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Satellite staff: Working remotely, but connected and happier than ever

October 15, 2021 / 5 min read

While many staff began working remotely in 2020, our satellite staff have been working remotely for years. Why? For some, it’s flexibility; for others, it’s the family time. It’s different for everyone.

While the pandemic has forced many of us to work remotely over the past year and a half, there’s a portion of our workforce that has always been — and always will be — working from home. We call them our “satellite staff.”

You might be wondering what motivated them to seek out this permanent work-from-home status. Well, there’s as many reasons for that as there are satellite staff at our firm. Some of these PMers have never lived near a physical office, whereas others began their careers working in our buildings only to embark on new paths that supported their desire to travel, their need to care for their families, or their commitment to support a partner’s career.

Remote from the beginning

Steve Schelonka, co-leader of our Satellite Staff Resource Group, has been remote since he joined the firm in 2014. Located in Indianapolis, Ind., he travels extensively as part of our information technology consulting practice; therefore, it didn’t make sense for him to relocate since he was already spending a lot of time flying or driving to client sites.

When asked what he likes best about working remotely, Steve points to flexibility and his innovative way of connecting with others despite the distance.

“When I’m not traveling, I’m more available for my family to offset my lack of availability when I am traveling,” Steve says. “Also, clients seem to like when my dog, Newman, makes an appearance. I sometimes think they prefer to see him! So, I make a point to always have my camera on. Then we’ll often strike up conversations about books, sports, and other things based on what’s in my background. I find that being open about my interests is helpful for building relationships.”

Remote and living her best life

While some satellite staff are based in their homes, Senior Tax Manager Pam Wisniewski and her husband are always on the road. Specifically, a 38-foot motorhome. This allows Pam the flexibility of bringing her “office” all over the country. To date, she’s worked out of 16 states!

This hasn’t always been Pam’s typical Plante Moran arrangement. She worked out of the Flint, Mich., office for almost 32 years before setting out on this adventure. And, like most workers, she encountered some bumps from the pandemic but then forged a new path.

“During the pandemic shutdown, my husband was temporarily laid off, which allowed him plenty of  time to tackle our house’s 32-year to-do list,” Pam says. “That meant we could sell our house sooner than we’d expected and get out and travel. So, I approached my team to discuss the possibility of moving to a remote position.”

“In January 2021, we began traveling. We stayed stationary for the main “crunch” of tax season, then we returned to our adventure. Our travels, so far, have included visiting 11 national parks, and we plan to see many more. I love that the firm and today’s technology allow me to take my office with me, wherever I go.”

Remote for a happier family

Trisha Wright, a senior consultant in our risk accounting and advisory services practice living in Grand Junction, Colo., which is four hours from the nearest office, decided to become a remote worker for more personal reasons: her son had expressed interest in attending a high school in a smaller community and she, newly diagnosed with an illness, needed to be closer to family and have more flexibility in her workdays for treatments. 

At first she thought leaving Denver would mean leaving her job — until her team partner convinced her otherwise.

“He asked me, ‘You’ll have internet in that little town, won’t you? Just take your computer and work from there!’” Trisha remembers. “It was a bit scary because, at that time, we only had a couple of remote workers, so we were testing the waters on how it would affect our team. There were some unexpected twists to work out, but we did, and it was an incredible blessing to be able to move closer to family, adjust my schedule for medical treatments, and still provide an income for my son and me.”

Sometimes going remote is in a staff member’s best interests for their long-term career. Other times it’s in the best interests of their partner’s career. That was the case for Christa Leson, a senior advisor with Plante Moran Financial Advisors, who relocated to San Antonio, Texas, after only four years with the firm. She and her husband moved from Michigan so he could pursue his dream of becoming a nurse anesthetist through a joint program between the Army and Baylor University.

She said the whole experience has made her even prouder to work for Plante Moran.

“My team partners and I have always been transparent with each other,” Christa says. “From the beginning, they knew that this opportunity might come along for my husband. It’s been his dream and, since we support each other equally, I wanted to make this happen. I feel so fortunate. I don’t take it lightly that they agreed to my request for a remote option. It makes me — and my family — feel incredibly valued.”

Remote for the right reasons

Not many staff are closer to the Bahamas than a Plante Moran office, but Deepak Agarwal, a principal in our ITC government practice, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. is one of them. He joined the firm in 2014 as a remote worker, primarily to support a high-profile client in Florida. The arrangement has continued smoothly ever since.

According to Deepak, “I might be remote with the firm, but I’m in the vicinity of my largest clients. This allows me to nurture those relationships and have evenings with my family. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship between me and the firm. I’m here for clients, and my family, which gives me a healthy work-life balance.”

Individual options, collective support

Being a satellite worker comes with its challenges — and ensuring these staff feel valued and supported is key to creating a sense of belonging and furthering staff retention. Satellite staff often meet with their teams for regular videoconferencing, have dinner with colleagues while travelling, and set up virtual happy hours and meet-and-greets. It might take more creativity to enhance that feeling of connection, but, according to these staff, it’s absolutely worth it.

Here’s Steve describing how he feels connected as a satellite staff member.

“A while back, I was working at a client location near the Southfield, Mich., office. I’d arranged to meet a colleague for lunch simply because I was in the area. We met up, and the colleague had brought me a cupcake that had been distributed by the WorkFlex Committee to all staff in the office that day. While I wasn’t in the office, that simple gesture — that someone knew I was there and could include me — made all the difference. When you’re far apart, those little gestures can mean the world.”

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