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The Remote Girl Banker: How One Community Banker Took Her Work On the Road

The Remote Girl Banker: How One Community Banker Took Her Work On the Road

I’m happy to have fellow girl banker and friend, Molly Carpenter, VP, Marketing and Public Relations of FNBC Bank, as a guest blogger on the Girl Banker blog! Molly has a unique working situation, especially for a banker, in that she works remotely from her community bank. Here is her story! 

I am a fourth-generation community banker who does not live in a community my bank serves. In fact, I don’t live anywhere near a community my bank serves. For the past year, I have been working from my house in Bentonville, Arkansas, an almost four-hour drive from my bank’s headquarters. I spend approximately 70 percent of my time in Bentonville and 30 percent at our bank’s headquarters in Ash Flat.

I had been with the bank about four years when I made the pitch to work remotely in December 2016. I love my job, but I was at a point in my life where I really needed to spread my wings a bit more. It took my boss about six months to finally give me the green light and another six months for my home to sell. I closed in mid-December, and on December 26, 2017, I made the move across the state and kicked off a new fiscal year in a new town and a new working environment.

I think my boss would tell you today he would still much rather have me in the bank every day, but that this hasn’t been as painful as he originally thought. In our early discussions, he realized this was an opportunity to test remote working for future employees and to retain an employee he and the bank were invested in. We live in a very rural part of Arkansas, and recruiting top talent has become increasingly difficult. While customer-facing roles require you to be on site, there are certainly roles that can be designed with more flexibility. I oversee marketing for our 11 branches, so I don’t have to be physically present every day, but I do need to be hands-on part of the time. Through a bit of trial-and-error, we’ve figured out a schedule that works pretty well for both sides.

I enjoy the flexibility working remotely provides for my life. While I try to be available as much as I can during banking hours, sometimes I hop on early so I can wrap up my day earlier. Sometimes I work through lunch so I can get more done and not be at my computer too late. I believe we do our best thinking in clothes that are comfortable, so not having to put on my “banker uniform” each day is also pretty nice. And on a personal note, I’ve been able to create a social life that wasn’t available to me back home.

Molly on location at FNBC’s main office in Ash Flat, Arkansas.

If I told you the last year has been a breeze, I would be lying. There have certainly been lessons learned and I have seen myself transform as a professional and as a woman. I tied a lot of my identity to my role as a community banker. Working remotely, especially in an area where we don’t have a physical presence, I miss out on having a place in the community. I continue to serve on several boards back home, but in Bentonville, I don’t feel like I’m in a position to contribute in a worthwhile way. It was hard for me at first to feel like I was still a true community banker when I wasn’t there every day and I was wearing leggings and sweatshirts, but over time I have embraced more of who I really am as an individual, and not just a community banker.

Perhaps you have a substantial commute to work each day, or you could use some flexibility to help you be a better parent and employee. Maybe it’s as simple as you just need time away from the noise and distractions to get some things done. Or, maybe you’re in executive leadership at a rural community bank and are struggling to attract the quality of hires you need to sustain and grow your organization. If any of these resonate with you, a remote working opportunity is worth discussing and exploring. Remote work can take on many different forms from something similar to my set up or even just a few days a week.

If you decide to start working remotely, even part of the time, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned:

