Remote work is no longer just a nice-to-have opportunity—it’s a necessity, and it’s here to stay.
In the U.S., 4.7 million employees work from home at least half the week. And that was before the covid-19 pandemic. Now, millions more people have transitioned to working remotely.
What’s more, 95% of U.S. knowledge workers (think: UX writers, software developers, product designers, etc.) want to work remotely, and 74% would be willing to quit a job to do so.
As a knowledge worker myself (I’m a content marketer), I’ve been working remotely for almost five years, and am a huge advocate for this lifestyle change.
Read about my experience with remote work below, and then determine if remote work is right for you.
My Remote Work Journey
After graduating from college I landed a 9-5 job with an ad agency in Boston. Because I was a recent grad with over $80k in student loan debt, I lived with my parents and commuted into the city.
Every weekday for three years I spent 1-hour getting “office-ready” and between 2-4 hours commuting to and from work. That’s 3-5 hours a day just spent preparing for my office job. 15-25 hours a week.
Because my commute was spent running to catch a train, fighting to get a seat, and too squished to pull out my laptop (not that the Wifi was reliable), it was hard to be productive during this time.
Luckily, the agency had a flexible work from home policy.
Maybe that’s why 43% of full-time American employees say they want to work remotely more often even after the economy has reopened. I know once I got a taste of remote work, it was hard to go back.
Knowing I was wasting a ton of time commuting was a hard pill to swallow. But it wasn’t the only reason I decided to pivot to a remote work lifestyle only a few years into my career.
Here are a few reasons why I transited to remote work:
- I have an extreme light sensitivity and working inside under fluorescent lights was giving me daily migraines.
- I enjoyed hanging out with co-workers, but I found office drama and politics to be mentally taxing.
- I was battling depression after my Dad’s death and had a hard time staying happy and productive in my cubicle.
When I left to take my first remote job as a marketing manager with a tech startup headquartered in Finland, people warned me against it. My mom, who had a long career with The Walt Disney Company, couldn’t fathom how anything creative could get done remotely.
I quickly discovered that working for a small company, in a time zone 6 hours ahead, as their only US-based employee, with only six months of marketing experience, and as the only member of their marketing team...was a bad idea.
But hey, I got my foot in the remote door.
Since that first remote job, I’ve gained remote work experience with other small startups, SMB family businesses, and big corporations.
I’ve dabbled in everything from social media management to user experience design to marketing strategy.
I’ve worked with team members across a myriad of states, countries, and time zones.
I did all of this while traveling the world (and staying home, too.) And I’ve become a dynamic remote employee as a result. 97% of people would recommend remote work to others—me included.
Here’s what you need to know to make the transition to remote work. We’ll cover how to determine if remote work is right for you, and then, how to land a remote job.
Determine if Remote Work is Right for You
A few facts about remote work
Here are some key words and phrases about remote work that you should know:
Work from home/ Remote work: A work arrangement in which an employee primarily works from a home office instead of a company’s central brick-and-mortar office.
Digital Nomad: An employee that travels, often internationally, while working remotely.
Fully distributed team: All team members are working remotely in different locations.
Partially distributed team: A central or core team in one location–not necessarily in an office but regularly meeting in-person–with an additional group of remote employees all around the globe.
Remote-first: A mentality companies can embody that ensures remote employees are as much a part of the team as those in the office. These organizations build processes from the ground up with the assumption that not everyone will be face-to-face or in the same location/time zone.
Retreat: Annual, semi-annual, or quarterly events in which all team members travel to the same destination (usually for 1-7 days) to co-work, build culture, and strengthen working relationships.
Remote hiring: Hiring people exclusively through virtual communication, without an in-person interview.
Aspects of a Remote Job Listing to Consider
When looking for a remote job, be mindful of the geographic requirements.
Even though a company is remote, they might still only want candidates who are currently living in a specific location. Remote job boards typically do a good job of highlighting these requirements.
This requirement might be as broad as North America, or, as specific as Oklahoma City. You’ll want to click through the listing and read it thoroughly before deciding if you meet the geographic requirements.
Remote Work Experience
Some remote jobs may desire candidates that have already worked remotely before.
