As part of our ongoing series “A Better Way to Work,” we interview people who have embraced a more flexible, more productive, better way to work/live. Meet Keith Peglar, EDI Coordinator with Peterson. 

Where are you currently located?

Green Valley, Arizona.

Tell us about what you do.

I am a full-time contractor for a company in Detroit, Michigan; I am the EDI Coordinator. Electronic Data Interchange is how companies send electronic documents from one computer to another…

The company I work for has 10 plants around the world, and I am in charge of 8 of those plants as far as EDI is concerned. Every morning I connect through a virtual private network (VPN) tunneling through the internet to connect my home computer to the company’s computer in Detroit, and it’s basically like I am sitting there in the office.

I check that all the EDI connections and document processing is working correctly, and I check email—whether that is customer or someone else in the organization. I also set up new customers and new customer locations for EDI communications.

Are others in the company working remotely as you are set up?

I am the only EDI person in this situation. However, some of the employees at Peterson will periodically work from home. The way they do that is the same way I do it: using the VPN so it is just like they are sitting in the office at their desk.

Any ways you stay on top of making sure you appear to be there since you are physically separated from the office?

Peterson has a phone [system] set up for me in Detroit, even though I am in Arizona. So anyone calling me would think they are calling an extension in Detroit, so for customers, it seems that I am simply in Detroit.

I also work on Detroit time even though we have 3-hour time difference..

I do everything on their computer—the only thing on my home computer is the software to connect to Peterson. The “master” phone is in Detroit, so through VOIP I am connected to that. There are really 3 servers: the telephone, email, and then the actual computer where I am doing the work.

So if I were for instance doing something on a spreadsheet, the spreadsheet is on the server in Detroit. No matter what I do for Peterson, I do it on their computer.

Is there ever a face-to-face meeting, in-person, where you fly into the Detroit office?

They haven’t seen me for about 6 years. They don’t know how old I am looking!

When I first started with the company, they actually wanted me on site. For the first six months I was driving in to work every day. But I was a snowbird—so in the summer I was there close to the office, and in the winter in Arizona. When it came time for me to leave for Arizona, that is when things came to a head and a decision had to be made. Luckily they decided to allow working from home, and it has worked out very well.

What do other people think about you working remotely or when they find out you work virtually?

Whenever I talked to other people about it, they are usually surprised.

Some of them say, “Oh I could never do that.” And the reason they say that is because things are too distracting around the house in their minds.

So it depends on your circumstances, the nature of your work, and it also depends on your level of work ethic. Your employer has to be able to trust you to do the work.

I do not have any kind of direction from the company—I work completely on what Peterson plants need to get done or what the customer wants, and I just deal with it so I am completely self-governed. 

How is your structure set up?

I generally work 9 to 5 every day. If I had an appointment outside the office I could make up my time at the end of the day, but personally I do not do flex time. I make myself available to Peterson during Peterson’s hours—which is Eastern Time. No one has ever told me what hours to work, so it is up to me, but because of who I am supporting, I need to be working during their work day, otherwise it would get much too complicated. It is just easier for me to work on their time zone, so I am not as flexible as perhaps some other people are.

Any advice for someone who is just starting remote work?

The company has to trust you, and you have to trust them, too. So they have to feel comfortable with you, that you know what you are doing. So if I was straight out of college, I could probably not do that, because I would not have the experience necessarily—I would not have a lot of experience.

I am the opposite. I have been working with computers for 33 years so I bring a lot of computer experience, a lot of office experience, and I have all those years behind me. I have experience guiding me what to do. So that is how I can tend to work completely unguided, you could say; whereas if I did not have a lot of experience, there might have to be more overview of what I do—so that is an important point.

If I was much less experienced, let’s say, then the IT manager might feel less comfortable letting me run my own thing.

Here’s another thing that a previous employer, where I was also a contractor, had: they required a Skype meeting every week, which was fine. We would talk about what was on the horizon, and what we needed to concentrate on, so that was a bit more guided by management than my current gig. With a meeting every week, face-to-face with Skype…so we would talk about what we needed to do.

With my current position, we do sometimes have a telephone meeting with the IT manager where we will talk about things, so I still do that.