The pandemic delivered a reminder about remote jobs: yes, they do exist. Before 2020, a remote position did not make the job wish list for most students, but now these jobs will likely stick around, and some say they’re the future. Despite its low-profile, remote work and similar workplace practices like flexible scheduling are growing in popularity. In the last five years, FlexJobs reported a 44 percent growth in the number of remote employees. A FlexJobs survey also found 74 percent of respondents believe that flexible working is the “new normal.” So, before you walk away determined to forget that awful spring semester gone virtual, hear from some pros about what a remote job looks like outside of crisis.
Recent grads, current students: use these pro tips to decide on a remote job offer or tuck them away for later.
1. You have more flexibility in your schedule and in general
Before the pandemic, many workers couldn’t snooze their alarm clocks. A full day awaited, often dictated by the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday. “[Going to an office] entailed me having additional funds to pay for somebody to take my daughter to school or coordinate with someone early in the morning,” said Claudia Fernandez, a human capital business partner for HR and payroll services company TriNet. “Then I had to make an arrangement with my company to let me leave at 4:30 p.m. so I could kind of beat the traffic and pick up my kids. There were just a lot of accommodations that I needed when I was going to the office.” A remote job allows you to fit each day to what you want or need most. “I have the flexibility to get up when I want, eat my breakfast, relax and turn on my computer by 9:30 a.m.,” she said. Technology also makes the office portable – to the patio, the laundry room or the school parking lot. “We have software that enables us to have my company’s version of work-life balance,” Fernandez said. “I have enough software and technology where I don’t have to be sitting in front of my computer to be efficient, to work and to answer [quickly].” In many ways, the remote lifestyle puts the worker first, leaving how and where you spend the days up to you.
2. You can live wherever you want (for the most part)
In the age of the internet, people stay up to date on work from anywhere, and remote jobs take it one step further. Employees all working for the same company may span numerous states or even countries. “To truly take advantage of remote, you have to take that step. If you’re just working in a city that you were put in by your last job, is that truly where you want to be?” said Darren Murph, head of remote at GitLab, a software company with employees in 67 countries. “[Are these] the schools you really want your kids to go to? Do you even like the sports teams?” A remote company lets you grow and evolve. If you’re done with the local bar scene, your employer won’t stop you from ditching your current home base for something new. “We find that a lot of people at GitLab, they work here because they want to live where it’s the only option,” Murph said. “I’m able to live here where I want to live near my family because of remote [work].” If more workers return to hometowns with their remote jobs, smaller cities could see revival, as well as transformation. “All [cities] have to do is invest in infrastructure,” he said. “Build a great hospital, build a great green space – [people] can bring their own jobs. It completely upends how cities build, and it’s way more sustainable.” Flexibility of location can vary depending on the employer and the job, so ask about the ability to move before you book your flight home.
3. Self-discipline is a must
Everyone relates to the search for motivation amidst the pandemic, that is, except for already-remote workers. It appears at first glance they lucked out, but they simply acquired the skills to work remotely before the rest of us. “It’s definitely a learned skill,” Fernandez said. “For the first time in your life you’re like, ‘Oh my God, my boss isn’t here, nobody’s watching what I’m doing,’ so it’s very easy to fall into [watching] Netflix all day and just ignore [the] work and let it pile up.” Deciding to go remote primarily comes down to self-understanding of individual work habits. “If it’s college students, [they can think] of where they study. If they study at a library, do they like studying for a few hours and then walking around the floor to see if they know people?” said Sarah Kilver, a senior talent sourcer for Memorial Health System. “[They need] to really figure out what motivates them to get through their work and are they able to sit somewhere without really seeing people?” Although many conventional workers begrudgingly moved remote this spring, some learned to enjoy it. “It’s best if you do like it. That’s true of any job, remote or otherwise,” said Rick Shacklett, a copy editor for international news service Voice of America. “You can surely think of ways to make yourself more comfortable, and you can develop a rhythm of sorts. But you can’t change your nature. If you find the environment too quiet, confining or stale, you need a different setting.” Take time to reflect on your preferences, learn about the company and talk it out with an adviser or friend. Knowing your needs well will give you confidence when you discover the right job.
