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August 14, 2020

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15 minutes with Neil Hauenstein

And, all about working from your home

Interviewed by Liz Gordon-Hancock

Neil Hauenstein was born in Bluffton, and attended Bath schools. He married Rue Reichenbach (Cory-Rawson), and they have one daughter, Karson, age 13.

Hauenstein has the distinction of working remotely. Working remotely means you work somewhere other than the office. This is not like a contractor who spends the majority of their work day out on the job or someone who works flexible hours and is allowed to work from home occasionally. This is someone who does not even have a desk or space allocated to them by their employer. The Icon interviewed Hauenstein to get a view into the world of working remotely. 

Who do you work for?
FBE Associates in Bay City, Michigan. Developers of MHPro!, a take-off software that provides drawings for approvals and manufacturing of precast concrete manholes and catch basins.

What's your official job title? What do you actually do?
Officially, I am Sales /Support.  I demonstrate the software to potential customers, provide training  for new customers, customize and update databases for existing clients, and give remote assistance to those that may be having some trouble with the software.

How long have you been working remotely?  How did you manage to escape the office and start working from home?
3 ½ years.  My previous employer was a customer of FBE and I used the MHPro! software on a daily basis. When the company decided to sell off their precast concrete division, I was let go. A short time later I was approached by FBE to work for their company since I already had a working relationship with them, a knowledge of the industry and a pretty good grasp on how to use their software.

Given the nature of your job, how does working remotely help you do your job?
I am on the phone quite a bit and I don't have to deal with the noise that you sometimes get in an office environment.  Although I have had to remind my daughter to keep the noise down when she has had friends over after school or during the summer.

Describe your work space, and where it is located.
I have a large desk with a large monitor in the small, spare bedroom upstairs. There is also a drafting table and a couple of bookcases as well. I'm not what you would call a “neat freak,” so it tends to be pretty cluttered most of the time.

Describe a typical work day.
I usually have an ongoing project or two that keeps me busy. These might be setting up a database for a new client or updating an existing one. Sometimes this involves providing AutoCAD drawings for the software to draw from. I also answer the customer help support line and provide assistance to software users. I am not a computer programmer, so when the programmers come up with a new update, often I get to test the new version. It's always fun when they tell me to try to 'break this'.

How do you separate work and home life? What do you do to "switch off" from work?
Since I work with some customers on the west coast, my hours need to be kind of flexible to accommodate the time difference, but I usually try to keep pretty consistent hours from 8 to 5 though.  To separate work and home life, I usually just flip the phone to go to voice mail and go downstairs.

How do you interact socially with your co-workers? You don't automatically meet up in the break room or get to attend work parties, so how and when do you get to hang out with your colleagues (if at all)?
I am on the phone with the office daily at least to 'check in'. When I first started, I travelled to Bay City about once a month and would stay for 2 or 3 days, but I only go up a couple of times a year now and usually only for the day. I also attend the Precast Concrete trade show with my co-workers, usually the last week in February.

The owner of the company is quite proud of Bay City and has invited my family up for events from time to time. It doesn't always work out that we can go, but we did make it up for a dinner cruise on the Saginaw River and Lake Huron last summer with the whole staff and their families.

I imagine many would think that working remotely would be wonderful. You could stay in your pajamas all day, or take your laptop to the coffee shop and work with a latte and donut nearby. What would you say in counterpoint to that? What are the pitfalls of working remotely?
Due to the nature of my 'remote support', I can't really work with the laptop at the coffee house. I have to have my connection through the desk top computer, so I am kind of tied to the desk. I have been known to stay in my pj's all day though. Several people have asked me how I stay 'on task', but I don’t really have a problem with it as long as I have a project to keep me busy. The problem does arise occasionally when I am not overly busy or I am working on something with no real dead line, because it is easy to see things around the house that need to be done. I do manage to keep up with the laundry even when I am busy.

One pitfall is the occasional break down of communication, sometimes things that are discussed casually in the office don't always make it to me in an e-mail or phone call, so I am sometimes a half a step behind on some things.

Another nice thing about working from home is that I am able to go for a run at lunchtime and not worry about offending anyone when I come back to work all sweaty.

Anything else you wish to share about what you do?
Before I began working for FBE I was (and still am) a registered landscape architect. I still have a couple of clients that I do the occasional landscape plan for. I also provide drafting services for a couple of other clients, but these aren't a huge part of my income and I work on these project after I have turned the phone off for the day.

Working remotely is also known as telecommuting. Working remotely is different from someone who runs a business out of their home, or who works flexible hours and works from home sometimes. They officially work elsewhere.

It might surprise you to know that there are a growing number of locals who work remotely. This is a growing trend nationwide.

For the employer, having employee(s) working remotely reduces space usage, and can cut down on certain costs.

For the employee, it can be very convenient, since they don't have to travel to work and back every day.

This is the first of a series of interviews on the Icon - click here for the next interview in this series.