  1. Communicate with your supervisor. My boss and I committed to one another last year that we would have open dialogue about what was working and what wasn’t as we moved forward with this arrangement. We meet regularly and always work in at least a few minutes to discuss how things are going. It’s important for your supervisor to know and be aware of the good and the bad parts of working remotely. It’s equally important for you to know if there’s an area that your supervisor feels is losing attention because you’re not there every day. Often times, just talking it out remedies things on both sides.
  2. Be as flexible and accommodating as you can to your bank and management team. In my situation, my move was entirely personal. I know I have been given an incredible opportunity not afforded to everyone, so if my boss needs me to be in the bank, I’m there.
  3. Be as accessible to your colleagues as you would be when in the office. I’m a community banker and I am one of only 100 employees. If I am unavailable or unreachable for very long, someone is going to notice. I have been asked if I am tempted to watch TV or take naps during the day. Honestly, I’m not. You might be different. You don’t want to become known as the co-worker who is never available or who is unreachable.
  4. Create a routine early on and stick to it. Rolling out of bed at 7:55 a.m. and stumbling to my computer doesn’t feel great to me. While I don’t have to put on a pencil skirt and heels, or have my hair and make-up done at 8 a.m. when I’m working remotely, I still maintain a routine that gets me up and going as early as I would if I were in the bank. I like to get my workout done in the morning, so I found a workout I love (OrangeTheory Fitness!) and make it to as many 6 a.m. classes as I can during the week. I could write an entire post on the importance of exercise and stamina in leadership – maybe one day I will! Even if you are getting up early to have a cup of coffee and read the news, creating some time and space for you to prepare for the work day ahead is important.
  5. Keep your work space away from your living space. My first six months were spent living in a small, one-bedroom apartment. My living room was my office, and that was really tough. I couldn’t ever really leave for the day. Now, my three-bedroom house allows me to have a room that is strictly my office. When I’m not working, I keep the door closed and the lights off. Even if you’re working from home, you still need to be able to walk away from your work at the end of the day.
  6. Take breaks. It’s easy to look down and it see it’s already mid-afternoon and you’ve barely been up for air. I struggled with feeling guilty if I took too much time away from my computer, but have found that it’s really important to my overall well-being. Get out of your house and take a short walk, run an errand or go grab a coffee. Because you’re in a smaller space, you’re naturally going to be moving less than when you’re in the office. It’s important to move around some throughout the day to keep your mind fresh and focused.
  7. Don’t get too lonely. I am a functioning introvert, so I absolutely miss my people. I miss popping into offices throughout the day, catching up over lunch in the break room, and just being out and about in my community. While my fur child Mabel Louise certainly keeps my company, I do crave human interaction. When this happens, get out of the house and find somewhere new to work for the day. Coffee shops are always great, but many urban areas now offer a variety of co-working spaces you can pay to drop into for the day. I will be honest and say I am really bad to not follow this advice, but I know how good I feel when I actually do get out of the house and plug in with a new view.
  8. Prioritize your time. This may happen naturally for you, but I had to be very aware of how I was scheduling my time in the bank. I usually know my travel schedule one to two months in advance, so I do my best to stack my days on-site with as many face-to-face interactions as I can. That may involve project or leadership meetings, or simply having lunch with some of my co-workers. But I strive to not be holed up inside my bank office the entire time I’m in town. Sure, that means travel weeks are a bit less productive from a tangible standpoint, but don’t forget how valuable relationship building and maintaining is for your career.

If I had to do it over again, I would do it in a heartbeat. I am so grateful for what this opportunity has allowed for my career and my personal life. I’m also thankful to work for a community bank and leadership team that recognizes the value I bring to our organization and took a big leap of faith and allowed me to move across the state.

If you are considering making your pitch to work remotely or would like to chat with me or my CEO about how this arrangement has worked for our bank, feel free to reach out to me at mjcarpenter@fnbc.us.

Molly is a fourth generation community banker at FNBC Bank where she is Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations. A remote-employee of the North Central Arkansas-based bank, Molly lives and works from home in Bentonville, Arkansas. A proud millennial, she is the youngest member of FNBC’s Senior Leadership Team, chairs the Sharp County Community Foundation, is vice chair of the Spring River Ambulance and Paramedic Service Board, is treasurer of the Spring River Innovation Hub and serves on the Ozarka College Foundation Board. In 2015, she was named one of Arkansas Business’ 20 in their 20s: The New Influentials and one of the Independent Community Bankers of America’s Top 20 Community Banking Influencers on Twitter. She is a proud dog mom to Mabel Louise and doting auntie to James Cole.

Mom Guilt

Mom Guilt

I’m a mom. It’s my most important job. I have two boys, a husband, a house, two dogs, two fish, and a career. I commute an hour and a half to work and attempt to be home by 6:00 pm each night. I am terrible at cooking and we are lucky to be eating dinner by 8:00 pm. Who am I kidding? We are lucky to be eating dinner by 9:00 pm most days and by dinner I mean Domino’s Pizza, cereal or maybe I got lucky and my mom made an extra casserole. Seriously, I am TERRIBLE at cooking.

I am fortunate that my mom and mother-in-law watch my children during the day and that my husband, who works much closer to home, gets our eldest to school each morning and is extremely helpful with our morning routine. I couldn’t do it without their help.

I invest a lot of energy into my job because I am passionate about it and I truly love what I do. I have worked hard to get where I am and honestly don’t feel I will be satisfied until I get to the absolute top because that’s just how I am wired. And don’t ask me what the “top” is because I don’t have that figured out yet. I also never miss a ball game or practice, I help as much as I can with school activities, I make sure everyone’s pits and booties are washed every night, and I make a valid effort to tackle a mountain of laundry every weekend. (I swear the laundry pro-creates in the bin overnight). But I never feel like I’m doing a good enough job. Which job you ask? Take your pick!

I suffer from what our society has coined as Mom Guilt. While at work, I feel guilty for not being home with my boys. For not being able to go eat lunch with my son on a regular basis at his school. For not witnessing all of my youngest son’s firsts and essentially allowing someone else to be with my children during the majority of the day. When I add up the waking hours that I am with my boys, I feel ashamed and sad. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.

Brody is my eldest and is a spitting image of his dad. He has an old soul and is obsessed with hunting and farming.

