own well-being. Chatting with Jennifer and Simon, it’s refreshing to see people putting their happiness first and doing what works best for them. That meant taking demotions, but both were happy to do so for a chance to live their best lives.

“We are all using the same technology and as soon as we have employees working in separate buildings, it would be the same as them working in another province.”

“There’s this idea that if we can’t see our employees, then we don’t know if they’re actually working and I think that is absolutely false,” Simon explains. And it’s true: does it really matter whether an employee is working in another building, another region or province? At the end of the day, as Jennifer explains it, “we are all using the same technology and as soon as we have employees working in separate buildings, it would be the same as them working in another province.” I can’t help but agree. If an employee is performing well and their work can be done remotely, then why not give them the opportunity to work from anywhere? We too often attribute more importance to being physically present to actual performance. Simon tells me about the advantages of letting employees work remotely by explaining that, “if I give someone something to do in 5 days, I will usually get it back within 3 days. And that relates to the fact that if you trust your employees and give them that space to work comfortably with less distractions, they will perform better as a result.”

“Being able to start our workday right away and knowing that when we shut down at 5:00 pm, we are right where we need to be, is incomparable.”

“Being able to start our workday right away and knowing that when we shut down at 5:00 pm, we are right where we need to be, is incomparable” Jennifer says. Less worrying about getting to work on time, less stress about what needs to be done after work and more time with the ones you love. That doesn’t sound too shabby to me.

As I chatted away with the happy couple, I was curious to know what it was like working remotely with your partner in such close proximity. Simon took the lead on this question, “this is going to sound corny but, if I could spend 25 hours a day with my wife, I would.” And with those words, I felt my naturally cold heart melt just a bit. “We are so busy during the workday that, even though we are in the same room all day, we don’t have much time to talk while we’re working. When we log off, you have the same feeling you would ending your workday and commuting home to see your family for the first time” Jennifer says.

Fear of the unknown

“People don’t fear change, they fear what they don’t know” Simons explains. With teleworking or working remotely, there is a lot that people don’t know, which could be why there are so many myths surrounding it. “We are trying to push the envelope and make it happen for more people,” Jennifer says, “we are proud of what we do and happy with our situation, but we will take every opportunity we have to knock down the stereotypes.”

Simon turns the camera to show me his computer screen, where I can see his entire management team displayed on video feeds. “I have my administrative assistant, two managers and a Senior Advisor all right here with me. It is possible to work with a mostly virtual team”. On the other side of things, Jennifer’s team is mostly in the office. “Everyone has my name and video conferencing number saved so we have the ability to chat at anytime. It’s no different than if I was working in the office” she explains.

Throughout the work week, Simon and his team have three 20-minute touchpoints, where everyone goes over what they are working on and what’s coming up. This made me think of another Living Digital story where we sat down with Todd Scanlan, as he explained that a touchpoint is one of the go-to techniques to becoming more agile. These short meetings can have a large, and positive, impact for employees as they help ensure no one is overwhelmed or overworked.

Happy Mind, Happy Grind

While there are many positives that come with working remotely, what is the best one you might ask? “I’m a better dad now. I have more time with my kids and I’m better able to balance my life” Simon tells me. Ah there it is again; the icicles on my heart continue to melt.

There was something sincerely special about this interview. While we talked, I noticed that Jennifer and Simon were either laughing or smiling. It’s obvious to me that the pair radiates positivity and I couldn’t help but feel their happiness all the way from a boardroom in Ottawa. I told them point blank that they seem so happy and of course, they laughed and said, “we are!”

Through it all, Jennifer and Simon are optimistic for the future of remote working in the GC. They realize there is an appetite for forward and modern ways of working and by sharing their experience, they hope to encourage more people to do what truly makes them happy. Whether that’s working in a designated office every day, teleworking once a week or working remotely full-time, just know that it is all possible. But it’s important to remember that every situation and department is different, so ask what’s possible in your office. Something I do know for sure though, is that prioritizing our mental health allows us to be the best version of ourselves. In and out of the office.

 
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