If you’ve worked remotely is some capacity, but not necessarily full-time, don’t let this deter you from applying for a position. But if you have zero experience working remotely, try starting with a remote freelance or contract position to buffer your resume before applying.
Fully distributed teams often have regular team retreats, or all-company meetups. These can be as often as quarterly, or as infrequently as once a year.
You’ll want to consider if this time away from home is okay with you, as you’ll be expected to attend. For many young people, these retreats are a great way to build friendships with your co-workers, and to see places you’ve never been before. If you’re a parent, these retreats could be more difficult to make work logistically.
Companies offering remote work will usually match or exceed market salary in the location you live. But this gets a little hairy when you’re a digital nomad with no clear home address.
During the times I chose to live on the road, I kept my mom’s address as my home address, but made sure to explain my living arrangements to our HR representative. Luckily, my salary stayed the same whether I was on the road or living at home.
As always with salaries, know your worth.
Pros and Cons of Remote Work
With a truly remote position, the most obvious pro is that you can work from anywhere.
May it be your home office, in your van, a co-working space, a coffee shop, or a beach (I’m determined to invent the perfect laptop sun shade.) Even while some roles might require you to be in a specific time zone or city, just being able to work from home is a huge win for many.
Companies are dissolving the idea of a typical 9-5 job because they know it doesn’t work. You can’t force creativity. If you’re most productive during the early morning hours, and then prefer to take time for exercise mid-morning, you can do that.
Outside of meetings, and any design sprint constraints, you’ll decide when and how your work gets done.
There is lots of research showing that commuting is stressful, and often, the worst part of someone’s day.
The Ford European Commuter Survey of 5,503 commuters in Barcelona, Berlin, London, Madrid, Paris, and Rome found that for commuters, “the journey to work causes more stress than their actual jobs (or even the dentist).”
There are many hidden costs associated with working at a brick and mortar company, both for the companies, and their employees. Working remotely can actually save both parties money.
Here are the areas I’ve found myself saving money:
- Commuting: Parking fees, train tickets, subway passes, gas, etc.
- Food: Since I work from home I cook all of my meals, whereas when I worked in the city I was eating out for lunch most days (looking for an excuse to get out of the office.)
- Wardrobe: Nice business clothes are expensive. It’s a lot easier to look professional just on the top half of your body (it’s a lot cheaper, too.)
- Taxes: I’m able to write off square footage in my apartment, office supplies, tech equipment, and more as a remote worker.
More time with loved ones
While I don’t have kids yet, I know I’ll continue to work remotely when I do start a family in order to spend more time with them. Life is all about work-life balance, and remote work helps to level the scales when done right.
When I started working remotely, my partner and I lived in different states, and I was traveling a lot to visit friends all over the country. Modern air travel and a flexible work schedule allowed me to spend those valuable 15-25 hours a week I was previously spending commuting on spending time with my loved ones instead.
Feelings of loneliness
I want to address this as the first con of remote work, because it’s something everyone should be proactive about. People warned me I was going to get lonely when I began working remotely, and I didn’t believe them, because I thoroughly enjoy being alone.
It didn’t happen right away, and it’s easier when I’m traveling or around people, but feelings of loneliness eventually crept in. I didn’t realize how much the community I had built at work fed my desire for social interaction.
You can combat feelings of loneliness as a remote worker by connecting with others working remotely nearby, checking out peer-to-peer virtual workshops, having video coffee break chats, and coworking.
If you need to be micromanaged, or the role requires a steep learning curve, remote work can be a tough option.
Remote work often means less supervision, less hand holding, and generally less structure. To succeed as a remote employee, you must develop excellent time management skills in order to succeed.
While the argument could be made that traditional work environments (with the stinky microwave fish and water cooler chats) are distracting, being at home will have its nuances too.
Whether in the form of children, delivery drivers, phone calls, the tv, or the fridge, home can be a distracting place. Setting boundaries for yourself, and those around you, is important.
Need for more communication
Working remotely requires you have excellent communication skills, in fact, you’ll probably see this on every remote job listing you find.
In the world of remote work, you have fewer chances to communicate effectively, so you need to make the most of the fewer conversations you have. Written communication also accounts for a good majority of remote communication, so you’ll want to brush up on your writing and grammar skills.