Living the Remote Work Life: Working with Parents and Families in a Remote Position

During the pandemic, like many others, I embraced the remote work lifestyle and the work-life balance and flexibility it provided. I loved cooking lunch and having my dogs with me all day. So, when Cornell University advertised their Director of Parent & Family Programs position with a possible remote option, I was highly interested. In March 2022, I was thrilled to get the opportunity to start building their new family engagement program while still living in Memphis, Tennessee.

So, what is it like to work with parents and families when you live a thousand miles (or 1,048 miles, to be exact) away from your campus? Probably very similar to your work. During the pandemic, we saw how much of our work with families is not campus-based and exists through our communication channels. The virtual programming that we initiated or increased during the pandemic allowed us to connect more with our families, especially those who couldn’t travel to campus, to make our engagement more accessible. Like many universities, Cornell is located in a small town with a small regional airport and a limited number of hotel rooms. Families often can’t travel to visit their students due to costs but still want to be engaged and connected to the institution. Being remote serves to center me in how most of our families experience Cornell from afar. It has also helped me to think about how I might be able to meet their needs better as they support their student when they do get to visit campus.

Cornell is a physically large campus and has continued to offer staff flexible working options. Many meetings are still conducted via Zoom or provide a virtual option, so most forget I am not in town until we talk about the weather. While I am remote, I visit campus about once a month. When I am on campus, I have as many in-person meetings or social interactions as possible to maximize my time. Having limited time on campus has made me more purposeful in building relationships with my colleagues since I know how important those can be in our work with families.

I enjoy the work-life balance and other benefits of remote work, like hanging out with my dogs all day. But parts of this work style can be more demanding than an in-person position. Travel is a significant consideration for me now. I have to balance the travel with my personal life, considering I have to be away from home from three days to two weeks at a time, depending on the event. While being away from home for a week or more can be hard, it has been especially important in allowing me to be on campus during key student engagement events, like Orientation, Welcome Week, and Senior Days. But it is worth it because, being present for these events allows me to get to know the campus and our students. While I do miss some of the social interactions of a job, like chatting in the elevator or going to divisional social activities, the culture of Cornell has been very open and embracing of new people and I have had great opportunities to socialize with my colleagues to create the important connections in my work.

Higher education can be unwilling to change sometimes. Still, the silver lining to the pandemic is that it showed us what was possible in our roles and work with our families and students. As our institutions look to finding better ways to attract staff and stay competitive, remote work may be a consideration and something that is certainly possible in our family engagement work.  

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