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Remote Work: Melodie Carlson Of Sunrise Banks On How To Successfully Navigate The Opportunities & Challenges Of Working Remotely Or From Home

An Interview With David Liu

Setting boundaries, since it is easier to work longer hours or to always feel available or “on” when working remote.

As a part of our series about the things you need to successfully work remotely, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melodie Carlson.

Melodie Carlson is the Chief Operating Officer at Sunrise Banks, which is a $1.4 billion (in assets) financial institution based in St. Paul, MN. Carlson is an executive leader with progressive accounting, auditing, compliance, finance, and operations experience. She directly leads, coaches, and develops senior leaders and employees. She is an approachable and empowering leader with 15 years of experience leading teams; key strengths include building strong partnerships, coaching and mentoring employees, communication, managing execution through others, and improving controls; proficient in the areas of budgeting, reporting, and analysis. She holds a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) (inactive) license.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I was born and raised in central Minnesota. Graduated from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN, with an accounting major.

I worked at what is now known as CLA (CliftonLarsonAllen) CPA firm and audited financial institutions and employee benefit plans for a few years. From there I moved to Target Corporation for a total of 14 years. All of my work was within the finance pyramid. At Target I moved around and up in the internal audit, accounts payable, and payroll areas.

After my role as a Group Manager (now called Director) in Payroll was eliminated in 2015, I took some time to assess what I wanted to do next. I came to Sunrise Banks six years ago. Currently, I’m the bank’s Chief Operating Officer.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

While working in the internal audit department at Target, soon after the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002 was passed, I was asked to join the project team. What started out as a part-time project for six months turned into a full-time role for two years. It turned out to be one of the most challenging and rewarding projects of my career.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was wrapping up my time as a summer intern at what is now known as CLA, the managing partner of the main area I worked in offered to take me to lunch during my last week to discuss how my internship went and post-college plans.

He asked me where I would like to go. At the time I was taking the city bus to downtown Minneapolis and the route brought us by Rick’s. I didn’t know many restaurants in the downtown area, so I brought that one up. Little did I know it was a cabaret! Thankfully, he quickly steered me to another restaurant and he did not tell others about it. I will never forget it. And they did offer me a full-time role when I graduated from college four months later, which was a great first job post-college.

The lesson I learned from it is to make sure to look up the restaurant before suggesting it to coworkers, clients, or vendors!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is to analyze the pros and cons of a decision, but also strongly consider your gut instinct. This has helped me in many life and career decisions, as I am an analytical thinker, so this reminds me not to over-analyze and remember to listen to your gut. It is almost always right!

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees thrive and avoid burnout?

Here are a couple rules I would recommend leaders to follow:

  • Set boundaries for yourself and your team. Try not to send emails after 5 pm, when possible. Know that burnout is real and you’ll be doing your employees — and maybe yourself — a favor by sticking to a typical workday window.
  • If an employee is obviously burnt out, have them take a day off. And be willing to talk with your team about how they’re feeling. It’s important they realize you’re aware of how challenging this “new normal” can be.

Workers who feel like they can’t leave their computer and have no work-life balance will look to greener pastures. It’s important for leaders to provide work-life balance and check in with their employees while, at the same time, not micromanaging them.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunities but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits and opportunities of working remotely?

One of the main benefits for employees is that there is more flexibility available now. Many companies like ours offer hybrid or full-time remote for the majority of our positions. When employees have multiple days a week to avoid commuting, they can decide how to use that extra time.

It might mean more time to be with their family, a hobby, workouts, more sleep, or catching up on work tasks that they are feeling behind on. One of the other benefits or opportunities for employees working remotely at least part-time is that there is more time to focus on getting work done and there tends to be less meetings or at least less “drop-ins” at your cube or office. Yet working in the office part-time or using meeting software ensures the team can still connect and collaborate.

Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding working remotely?

  1. Setting boundaries, since it is easier to work longer hours or to always feel available or “on” when working remote.
  2. Staying connected to your team when many/all are working remote.
  3. Fostering collaboration when many/all on the team are working remote.
  4. Trying to prevent employee burnout.
  5. Video meeting fatigue.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? Can you give a story or example for each?

When it comes to setting boundaries, it’s important to be open with your team. Let them know you don’t expect them to respond to late-night emails or be working around the clock. Similarly, effective communication can help your team to stay connected as well; ask what they’d like to see to foster collaboration in a remote environment.

The biggest issue employers face right now is burnout. Do your best to give your team a break when possible and make it clear you know virtual work can take its toll.

Let’s talk about Career Development. Can you share a few ideas about how you can nurture and advance your career when you are working from home and away from other colleagues?

Do a great job and offer to take on more when the team is short staffed; be a leader among your peers and keep a positive attitude.

These items will be noticed by your leader and your team. Let your leader know what your next step in your career looks like and ask your leader for help to get to that next step (if that is what you want).

Can you share a few ideas about how employers or managers can help their team with career development?

Conduct stay interviews. We just rolled these out officially in the last few months.

Check in with the employee during each review period to discuss career development.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I have always enjoyed coaching and mentoring others. Both those on my team but also those who ask me to be a mentor for them. I love helping others assess what kinds of work and tasks brings them energy and excitement that they are also good at. When they focus on those roles, they are happiest, more confident, and have more potential for career movement and promotional opportunities.

Being a coach and mentor brings me joy and also pays it forward as I’m grateful for my mentors throughout my career.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can learn more about Sunrise Banks at sunrisebanks.com and on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn pages, @sunrisebanks. You also follow me on LinkedIn.

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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David Liu

David Liu

David is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, a unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication

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