4. No commute? No problem.
No one likes the sound of horns blaring behind them and getting cut off at the last second on a clogged freeway, but the motivation to simply go home drives the frustration. Many people want to spend their commute time doing better and more relaxing things. “I had to be there at 8:30 a.m., which meant I had to leave by 6:30 a.m.,” Fernandez said. Whether you dislike the early hours or the amount of time on the road, going remote rids your day of a chaotic start and end. “The biggest thing is my time, [you] can’t get that back, that commute time. Two hours in the morning, two hours at night,” she said. “[Then] getting home at 7:00 p.m. and then having to make dinner and do homework with my [daughter]. [Now] at 5:00 p.m. I close my computer, I’m in my kitchen. I just walk over and I’m ready to go.” On top of saving time and money on gas, in some regions, a remote job means avoiding a blizzard and other inclement weather. “Working from home also lets you avoid commuting, which is a pain, especially in the winter, and it cuts way down on exposure to colds and flu,” said Shacklett, who is based in Iowa. “Even before the coronavirus struck, I saw working at home as a big advantage in this regard. Nobody here sneezes but me.” Whatever you do or don’t do instead of commuting, it only matters that you reclaim that time and control over your workday.
5. Not all remote employers are alike
Talk of remote jobs conjures up images of a lassiez-faire company without much organization. In fact, successful remote work requires business models with a sound foundation and structure – and not all companies have it. “Good remote companies have to be transparent. If you notice that a remote company or someone that claims to support remote has nothing written down, there’s almost nothing to be found on their website, that’s a huge red flag,” Murph said. “Because if you can’t get a good read on what their values are and what their culture is like without having an interview, imagine how hard it’s going to be to figure anything out once you actually get there.” That feels like a lot to put on a college student just looking for work, right? However, a simple resolution exists: ask obvious questions, ask for examples and embrace the details. “I would ask them about that, tell me what it’s like to work here,” Murph said. “Do you work fully asynchronously? What software do you use to [do] this? What is the lifestyle like? What does flexibility mean here?” It still feels like a lot of heavy lifting, but the better you know yourself and the company, the better you can feel about saying yes to the right job. “We’re very explicit on not hiring for culture fit, but for values fit,” Murph said. “In an interview we will literally pull up the GitLab values page and go through it with candidates … and we want people to talk about [the values]. How does that fit with [you]? Does that resonate with you? Does that make you recoil? We need to talk about what that means.” In case this sparked a few more questions about remote working, check out GitLab’s All-Remote page for more guidance and input from employees.
6. Remember yourself and set boundaries
Employers worry remote work encourages procrastination, but remote employees may actually start working too much. Since remote work depends on self-monitoring, no one will remind you to eat lunch or stop working. “[With remote] you’re probably able to take more time away from work in a sense, but in reality it’s ‘Oh I’m on my way to bed and I pass my computer, might as well check my email,’ then you sit there for an hour, two hours,” Kilver said. Skills like discipline help remote workers when home and work responsibilities compete for their attention. A lack of this work-life balance could mean conveniently forgetting about the pile of laundry in the hamper or the dishes in the sink. “A person who works from home can do [household] chores anytime,” Shacklett said. “That’s great, but it also makes delaying those chores very easy. A remote worker needs to design some kind of structure or schedule to follow.” If you’re headed for a remote job, anticipate a period of adjusting and building your routine. “I think a lot of people when they first go remote, they struggle with [work-life balance],” Kilver said. “I have a lot of friends who can’t stop working [right now].” If you feel compelled to work constantly in a remote environment, step back, check on your mental health and reflect on your quarantine work habits. For more advice, check out this piece from FlexJobs, and for a deep dive into the remote transition, read through GitLab’s guide.
