Work: Whenever, wherever
When Shannon Oelkers became pregnant with her first child, she came to a crossroads that many working women face; balancing work and a family. She asked her employer if she could move down to part-time, but was denied.
That change of pace eventually resulted in Oelkers starting her own consulting firm — Integrity Environmental LLC — a consulting group that specializes in environmental and operational permitting, regulatory services and tank/pipeline inspections. Oelkers has created a work environment that employs nine people — with flexible work schedules and a work-from-home model.
Initially, Integrity Environmental LLC began with just Oelkers. After gaining more and more clients, she realized she needed help — but the first person she wanted to hire lived 50 miles away.
“The first person I ran into that I wanted to hire lived in Girdwood,” Oelkers said. “She was like, ‘You’re not going to make me drive into Eagle River, are you?’ And I was like, “I actually don’t think we need to do that.”
Oelkers decided to do consulting rather than going back to a cubicle; office space was too expensive and working from home allowed employees to spend less time commuting and more time with their children. Her non-traditional business model allows her staff to work whenever, wherever.
“Once we started, I could just never see a reason to go back,” Oelkers said. “We don’t have to have a space to sell our widgets, we don’t have to have a place to meet clients. I usually go to [my clients’] offices and meet them there… There were a bunch of people who told me I could never be really successful working [remotely]. They said ‘Nobody is going to take you seriously’… Nine years in and I haven’t had a problem yet.”
According to the Center for Economic Development’s Women in Entrepreneurship report, Alaska leads the nation in percentage of women-owned employer firms.
After growing her business with two loyal employees, Oelkers realized she needed to further expand. She considered an office but everyone she was interested in hiring were primary caregivers of some kind.
“I can get some amazingly qualified people because they want to stay home with their kids, and their other prior employer was not willing to give that to them,” Oelkers said. “I have no problem with that. We’re just making it easy for you to take care of your life.”
Oelkers says that her staff who work from home are just as productive as those would be in an office environment, and the flexibility and ability to create their own schedules has resulted in a very happy and loyal workforce. Five of their nine employees have moved since being hired at Integrity Environmental, but having a remote job allowed them all to stay on staff.
“We can keep our highly-trained, highly-specific [and] highly-technical employees a lot longer,” Oelkers said.
Oelkers encourage those interested in starting their own venture to sit down and map out what the first 12 months of that business would look like.
“If you’ve got a job but you're considering changing or doing something, start it as a side hustle or a side gig and play the game when the stakes aren’t so high,” Oelkers said.
Oelkers says that they are always looking for members to join their remote team, and those interested can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.