Remote Work: What You Need To Know
Remote work is appealing to many people, and therefore there is great interest in securing an opportunity that offers this as an option. How do you find jobs that will allow you to work from home on a part-time or permanent schedule? How do you find out if an employer will allow this if not stated in the job advertisement? Before exploring how to bring up your desire for remote work in an interview, let’s discuss the pros and cons of working remotely and the types of remote work arrangements available.
Pros for remote work
Having employees working remotely has positives for both the employee and the employer. Here are some of them:
No commute. The time one saves in the day by not having to commute can be significant. According to the Census, the one-way average commuting time in the New York City metro area is 35.9 minutes and 31.3 minutes in Chicago. Round trip, working from home can save over an hour of time in each workday to do other things. Plus, there are cost-saving from not having to take public transportation or the wear and tear on one's car.
Office set the way you want it. Working from home allows you to set up your workspace exactly how you want it. You don’t have to worry about physical limitations on where a computer or monitor can be placed, and you can have the temperature just the way you like it.
Increased productivity. For many people, the interruptions that one has in an office environment can decrease productivity. Especially in open-plan offices, where employees are sitting side-by-side with little or no partition between work areas, the noise of people talking can cause some people to have difficulty with focus. Working from home, where there should be minimal distractions, often can lead to higher productivity.
Flexibility. You may be able to flex your time so that you can work when you are most productive. If you are a morning person, you may be able to start your day just as soon as you wake up to take advantage of when you are best able to focus. If you are a night owl, you may have the ability to work later into the evening and not have to worry about the office being closed.
Decreased costs. When a workforce allows remote work as an option, it can decrease operating costs when it comes to office space. Fewer people working at an office means less space needed.
Cons for remote work
Don’t fool yourself that there are no cons to working from home. It might be the right things for you but be aware of the trade-offs.
Your lack of discipline. You have to be self-motivated to get your work done without a supervisor looking over your shoulder. Some people are not good at this, and they need the external motivation of a boss observing them to keep focused. Be honest about yourself as to whether you can be successful without the structure of an office environment.
It can be isolating. If you get your energy from interaction with other people, working remotely may be challenging. While some jobs may be more interactive, with phone chats or virtual meetings the norm, others may have little interaction and what you have may only be through email or messaging. I recently hired a professional that had been working virtually but wanted an office environment because it was too isolating for her.
It can be hard to turn off work. With your computer only steps away at all times, you might find it hard to step away from work like you can when you leave a physical office for the day. There can be a tendency to get back on the computer to just check on things or work more hours because you don’t have to worry about commuting.
The “out of sight, out of mind” issue. In some organizations, you could find your career trajectory limited when you work virtually. You will miss some of the daily interactions that build relationships. Growing in your career can be not just doing a good job in your role but also who you know within the organization and how you are seen by others.
Team cohesiveness. It can be harder to build a high performing team when members of the team do not work all in the same place. Relationships with those that work virtually could be weaker (no impromptu happy hours).
It may be harder for managers. If members of a team work remotely, the manager may be challenged on how to better communicate and manage performance. A manager cannot just drop by to chat, so the manager needs to be more proactive.
Harder for collaboration. Some companies have pulled back somewhat from the embrace of virtual workers with the rationale that it inhibits collaboration. If innovation and ingenuity are highly prized in an organization, then having remote workers can make this harder; brainstorming sessions may be more challenging.
Types of remote work arrangements
There are a few types of remote work arrangements that an employer may allow.
Occasional work from home day. Many employers, even if they do not have a formal remote work policy, may allow an occasional work from home day. This often happens when the employee needs to be home to meet with a plumber, cable installer or other trades person. It also can be to allow some flexibility if traveling for business and needing to go to a train station or airport later in the day. Some employers will allow employees to work from home if they are ill but not sick enough that they cannot work at all.
Partial remote work. Under a formal arrangement, the employee may designate a specific day or days that s/he will be working from a virtual office. Many employers will have a formal approval process and guidelines for this.
Virtual office. The employer will allow the employee to work from their home or another site that is not a physical office of the company. This, like partial work, is generally through a formal arrangement. Some employers will designate certain positions as eligible for a virtual office or will decide on a case-by-case basis.
What industries are most conducive to remote work
There are many industries and jobs where remote working could be an option. TechRepublic has an article about top industries for remote careers. These included customer service, education and training, sales, medical and health and computer/IT. While some of these positions may require minimal time at a physical office, they still may include visits to clients, students or patients.
Obviously, there will be some jobs where working remotely will not be an option. Brick and mortar retail staff and restaurant workers will need to be on site. Positions such as receptionist and facilities/maintenance workers may also need to be onsite. Be careful not to ask about remote work for those positions where the nature of the word does not lend itself to remote work.
When to ask about remote work options
If you are lucky, a job advertisement may state that the position is set up to be remote or working remotely is an option. Job boards like WeWorkRemotely and Flexjobs post freelance and remote jobs both in the US and internationally. If the job ad does not explicitly say whether there is an option for remote work, here is my advice for broaching the subject.
If you are working with a third-party recruiter, you can ask whether remote work could be an option and under what circumstance. They may either know this information from their conversations with the hiring team about the job, or they can speak about your desire for remote work in the context of discussing your qualifications. They can let the company know if this is a deal-breaker or a “nice to have” option for you.
If you are dealing with a company directly, this is a bit trickier. Unless a virtual office is a “must-have”, I would not bring it up in a phone interview nor would I do it in an in-person interview. You want the hiring team to get excited about you and really want you on the team. You may not be looked on as favorably as compared to other candidates if you bring up remote work as highly desired. Once an offer is made, then as part of the negotiations, you can bring up a desire for remote work, either a virtual office or set remote workdays. You know they want you so your bargaining opportunity is highest. They may be more open to this if they know this is an important part of the total package for you. Don’t be surprised if a company says they will not offer this right away but would be open to it at a later date. They may want to see whether you are a good candidate for remote work or may want to have you trained first before letting you work without daily supervision. If you are only looking for the occasional workday at home to be available for a parent-teacher conference or the carpet cleaners, there should be no issues about asking about the policy on this with the HR team or whoever has the first contact with you. This can be covered when inquiring about other work requirements such as work hours.
Under the right circumstances, working remotely can be a great option for both the employee and the employer. Some employers (and bosses) are more supportive of this than others. There may be something on the company web site about remote work, especially if the company really embraces it for their workforce. Try to get a feel about the employer that you are looking to join by looking at reviews on Glassdoor or Indeed specifically for what is said about remote work. Also, use your network to ask those that are working there (or previously worked there) to see the attitude on remote work. This will give you an idea of whether the company will support your desire to work virtually.