Kim Walls, the co-founder and CEO of Bambini Furtuna, a health and wellness company offering natural, organic products, was not built for the nine-to-five office life. The mom of two boys, ages 14 and 17, grew up as a single child on a ranch. By age 6, she was riding her horse for hours on end. In high school, she took zero-hour classes to graduate early. In college at UC Santa Barbara, Kim took seminar and night classes so she could spend six hours a day at the beach. In other words, Kim Walls never really did things exactly like other people.
“I have this long history of desperately not wanting my space controlled by other people,” Walls said during a recent CEO talk with HeyMama. “And then I got into the workforce 20 some years ago and got an office job, and it was like being smacked across the face. I had no control over my life anymore — my choices didn’t matter; my desires didn’t matter; all these people were like ‘you have to be sitting in this seat at this time’ and it simply wasn’t going to be possible. I was going to fail. I did fail.”
But Walls‘ failure as an office worker gave her the freedom and the drive to create a new kind of work environment — one that, now in the era of COVID-19, has become a necessity. A reported 20% of Americans are now working from home, an option not available to everyone, of course, as an estimated one in five American workers have lost their job as a result of the virus. But for companies who have made the switch, and workers who have been able to transition to a remote work environment, Walls sees a chance to usher in a new way of working that better supports the worker, their family, and their communities, now and in the future.
“I’m super excited about the future of work and how that impacts all of us, especially as women, and how it gives us more opportunities in the future,” Walls said. “Not only for ourselves, but for our children and the generations that will come after us.”
Walls has over 20 years of experience cultivating and maintaining companies that work remotely. What is new for many employers and workers was already her normal. And while the current difficulties facing employees and employers who are now working from home while simultaneously juggling childcare, household responsibilities, and for many parents, facilitating e-learning for their children, Walls experience can serve as a guide for businesses who are not only working remotely now, but plan to continue once the current public health crisis passes.
“I am not what I would call an expert in the future of work,” Walls said. “I’m a super fan of the conversation, and the part that I have a lot of experience with is very specifically the part about remote work and empowering people to work successfully together in teams and as individuals in a remote context.”
According to Walls, the first step to remote working success is to acknowledge the characteristics in an employee that would assist them in thriving in a remote work environment. Not everyone is built to work-from-home, and in reality, the economy needs both: people who work well in an office, and people who work well outside of it. Successfully identifying who is who, Walls says, is step one in setting your business up for success in any work environment.
“The benefits of remote work expand exponentially when people get to choose which they would prefer,” Walls said. “And it doesn’t have to be all one way or the other. The most successful balance is, statistically, three to four days of remote work, and one to two days in an office.”
Those who will likely gravitate to a work-from-home situation, Walls says, are people who are self-motivated, good communicators, resourceful, tech savvy, have the ability to self-evaluate and reflect, are independent and great at prioritizing, and are both confident and trustworthy.
These are traits Walls has herself, and while she claimed it was a coincidence, it is also why it was almost predestined that she would find a way to work without being chained to a desk.
“I was a dysfunctional office worker. I tried it twice, lasted a couple months. I hated it; I was out,” Walls said. “So my only choice ended up being setting up situations where I could work remotely. And 20 years ago, that was not a thing, which is partly why I ended up making my own businesses. Because I wanted to work; I wanted to contribute. I also wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I also wanted to be out into the world — I wanted to be traveling. A big part of what I do is creating products, and that requires inspiration. I have to go out into the world and see and feel and hear, and none of those things were possible from an office.”
At a time when moms are told they must constantly strive to “have it all” — in a culture that provides little-to-no actual support by way of mandatory paid family leave, affordable childcare, equal pay, or access to health care that isn’t tied to a traditional job — Walls said she was the subject of judgment by those who didn’t understand her want and need to work outside an office.
“I was very alienated, originally, as a woman, because I wanted to be with my kids,” she said. “And it struck me as unfair. It felt very unnecessary.”
And, of course, it was absolutely necessary. A 2018 study of 500 moms who run their own businesses found that 94% believe “running a business leaves a positive impression on their kids, teaching them important qualities such as work ethic, responsibility, leadership, commitment, and self-confidence.” The same study found that 84% believe their children will become entrepreneurs themselves.
“I think [remote working] is a big step in the right direction to help build our communities, strengthen our families, and get rid of some of the health problems out there,” Walls said. “You know, the high stress … the things where you can see on the outside that people are really hurting.”
Prior to COVID-19, 44% of companies did not allow remote working, even though 40% of people believe they’d benefit from working-from-home and 76% of workers would leave their current employer for a company that offered more flexible work hours. And now that the pandemic has uncovered the possibilities of working remotely — and how seamlessly it can be implemented by a number of companies and employers can meet the needs and work accommodations of their employees — Walls hopes to see the country’s workforce not return to “normal,” but embrace a new normal that is not only more sustainable, but lends itself to higher productivity rates and happier employees who stay in their jobs for longer periods of time.
She hopes that what has been normal for her for over 20 years, will become the new normal for us all.
“It’s so exciting, to me, to see this: a chance for this way of working to become truly acceptable, and even great,” Walls said. “We have a chance to not only embrace, but push forward this pathway. To hire people and to speak positively of it and have conversations that aren’t, ‘Oh, woe is me. This sucks.’ This sucks, but chaos creates opportunity, and crisis creates opportunity, and this is a time when I think we can really make a big difference by changing the way we talk about working from home.”