Tara Forster Sowa
Director of Research and Administration
August 05, 2019

Interview with Tara, a remote director of research and administration

A move to be closer to a spouse's job led Tara to remote work—see her tips for staying productive and organized as a full-time remote director.

How did you get started with remote work?

In 2006, my now-husband started a job with a commute of two hours. He stayed near work and came home when he could, but in 2010, we decided that we needed to move closer to his job, for the well-being of both of us.

I approached my managing partner with the situation, and we decided that I could be just as effective working remotely.

We worked out a plan, and then we tried it out for six months while I was still in the city, just to work out any glitches while my husband and I built our home. In late 2011 we made the move, and now we are a 100% remote company.

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What are you working on?

We specialize in senior finance searches, and we’ve just finished up a successful search for the VP Finance of the YMCA of Southwestern Ontario. Currently, we are in the first stages of a couple of confidential finance searches.

I collaborate with the managing partner for each search with respect to strategy and do the bulk of research on our projects, pre-screen potential candidates, and liaise with clients.

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What's your typical work routine?

I get up shortly after my husband leaves for the day and get a workout completed first thing. We follow set work hours, and I take lunch around one, when I typically take our miniature pinscher, Frankie, for a walk.

I am flexible and responsive to the needs of the business, but I prefer to make any needed phone calls in the morning and save administrative work for later in the afternoon.

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Do you have a dedicated space to work?

I do! When we built our house, we added a dedicated office. It has soft green walls and faces south, with a lot of natural light. I love it.

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How do you stay on task?

I am very routine-oriented (ask my husband!). Lists are also very helpful—I love checking things off.

And I do try to complete the most dreaded task first, to get it out of the way.

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What do you like about remote work?

I love that there’s no commute. I start my day relaxed instead of stressed by traffic. I also have more time before and after work to do tasks around the house, or just read for fun!

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What do you not like about remote work?

Sometimes it can feel isolating. We live in a beautiful rural cottage community on the shores of Lake Huron, and during the winter it’s very quiet here.

I need to make an effort to see people then, and as an introvert, sometimes it’s difficult.

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What tools do you use to stay productive?

We use Deskflow, a product of Workflow International. It helps us organize our projects, including everything from scheduling, contact management, and invoicing. It’s fabulous. We also make good use of LinkedIn.

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Do you have any advice for remote workers?

Keep the lines of communication open with your colleagues.

Sometimes picking up the phone is the quickest, best way to get questions answered, solve problems, and confirm that you’re on the same page.

Additionally, if you work from home, I would also recommend creating a ritual that signals the end of the day, separating work life from home life. I like to take our dog for another walk at this time, or sit and chat with my husband before supper.

I might also suggest getting a pet; our dog makes sure I see the outside world at regular intervals, and she’s a great sounding board. She also makes me laugh multiple times a day.

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How do you decide priorities?

The calendar often decides priorities for me. Each search has a pattern of tasks that need to be completed in order, and we allocate a certain block of time for each.

Those tasks always take priority. When I have downtime, I flip over to my list of ongoing background work, things like social media posts and administrative work.

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How do you know when to push yourself vs rest?

Deadlines are the main predictor, but as a fitness buff, I try to listen to my body and state of mind.

If I’m frazzled, maybe it’s time to switch to something else and come back to the challenge later.

Sometimes a change is as good as a rest. Often, I will think of solutions to challenges while out walking.

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What are the biggest issues when companies try remote work?

As with a lot of areas in life, communication is key. If communication is spotty, then it’s easier for things to go sideways. But if everyone is on the same page and we know who is responsible for what, we can do great things.

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Tara Forster Sowa

Tara is the Director of Research and Administration with The Verriez Group, a boutique executive search firm based in Southwestern Ontario. She graduated with a BA from Western University and a specialization in Corporate Communications from Fanshawe College, and started with Verriez in 2000.

By applying her skills in research, search strategies, candidate screening, and evaluation, she has successfully managed the research process for many senior executive assignments locally, nationally and internationally. Tara has taken part in research training sessions offered by the AESC in New York City and Los Angeles and has also attended international summits, such as the European Research Summit held in London, England.

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