A Few Insights on Finding Remote Work

I’m in the middle of a job search right now. My current focus is on finding remote work. As a digital marketer and copywriter, I have a job that can be done from anywhere with a laptop and an Internet connection. My current job is semi-remote, however instead of searching in my current city I’ve decided to expand my horizons and see how long it could take me to find a remote job. In that time, I have gained a few interesting insights which I think may benefit others…

Finding Remote Work: What is a remote job?

Remote jobs, telecommuting positions, work from home… They are pretty much self-explanatory. Essentially, you carry out the tasks of whatever job you do from a remote location. There’s no need to go to an office and everything you do can be done from your laptop and phone (or devices that the company provides for you).

The amount of remote jobs out there is increasing. According to Remote.co, 23% of employees in 2015 did at least some of their work remotely. How much of this is simply employees taking their work home or being given at least one day a week to avoid the commute is unclear, but it certainly shows that it is a possibility. Remote.co also states that the telecommuting phenomenon is on the rise globally (which makes sense… considering the scope it can cover).

The New York Times also reported on the remote working phenomenon: on average, the typical telecommuter is someone in their late forties, earns an average of USD$58,000 and is part of a company that has more than 100 employees.

So, if you are determined to find a job that can be done efficiently from your sofa (or the park, or the moon if there’s wifi…) then you may just stand a decent chance of finding one.

The Remote Job Search: Things to know about the work application process

The remote job search may seem daunting to those who are used to the traditional method finding work. In reality, it’s not all that different. For most companies, you still have to apply with the usual CV, cover letter and references. The difference is usually in the interview process, as I have discovered.

Very recently, I was shortlisted for the role of Digital PR Specialist for a company in Sydney, Australia. I was given a small PR exercise to test out my skills in the area: afterwards, I was told that I would be contacted successfully for an interview. I have yet to be contacted, and perhaps they chose someone else and I won’t, but it did teach me something: companies offering remote work usually have longer application process and applicants are often asked to prove their knowledge before an actual interview.

I experienced the exact same kind of process with the time-tracking software company, Harvest. After stating that they enjoyed my application, I was invited to do an exercise about podcast advertising. Several other remote companies I have applied for use a similar system. When it comes to your search for remote work, be aware of these differences.

Finding Remote Work: Things to keep in mind

The application process for finding remote work is not the only thing you should keep in mind. Aside from being aware of the possible differences in the application process, my job search has also given me to mention the following tips and points to keep in mind:

  • Location is still important: Perhaps not as important as a “regular” job, but it still plays a role. A lot of distributed teams need members that can speak to one another in real-time, at least for a couple of hours a day. Some companies will therefore advertise remote roles for specific time zones (NOTE: Id advise noting your current time zone on your CV). Some companies may only advertise remote positions in specific countries, or globally. You will see tags like “Remote – US Only”, “Remote – US or Canada”, or “Remote – Anywhere”.
  • Emphasize your cross-cultural work experience: A lot of remote and distributed teams have members living in and hailing from different countries. If you have experience of working in other countries or with other cultures (such as working on projects with overseas clients), don’t hesitate to mention it in your CV or cover letter.
  • Mention the languages you speak: In an international working environment, the more languages you speak, the better. This is especially true if you speak German, Spanish or Chinese. However, you have nothing to lose by highlighting your multilingual skills.
  • Have a significant online presence: You don’t have to be a master of Twitter or even a social media whiz (unless you’re going for a social media job… in which case I would be worried if you weren’t). As a remote worker though, you must have an online point of reference. This could just be a basic CV website linked to your LinkedIn account and an online portfolio of work. And don’t forget to add working links to your CV! You want to make your presence as easy as possible to find!
  • Show multiple possibilities for contact: Regardless of what country the company is in, include your phone number (and don’t forget to add the international dialing code…)! Get a Skype/Slack/Rocket account and put those contact details there, too. If you have multiple email addresses, put at least two down (and don’t forget to check them). You are literally exposing yourself as much as possible and making it easy for companies to contact you.

We’ll see how far this takes me. Regardless of the outcome, I have already gained a wealth of knowledge which will be useful in further searches for remote work.

Job Applications & Remote Working: Mentioning That You’re ‘Mobile’

The world really has gone mobile.

We can shop from our sofas. We can shop while riding the train. We can have businesses meetings with people on the ground whilst zipping through the air (expensive wifi permitting).

In the “knowledge” economy, your “workplace” has become less an actual place than a state of mind. Or, more specifically, it has become your laptop and your smartphone.

