Mike Fair is living his retirement dream on a lake in Maine while still working full-time managing cybersecurity for his Ohio-based employer.
Fair, an associate vice president of information security at Victoria’s Secret, began working from home early in the pandemic while still living in Columbus, Ohio, the headquarters for the multinational women’s lingerie company. He realized quickly, and to his surprise, that he was very effective working outside of the office.
That quickly led to bigger plans with his wife and three teenagers, who are home-schooled.
“It made me think, ‘if I can do this from my home in Columbus, I could do it elsewhere, like a house on a lake,'” he said. “We started looking at things a little differently.”
Fair’s remote work is part of a major, pandemic-sparked shift at companies nationwide to look at whether or how much employees need to be in the office. Early telework during the pandemic saw more rank-and-file workers such as consultants and software developers move to Maine for safety reasons as they continued to work for companies across the country.
More recently, that trend has extended to the executive suite, where managers like Fair are both reporting to the home office and managing far-flung staff teams. That broader geography also helps companies like Victoria’s Secret find scarce cybersecurity talent, essentially bringing the company to skilled workers rather than trying to bring them to the home office. The $5.4 billion publicly traded company has 25,000 employees and 1,400 retail stores worldwide.
Companies in Maine and throughout the country are slowly moving to hybrid work models, although most are still experimenting with the best way to do that for them and their employees, a study by McKinsey & Co. found.
It’s also not clear to what degree companies will adopt fully remote work, which is in its early stages. Few executives think company culture can survive a purely remote work setup, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study. However, most said the shift to remote work has been successful, and they plan to invest in more tools for virtual collaboration and to train managers to handle a virtual workforce.
“Talent is so scarce and such a challenge to get that certain companies are going to make teleworking part of their recruitment strategy and part of their ability to hold onto their employees,” said Peter DelGreco, president and CEO of Maine & Co., an economic development company that attracts businesses to the state.
He said telework is under discussion by senior leadership at all of Maine’s big companies, but he’s not sure to what degree it is being adopted. Some jobs don’t require a worker to be at the office. But people with less experience may want to go into the office to be mentored, he said.
“It’s really a complicated issue that everyone’s grappling with,” DelGreco said.
Fair said it’s necessary to allow telework to some extent because of the shortage of talented workers. However, telework at Victoria’s Secret is based on the requirements of the job and the needs of the business, not necessarily individual preferences.
Fair, who manages 17 people on two cybersecurity teams located outside of Maine, found a home using online realtor websites and moved his family to Lincoln in April, which was the first time he set foot in the state.
He knew from the start that he had his work cut out for him both in upgrading his new home and getting an office ready inside of it. The home used lake water that was not potable, so he had to have a well drilled to get drinkable water indoors. He also planned for power outages in the rural area and for a backup to his high-speed internet.
“This will be our first winter in Maine, so there’s an expectation of power outages,” he said. Getting a backup generator was important, as was setting up a backup for his Spectrum cable internet. He lives between two cell phone towers, so he will use a cellular internet should the Spectrum network go down.
“Streamed calls take up 30 to 40 hours of my time a week,” he said. “At 6 a.m. I’m talking to our team in Bangalore, India, and I’m talking to a vendor or someone else until 7 p.m.”
He said the key to being productive is having a dedicated office in the house where he can close the door. But not having a commute gives him more time with his family and access to the lake to enjoy the boat he inherited from his dad seven years ago.
“I always had visions of retirement on a lake and with the pandemic, I realized I could be just as effective working remotely as in the office,” he said.