At TNTP, our virtual work environment means staff have the flexibility to choose where they work and how they structure their day to get the job done. We think entrusting employees with this flexibility makes us stronger as an organization because it encourages our people to operate in whatever way allows them to do their best work, and honors the different priorities folks have outside the office. We believe it’s part of the reason we’re able to retain 90 percent of high-performing staff. But what does that look like in practice? We asked five TNTPers to share their experiences.
TNTP’s virtual structure means employees aren’t limited to working where we have an office or people on the ground in districts and schools. We can go where the work takes us, which right now means twenty states. I love that. But I also love that our structure works the other way, too: It means our people aren’t limited to living where they work.
We represent the entire country. We live in high-rises, suburban homes, and on farms raising chickens. And we can move freely, too. I’m a textbook case. Two years ago, I made the move from Boston to Cape Cod. After years in expensive cities, I could finally afford to buy my own home—and live by the ocean like I’ve always wanted to. I love living close to the beach, biking the Rail Trail, or kayaking in my local lake. I can see the ocean from my office window, and at the end of a summer work day I can get a swim in.
But as much as I love the Cape in the summer, fall, and spring, winter is not so pleasant. So this year, I decided to take the virtual workplace a step further. I embraced my nomadic existence and used New Orleans as my base of operations for six weeks in the dead of winter.
New Orleans is the city where I started my career in education, teaching middle school science as a member of Teach for America’s first corps. Coming back here and temporarily setting up shop in the Treme neighborhood was about much more than avoiding a winter’s worth of shoveling (although that’s nothing to sniff at). It gave me the opportunity to get into classrooms in the same city I once taught (I even visited my old school) and see how things have changed. It put me in the heart of a different community than the one I live in. Outside of work I was able to bike regularly, enjoy great jazz, and host friends who came to visit. It was both personally and professionally refreshing, and it would’ve been impossible if I were tied to a brick-and-mortar office.
—Karolyn Belcher, President
My parental leaves at TNTP—all three of them—have been some of the best times of my life. It’s a travesty some workplaces don’t give partners the same opportunities. No new mother should be expected to handle a newborn alone during those first weeks. As a father, it is important for me to be able to support my partner after we welcome a new member into our family, and TNTP’s commitment to parents allows me to do that.
I won’t lie though; returning to work after the tenderness of paternity leave is a shock to the system, compounded by a (continuing) lack of sleep. However, each and every time I return, I find myself more willing to step back from the hour-to-hour details of my job and see the bigger picture of our work. I guess when you’re hanging out with a newborn for a few weeks, you get in the habit of contemplating life and imagining possibilities for the future of our students.
Thankfully, my transition back from leave is always made easier because I work in a home office. So although it can be tough to compose an email with a baby screaming in the other room, it also means I can get my fix of baby time on 10-minute breaks between meetings (and, I’ll admit, change the odd diaper while on “mute” during a conference call).
—Andrew Garland, Partner
Most of us at TNTP are accustomed to being on a conference call when a dog barks, a mailman rings, or a microwave dings. But of all the sounds that come with working remotely, for a while, I cringed most when it was one of my children who was responsible.
When I shifted from working on site to working from home and began to grow my family, I lived in a tiny, New York City apartment. Although my sitter was typically adventuring outside with my kiddos, when they would return home, normal, kid chaos tended to ensue. As I did my job, I constantly worried those screaming, crying, gleeful noises coming through on phone calls would make colleagues think I wasn’t working as hard as they were. I struggled to balance two priorities in my world: My family and my work. I constantly questioned myself: Am I being a good parent and wife? Am I being a good colleague?
Fortunately, during my six years at TNTP, I’ve had the chance to interact with parents on staff that have not only shown me the ropes, but keep me motivated to navigate the working-parent dance. It also helps that my needs as a mother (work hours that allow me to be home for dinner, excuse myself to pump, or take calls from the pediatrician’s office when yet another stomach bug strikes) are respected and supported. I still worry about potential judgement sometimes, and still occasionally cringe when work and motherhood get too close. But my time here has led me to believe how necessary it is to understand the priorities that drive people beyond work—family being one of those.
—Molly Moore, Project Director
The Side Hustle
I devote about 10 hours a week to community work. My city has received an unfair national reputation for being a high-crime area relative to its population density. It’s important to me to help change that narrative and motivate the next generation of “changemakers.”
I wouldn't be able to do that if I didn't have a job that was flexible in terms of when and how I choose to do my work. Take a recent week, for example. The local Urban League Young Professionals were hosting a training on community organizing. In addition to training locals, we hosted Mandela Fellows from across Africa who are doing a summer program through the White House. On Tuesday of that week, I served as a coach, helping them develop their personal narratives, from six to nine P.M. Then at nine-thirty P.M., I was back online for TNTP to lead a webinar for the Nevada Teacher Corps because they're in a different time zone. I love that I can be offline early, and then back at my computer later, depending on what works for me and what I need to do in any given week.
My volunteer work keeps me interested and invested in my community, but it also makes me better at my job at TNTP. I work with our AmeriCorps Fellows, so one of my responsibilities is to help connect teachers and students to service projects and civic engagement opportunities. By being active in my own community, I can speak to that from my personal experience. And if I didn't make the time to do what I’m passionate about outside work, I wouldn't enjoy putting in the long hours needed to do my TNTP job well. So whether my volunteer work is about education or a circumstance directly related to education—like poverty or crime—it keeps me energized about the work we're doing, and how important it is.
—Tamara Brown, Site Manager
A few years ago, I was working full-time at TNTP as a communications manager while also trying to prioritize my own creative writing. I knew that wasn’t sustainable—especially if I wanted to finish my book manuscript. But I wasn’t willing to quit. I’m passionate about TNTP’s mission to end educational inequality and I love working with my smart, committed colleagues. So, when the work allowed, I summoned up the courage to propose a part-time schedule to my manager that would allow me to spend two days a week on my writing—and she agreed.
Even though this wouldn’t work for all my colleagues, I’m fortunate that the scope of my role allows me to make a part-time set-up work. It means I have the time and flexibility to attend writing residencies and conferences, teach writing classes, and spend Thursday and Friday squirreled away in my home office, working on my manuscript. At the same time, I’ve also been able to stay fully engaged with some of the most exciting work TNTP is doing—supporting districts in transforming their approach to community engagement.
My new schedule has forced me to be fierce when it comes to prioritizing. But it helps I work from home, and it also helps that my manager is incredibly supportive of my commitment to my writing. She was one of the first people I called to share the news that my first book, a memoir called On the Far Side of the Fire, will be coming out from Beacon Press in the summer of 2018.
—Jessica Wilbanks, Director of Communications