300-mile telecommute supports research

From her home in Gig Harbor, Wash., Lynn Fister plays a dynamic role in helping WSU faculty and graduate students achieve their research goals.

Fister, faculty support coordinator for the Office of Grant and Research Development, leads the OGRD Core 1 team. Among other things, the team coordinates with researchers to:
• create proposals and find funding opportunities,
• manage prestigious faculty awards and the Office of Research’s Missions to DC program,
• run limited submission proposal processes.

And Fister does it all from the Westside.

“I help faculty in any way possible,” Fister said.

Fister’s home office assistants are her laptop computer, cell phone, e-mail and AOL Instant Messenger, which she uses to communicate with her Pullman-based assistant, Research Projects Support Coordinator Anna-Melissa Lyons.

This electronic technology allows her to multitask and remain connected to co-workers and researchers in Pullman, despite the 300-mile divide. And, because of the dearth of distractions, Fister says she is producing more from home than she did at the OGRD office.

It is uncommon for WSU employees to telecommute, and Fister worked at the OGRD office in Pullman for about six months before asking to work from home. However, Fister’s employers, Dan Nordquist, director of the OGRD, and James Petersen, vice provost for research for the Office of Research, were willing to try the arrangement. Beginning her telecommuting on a four-month trial basis, Fister proved she was capable of continuing her high productivity from Gig Harbor.

“The part I am always grateful for is employers who think progressively and are willing to explore new possibilities,” Fister said, “which, in this case, has been a win for both of us.

“The foundation of a successful working relationship is good communication and trust,” Fister said. “After telecommuting, I have grown in my ability to communicate effectively.”

While trust and communication are vital elements of working from a distance, so is desire. Fister’s eyes light up when she talks about watching the researchers she has advised finish a project.

“I get involved with them and get close to their research,” she said. “It’s a privilege to have that experience, to add value to faculty members’ lives in their phenomenally busy schedules.”

Fister travels to Pullman every few weeks to attend meetings, talk with researchers and reconnect with coworkers.

“If I’m needed in Pullman, I’m available to come,” she said.

WSU pays for her travel about half the time — for regular work visits. But she also routinely combines work with personal visits that she pays for.

Fister drives every time, insisting it is faster and easier than waiting for a flight at the airport. Plus, it gives her the chance to listen to books on tape.

Despite 10 hours of travel during Pullman visits, Fister overall saves money on gas compared to a daily commute. And she believes avoiding a daily commute — amid potentially treacherous, congested Westside traffic — makes her more alert and effective.

Fister makes telecommuting sound like a beautiful thing. The only problem with working from home is that — with technology, a home office and a kitchen at her fingertips — there is no reason to leave.

“I need to get out and get some exercise,” she laughs.

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