Then there is the other side of the coin. I work for a very family-friendly company that empowers their employees to spend time with family when needed. I’m often encouraged by my boss to leave early enough to get home so that I can avoid the awful traffic of my commute. But when I do need to stay home with a sick kid or come in late because of a school program, that pesky guilt shows up again. However, this time, I’m guilty for not being at work and getting my job done. What if someone else has to pick up the slack in my absence? What if that project doesn’t get done on time? Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.

Recently, my youngest had Croup and the only thing that made him feel better was for me to hold him, which I did for three days straight. During those three days I got lots of good baby snuggles, an unintended upper body workout from wrangling all 30 pounds of him nonstop, and time to watch the first two seasons of Stranger Things. I tried to get some work done on my laptop but that’s not easy with a sick toddler in your lap. I became anxious about not reporting to work and worried that I was letting the bank down. The day before he got sick I had booked one of the largest loans of my career and had embarked on a project that could change the course of my future. It’s not like I had just been twiddling my thumbs. However, I allowed this voice in my head to tell me that I was failing. Not one person from work had said a word. If anything they were concerned about my son’s health. I was right where I needed to be and there’s no doubt about it. But still, the inner battle of Mom Guilt was in full-on war mode.

One day, when the struggle was particularly difficult, I wondered what other moms did to keep it all together. So, I did what people do in 2017 and turned to Facebook. I simply posted:

“WORKING MAMAS | Whether you work away from the home or at home, I am interested to know your biggest troubles, stresses, etc. as a working mom and how you attempt to balance it all.”

My intent was to start a conversation with the FB universe to see if anyone else even felt the same way. The second I hit “post” I feared that I was alone or that I would be viewed as a selfish mom who was choosing a career over her family. Or maybe, just maybe, there were more women just like me. I had a strategic planning session that day at work and wasn’t able to monitor the conversation that I had started. I picked up my phone a few hours later and was taken aback by the comments and private messages that were pouring in. I even received a few text messages from friends who had read the post and were making sure I was ok and followed up with words of sympathy just in case. But the common denominator was simple: they ALL felt GUILTY in some form or fashion. One new working mom sent me a message thanking me for posting because she felt she was alone. It gave her comfort to know that others struggled as well. Another said she was surprised to hear I struggled with this because I present myself as someone who has it all together. Sheesh! If she only knew!

My youngest, Witten. He’s a fireball and the most likely Bartholomew boy to be a banker based on his personality!

It’s important to point out that I don’t want to discount those who stay home with their children as opposed to working outside of the home. I’m sure if we compared notes, both working and non-working mommas have their own sets of struggles and dealings with Mom Guilt. I had one Facebook friend who commented that after the birth of her children she elected to stay at home. While she was appreciative of having the ability to stay at home with her kids every day, (removed but) she felt guilty for not contributing to the household finances by not having a paying job. I believe it’s safe to say that regardless of the circumstances, all of us feel like we are falling short of being Super Mom – whatever that is.

I am positive there are people out there who think I am crazy for commuting an hour and half to work, which may lead them to question my parenting abilities or label me as a “bad mom”. Or maybe that’s me being too worried what other people think. At the end of the day, if my commute and my career are OK with my family, then why should I worry about what others think? And who am I to judge any other mom out there doing what is best for her and her family? Is there a guideline that states what is required to be labeled a “good mom”? I remember being told one time that the reason you don’t see many women in the banking C-Suite is because there is a point in every woman’s career where she finds herself at a fork in the road. One path leads to a successful career at the expense of their family and the other leads them to their family at the expense of their career. There is no middle road where she can have both, where she can have it all. Well, I think that’s crap. I definitely don’t have it completely figured out yet, but I am determined to find that middle road because I refuse to believe that it does not exist. I like to think that my sons are being raised to appreciate a mom who is a strong, working woman who can transition from career to family in a matter of seconds. Perhaps they will be more independent as a result and value a good work ethic in their future mate.

I let Mom Guilt get me down daily. It can really steal my joy both at home and at work as it creeps in and reminds me of my shortfalls and inadequacies. Perhaps it’s my own high expectations and standards of top performance or the unrealistic stigmas about the perfect family that social media reminds us about. Regardless, I am never good enough in my own eyes. But here’s the deal: I don’t think there is a cure to the epidemic of Mom Guilt, and that sucks. But I also think we are our own harshest critics. Instead, we need to be having this conversation more often and tell each other that it’s OK. Let’s stop pretending like we are the only ones who don’t have it all together, because none of us really do. We all have our faults and weaknesses, but we are doing the best we can. We all need to do our part in lifting each other up and make a valid effort to not cast those judgmental stares or make assumptions of other mom’s situations. You just never know what she may be dealing with, and Lord knows this mom gig ain’t easy!