Working remotely -- and happily -- in the U.P.

The pandemic ushered in an entirely different work culture for many employees. 

With the introduction of working remotely, people were given a choice to truly live where they wanted to, regardless of where their company headquarters might be situated. This newfound freedom led to many workers moving to places with more recreation, natural scenery, and space.

For some, the perfect place to live, work, and play is right here, and they are fully embracing the U.P. lifestyle.

Young people and professionals throughout all stages of their careers seeking out work-life balance, downtown amenities, entertainment, recreation, and wildlife are choosing the U.P. as their home base. This slower pace of life doesn’t equate to a lull in professional success, though.

Many remote workers are in the midst of thriving careers at national organizations, all while working from their home offices right here. We're sharing the stories and perspectives of three remote workers in the U.P.:

John Furno, loads and dynamic structural analyst in the aerospace industry

Detroit native John Furno spent time in the Iron Mountain area in the seventies and eighties. After attending college at the University of Notre Dame and grad school at the University of Michigan, he moved to California, and then Alabama. During the initial months of the pandemic, Furno moved back to Iron Mountain to be close to his family. Today, he works remotely as a loads and dynamic structural analyst for a company within the aerospace industry. 

In his job, which is similar to coding, Furno has decades of experience in both software and aerospace, assessing designs and managing risk. 

Furno says many of his coworkers are dispersed across the country, situated in California, Seattle, and Alabama, and meetings are virtual. 

John Furno“Fortunately, the site that I report through is in the same time zone, central time zone so that is helpful. The counties that border Wisconsin – Menominee, Dickinson, Iron and Gogebic – are in different time zones,” he says. 

This attention to detail, with things like acknowledging potential time zone differences, is one of the skills Furno believes is crucial for remote work.

“Work can come at you at all times with teammates across the country, and you have to be aware of their time schedules,” he says. “You have to be a bit more flexible, but the benefit is I do have that flexibility. I can take off for 10 minutes, make a quick errand in town, and be back at work with no issues.”

Although some employers are hesitant to hire remote workers and want employees to return and remain onsite at headquarters, Furno hopes to dispel some of the myths surrounding remote work.

“I think there’s a misconception that you can’t establish relationships,” Furno says of remote work. “I fully acknowledge that it’s not the same, but I’ve been able to ‘meet people.’ I think talking to somebody, sharing a screen, you can get a long way towards creating that teamwork.”

While remote workers typically miss out on things like potlucks and regular get-togethers with co-workers, Furno encourages companies to still host teamwork and relationship-building events even if just a couple times a year. 

Ultimately, though, this professional says the benefits outweigh the downfalls. 

“The first benefit of working remotely is that I can help my parents,” Furno says. “I live a mile from them and can help them in their golden years. I get to spend time with friends and neighbors from decades ago and get re-engaged with the community. I’m helping out with local robotics programs, supporting local track meets, joining the local rotary club, and participating in lots of volunteer activities that are available in a small town.”

He especially enjoys the zero-hour commute to work, even more so in the wintry conditions.

“I get a couple of hours almost for free it seems because there is no commute,” Furno says. “The office is just down the hall, and I like to think I’m as productive, maybe a little bit more so, in getting stuff done remotely.”

He advises employers who are looking to hire remotely to be fully prepared and set up success for their employees. 

“You certainly want to provide the tools and processes to perform efficiently,” he says. “For example, I went through a complete computer refresh remotely, and it was an outstanding experience. I was given shipping labels, receipts, etc, and it went almost flawlessly. My advice is to be prepared if you’re going to start looking at remote workers as an option, to support the infrastructure needs like a laptop and badge.”

As for job seekers looking for remote opportunities, Furno advises anyone to be aware of state income tax issues. There are different rules for part-time residents and full-time residents, and those living and working (remotely) in a different state than where their job is physically located. 

“Be aware of it, discuss it with the employer on how that’s handled and understand what the employer’s expectations are, where they are located, and where you’re working from,” Furno says. “Different states have different rules, and may or may not have reciprocity agreements. I’ve experienced that the rules change between partial resident and non-resident status, too. My advice is to have that discussion with employers or prospective employers.”

Christine Manninen, independent communications contractor and owner of a log cabin resort 

Growing up in the Chassell and Tapiola areas south of Houghton and Hancock in the Keweenaw Peninsula, Christine Manninen attended Michigan Technological University for biological and environmental science. Following graduation, she attended Michigan State University and worked on Great Lakes policy and communications. 