7. Workplace relationships require care and attention
Remote work appeals to many with an independent working style, but wanting to work alone doesn’t always equate to wanting to be alone. This preference truly comes down to each individual. “A person who not only likes but also feeds off personal interaction with others is not going to like working remotely and may be less effective,” Shacklett said. “But a person okay in [their] own skin who doesn’t need close contact or group energy will probably be fine.” Variance in personalities and work styles of employees in a remote workplace means understanding yourself as well as the job, and what remote companies offer in terms of coworker connection if anything. “I’m very fortunate in my role because I get to go back every month, every two months, so I’m able to interact with my team in person and really create those relationships,” Kilver said. Although fully remote teams will communicate differently, innovations make it possible. “You might be able to build a great relationship [virtually], it just depends on your work environment, like some meetings might be more on a personal level and you’re able to really connect,” she said. Read through this guide with tips on getting to know your remote coworkers. However online relationships form, remote employees should stay connected with friends, family and pets in a way that meets their needs. “I think it’s knowing that creating relationships is important, so when you do have a call with a colleague to always try to be personal with them as well to continue to build that relationship and not feel guilty about taking time to speak with them,” she said. “Because if that is your work environment, to me that is an important part.” Check out your job description right away to gauge how much workplace relationships matter, and read how these companies foster relationships with their employees.
8. You have more independence in your projects and assignments
If you thrive on working independently and need minimal direction from supervisors: congratulations, you already mastered half of remote work. But in order to stay on track, remote workers must continue managing and mastering self-discipline and organization every day. “It also falls on you to make sure if you’re not getting an answer from someone that you’re getting on the phone and calling them,” Kilver said. “You have to be very organized in that sense as well because you have to remind yourself to follow up with the person even if you’ve sent [an] email and just haven’t heard back.” In a remote setting, colleagues don’t interact like at an office, sometimes leaving you to answer your own questions. “Most of the time, I [do] more of the research myself, so I have learned to be more handy… I’ve had to do that more and learn how to fend for myself,” Fernandez said. While employees seek independence, employers need a trusting and honest relationship with remote employees, since they don’t share the same space every day. “That’s really what I had to get used to, to be like ‘Wow, this is cool.’ They trust me, I’m independent, and because they give me that trust and an ability to be independent, I give it back to them,” Fernandez said. Take this quiz to learn more about your work style and know which concerns you may need to bring up with potential employers.
9. Productivity increases without typical office distractions
Remote workers customize their work environments, from the drinks they sip to the chair they sit in while working. Best of all – co-workers can’t gripe about their choices. “I control all distractions — no office chatter, no office ringtones or other hum, and I can pick the music or TV channel that’s on, if any,” Shacklett said. “The advantages in convenience and control are many.” Success in remote work often rests on crafting an environment that facilitates focus, and sometimes utilizing practices like block scheduling. “If I had calls to make, I would block a certain time and know how many calls I could get done during that time, and then that is what I would be doing at that time,” Kilver said. “It just helps to really get through work quickly. Once you get in a good groove and once you are able to minimize the distractions around you at home, then you’re in control of your schedule and the tasks that you have at hand.” When starting remote work for the first time, find the small things that matter and motivate you. “I always make sure my kitchen is clean, my bed is made and I change out of my pajamas,” she said. “You really are still prepping for the day just so that you aren’t distracted.” If you can make it work, stay in your pajamas – nothing’s stopping you.
10. Communicate, and then communicate more
While many aspects of remote working allow you more control throughout the day, communicating asynchronously can toss those feelings of calm out the window. “Though there are many avenues of communication, you can’t always count on a quick response,” Shacklett said. “Were I in an office, I could simply walk to a person’s desk and ask questions, or I could see at a glance that they were or unavailable. When working remotely, you can’t always know what’s going on.” The simple water cooler chats of the past may feel less relaxed, especially if you collaborate remotely with on-site employees. “There isn’t that convenience of running into someone in the hallway either to remind you of a project that you’re working on or even just to quick chat about it,” Kilver said. “It’s definitely on your shoulders that if you have a question you have to reach out. If you want to talk about a project, you need to set up that time. It’s really anything you need, you are responsible to get that communicated.” Fully-remote company GitLab utilizes detailed documentation as one remote communication strategy. “[At GitLab] you’re going to have to be writing things down a lot, so we ask people, ‘Do you like written communication?’” Murph said. “We are very specific about how people have to communicate to do the work. It’s called low context, which paradoxically means high precision and high detail. If people aren’t comfortable writing at length, then they probably aren’t going to like it here.” But don’t forget that remote work is anything but one size fits all. Jobs and companies vary, so interview with an open mind and share your questions. Research the values and operations at GitLab and at other companies focused on remote work, and check out Harvard Business Review’s article on remote communication for a team.