When I came to work for the Foundation in 2016, I was the first full-time employee with Marfan Syndrome. Originally, I worked mostly in the office, then part-time at home, and now I am fully remote as I moved to Kansas City, MO back in April. My transition coincided with the work-from-home movement that was made necessary by COVID-19. Like the Foundation, in a time of social distancing, more and more businesses are learning the value of remote jobs for their employees. While many people thrive working in the office, I have experienced first-hand how working from home has so many benefits, especially if you have a chronic condition. I believe that for those of us with chronic conditions, remote work is so much more than just a job perk. It’s a professional lifeline. How so? Here are my ten benefits to working remote with a chronic condition:
1. Lower Daily Costs
Day to day charges are cut down or completely out when working from home. Without your daily commute, costs for gas or public transportation is brought down exponentially. You are also less likely to order takeout for lunch or spend money on coffee runs when you can just get it from home. While the grocery bill for snacks may go up, the tradeoff definitely leans in your favor at the end of the day. The money you save can be used in any way that benefits you both physically and mentally.
The proof is in the data. When outside stressors are taken out of the equation, worker productivity goes up. Your mind is clearer and you are able to focus on your work.
I know this from my own experience, but it’s been documented too. In Stanford University’s two-year remote work productivity study, researchers followed 500 employees divided into remote and traditional working groups. The remote working group results not only showed a boost in work productivity, but also fewer sick days and a 50 percent decrease in employees burn out.
3. No Commute
Let’s face it, even without a pandemic, going to an office daily isn’t always easy for those with chronic conditions. On my worst pain days, my mind may be fine, but my body won’t cooperate and a one and a half-hour bus or train ride definitely won’t help with that. Eliminating a required work commute takes away the physical strain that driving and public transportation can cause. There is no sitting in traffic uncomfortably or running to catch a bus while your blood pressure rises too much (something I know my cardiologist doesn’t like). Not only is that better for the body physically, but it also helps reduce stress mentally.
4. Creating a Comfortable Working Space
Whether your optimal working environment is being surrounded by pillows and wrapped in a blanket or sitting cross-legged on your living room floor with an ice pack (or, if you’re like me, it’s either of these depending on the day), remote jobs are the way to go. Decorating a cubicle to show your personality is one thing, but curating the space where you work at home to best fit your comfort needs is a huge benefit for those with a chronic condition. Personally, with my Marfanoid back, my heating pad has a permanent space on my desk chair. No matter your diagnosis, you make it what you need for you.
5. More Job Opportunities
Remote work allows people with chronic conditions not just to have full time jobs, but to also excel in them. It also opens doors to jobs that may not have been an option before. When you work from the comfort of your own home, the job opportunities can be endless. While you may need to live in a warmer climate to help ease your joint pain, there may not be enough jobs in your field to go around. Remote jobs allow you to live where you want, even if your job’s headquarters are in a different place entirely.
6. Working in a Judgment Free Zone
Now, I don’t know about you, but there are times when I don’t like people to see when I’m not at my best. When Marfan gets in the way of me doing my job, I get embarrassed. While I know I have some of the most understanding colleagues I could ask for, when I was working in an office, I still had a fear of judgement when it came to how I deal with my Marfan “issues” during the work day. Now, working from home, the only judgement I get is from my dog. When my back is killing me while sitting in my desk chair, I now have no problem laying in the middle of the floor with ice or a heating pad to make it feel better. If I need to stretch, I can. If I need to make noises reflecting my pain, I can. My home office is a safe space for me to live with my condition whether it’s a good day or a bad one.
After having discussions with your supervisor, many companies and organizations allow for more flexibility with works hours and start times when working remotely. This can help when needing to schedule doctor’s appointments or when needing some time to focus on yourself medically. When I would get migraines at the office, it would be a struggle to get home to treat them. Working from home, I can tell my supervisor what is going on, step away to treat the migraine, and make up the time when I feel better. Even further, a lot of remote jobs are freelance or done on a contract basis. This makes flexibility in your job even more possible as you can set your own timelines to get a job done and choose the days you work.
8. Reduced Stress
On top of the everyday stresses of life and living with Marfan syndrome, I’ve learned over the years that working in an office provides its own level of strenuous factors. With anything from gossip at the water cooler and office politics to sharing a staff bathroom, these factors can make a tough “Marf” day even worse. While working from home can never fully defeat these challenges, it can help you cope with them a lot easier. For example, when a particularly tough phone call is over, you just hang up. In an office setting, the tension can change the dynamic of the whole room. Once again, your space is yours and you have the freedom to step away when you need to.
9. More Time for Self-Care
Remember all that time you save from not commuting to and from the office? That time can be spent taking care of yourself. Whether it’s morning meditation or just taking stock of your day when it’s done, remote jobs provide more time for you to focus on you. As long as you can keep the balance of work-to-personal responsibilities during your day (e.g., putting a load of laundry in then making it to your post-lunch zoom call), you can enjoy the new found extra time. And self-care isn’t just about pampering and relaxation, you can also use the time to fine tune your skills and undertake professional development. Take an online course or watch a webinar. Anything to help you balance your condition with your job journey.
10. Better Overall Well-Being
Bottom line, I have found that working remotely has made a huge difference in both my emotional and physical well-being. With no commute, no lunch rush, and no long hours stuck at your desk away from loved ones, working remotely can improve your health and wellness by reducing stress on both body and mind. In addition, there are the benefits of avoiding office politics, judgment. A diagnosis of Marfan or another chronic condition should not keep you from a job opportunity that is right for you, and with a remote job, you can have the chance to not only have the job you want, but also thrive in it.
Dominga Noe was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome when she was nine years old. Originally from California, she began working for The Marfan Foundation in 2016 at its New York headquarters. Now she lives and works from Kansas City, MO as the Foundation's Marketing and Design Manager. A long-time Foundation volunteer, Dominga is the first staff member who has Marfan.