For 21 years, Manninen worked for the Great Lakes Commission, an interstate agency in Ann Arbor. Then in 2018, she began working as an independent contractor.  Today, she works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) doing communication and website development.  She splits her time between Ann Arbor and the U.P., running a log cabin resort that’s been in her family for 100 years. From April through October, she lives in Chassell, and the other months of the year, she lives in Chelsea, about a half hour outside of Ann Arbor. 

“I don’t think you really miss a place until you leave it. That’s what I’ve found,” Manninen says. “I loved the U.P. growing up, but out of college, I wanted to leave the area, move to new places, and travel. I was very fortunate in my career to be able to do that. I traveled to Europe and South America with my job. It was great, but I really appreciated coming back to the U.P. more now than I did growing up. I guess I’m more of a country girl, I like living in quiet, peaceful areas where I can get out, hike, kayak and all those things.”

Manninen had longed for a remote work schedule in order to run her family cabins up north, but many supervisors did not approve of the idea. Spurred by the pandemic, Manninen is happy to see more companies embrace the new company culture. 

“The pandemic pushed us into that new work structure, which I think was long overdue,” she says. “ From the people I speak to, they have fuller lives not working in an office environment for 40-50 hours a week. It really opened people’s eyes, they can spend more time with their family, and I think it’s been a really positive change.”

Working remotely can be tough due to extra distractions like children or even pets in the ‘office’ setting, and requires discipline.  

“I do really well working in a two to three-hour span of time. I push on something for three hours, get up, make lunch, or go take my dog for a walk,” Manninen says. “You need to manage your time, and know what works for you functionally to make you the most productive and happiest throughout the day.”

Manninen encourages employees seeking remote opportunities to test it out and show the results to companies. 

“Maybe working remotely for a week or two to prove the concept to some employers might be helpful. Showing an employer that it’s feasible is really important,” she says.

Remote Workforce Keweenaw also provides tools, connections and resources for residents and those looking to relocate for remote work. The organization provides provide a portal to the Keweenaw area, showcasing the benefits of affordable housing, natural beauty, lower crime, and more space.

Callie New, assistant vice president of planning and advisory services for consulting firm

Originally from Wyoming, Callie New has spent time all over the world, including Oregon, N.Y.C., Salt Lake City, Italy and Guatemala. Today, the urban planning professional calls Marquette home. 

Although the remote areas of the U.P. might not be for everyone, and winters might scare others off, New feels right at home living in the more remote locales. 

“I love the outdoors, hiking, skiing, and being on the water,” she says. “Being able to live in a community that’s close to nature and has such great access to recreation was really a draw.”

When New moved to the U.P. in 2019, she began working remotely for a different employer, before switching to consulting in 2021.  In her current role as an urban planner, New works for WSP, a consulting firm that does engineering planning services. 

“It’s not uncommon for a consultant to be from out of town, because a lot of time, communities, especially small ones, have to bring in consultants from out of the area in order to complete different planning exercises or projects they want to work on,” she says. 

“For me, it’s been a really good arrangement because it allows me to live where I want to live while still keeping my professional career. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work remotely.”

The mother has also been able to spend more time with her family who live far away. Rather than having to use vacation time, she’s able to work remotely while visiting with them, maintaining continuity at work. The number one thing she says employees and employers need to have in order to successfully work remotely: the internet. 

“Having access to quality internet is really key,” she says. “If the state, cities or other entities want to attract and retain that sort of worker, they need to consider that.”

While some might romanticize remote work as people living in their vans, being on constant vacation and traveling the world as digital nomads, New says the remote workforce is much more diverse than that. Also,  not every remote worker is anti-social, or a shut-in at their computer desk.

“I serve on boards in my community, I have a young child and we are active participants in our community,” she says. “What I want to do professionally is not available to me here in the U.P. at this time, but I do consider myself to be an integral part of this community. I lend my professional expertise and my personal time to community events when I am able. I don’t plan on being remote for the rest of my life, but it’s just where opportunities have led me to at this point.”

If you’re seeking out remote work opportunities, here’s an event to potentially add to your virtual calendar. Return North is an annual professional career fair matching job seekers with U.P. employers. This year’s free event is hosted by MTEC SmartZone, sponsored by Michigan Works! and takes place on Nov. 30 from 3 to 6 p.m.

Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at
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