Job interviews can be held while the grocery shopping gets done. Even for jobs which require a physical presence, certain tasks can be carried out remotely.

At home, well, we don’t even have to be at home to switch on the lights or turn on the heating. Your house can be toasty warm before you even get there.

igloo
Not recommended for igloos.

So, let’s all agree we’re pretty mobile. Naturally, this means remote working is incredibly common – nay, expected – for anyone whose job is done entirely on a laptop.

Or so you think. For some reason, even today…

…finding a remote job is a royal pain in the ass

Well, I’ll go further and say finding any job is a pain in the ass. Still, finding a purely telecommute position (or even a job with the option of it) remains something elusive for a lot of people. Despite our remote and mobile world, too many companies still maintain an outdated, unreasonable resistance to telecommuting.

Which is why I wrote this post.

After I vowed never, ever to work full-time in an office again, I knew I needed a game plan for any new job I applied for.

Okay, so this post isn’t really a full-on strategy, but it does elaborate on a few (vital!) points which have actually landed me a remote position.

Remote work and breaking the default

Part of the resistance to telecommuting is what I like to call the “default”. This default is for “white-collar”, “knowledge-based” jobs which are primarily (or entirely) carried out on computers. That even includes traditionally “non-tech” jobs (accounting, HR, admin).

Despite this, it has taken too long for employers to start offering “work at home days”, let alone completely remote positions within these industries.

Essentially, working in-office is the default for most jobs. It’s standard, how things have always been done, etc. Both employers and most employees alike generally don’t question it. Why would they? Most employees aren’t aware that yes, you certainly can negotiate a remote work arrangement. Either with your current employer or with your future employer.

The trick is to sum up the courage to take a step beyond the yellow line and break that default!

Job Interviews and mentioning your “mobility”

When looking for my current job, I applied for many positions through remote job boards. However, the majority of my interviews came from applications I’d sent out on normal job sites like Indeed.com. Even then, I was careful to read each ad and research each company, trying to determine from afar just how open to remote work they might actually be.

When it came to the interviews, I stated that remote work was the “work environment I’m used to”. Some found it intriguing, others said they preferred me in the office. The latter were often very short interviews.

However, the point is – quite a few companies were open to the idea.

With many jobs, remote working can be a solution

As stated before, many jobs today are conducive to remote working. However, it may not always be on the forefront of an employer’s mind. Yet, here’s the thing: quite a few employers are willing to implement a remote work arrangement as a solution to the problem of distance/travel. Especially if they find it difficult to get someone with the right skillset and/or experience.

Companies, after all, don’t want to hear problems – they’ve got enough of them. They want to hear solutions. This company is in Braunschweig, a relatively out-of-the-way city. Cologne, on the other hand, is the media capital of Germany. Düsseldorf is also nearby. There are a lot of companies I could potentially work for. So, the wonderful vapers sitting in Braunschweig might be taking their time evaluating candidates and trying to make the location as attractive as possible.

All I could do was offer the solution of being available via Skype, email and phone. In addition, I stated that I had no problems travelling for meetings. I offered them a solution immediately. How effectively I did that, we’ll see. As with much of what I’m currently doing, I’m testing waters. If they like it… Well, something substantial might result. If not, I’ll learn from the mistake and move on!

UPDATE: I didn’t even get an automated response from the company. Rude. I won’t be going anywhere near them again.
TIP: If you’re lucky enough to get an interview, make sure to use the phrase “work environment” before anything else. It sounds more professional and shows that you’re serious. I know it’s dumb, but I’ve had positive conversations with it.

Right then, when’s the right time to ask?

Questions about your future “work environment” come under the same headers as perks, salary, severance package, working hours etc. In reality, you shouldn’t feel that asking for a remote or partially-remote position is pushing it. It’s all part-and-parcel of the negotiations you make before you sign their little piece of paper.

In my opinion, the best time to ask is during the first interview. I would usually wait until the interviewer starts to talk about the benefits of working there. Don’t go in whole-hog and ask about remote working off the bat. Soften it a little.

For example, if their office is located quite a while away, you could ask if it’s possible to work from home some of the days. You can make the argument that two hours a day is a lot to travel.

Applying to a company that’s a good few hours from your home is also an option. If they offer a relocation package, you could ask if a telecommute arrangement might be more favorable. After all, they will end up saving a LOT of money. Not just on office overheads, but relocation expanses.

If you’ve got experience working remotely, you can also do what I do. Mention that you’re used to working from home and that you’d prefer not to give it up.

The “how” is up to you – but based on experience, I would strongly advise asking in the first interview/phone call. Those are usually the “make or break” situations where both an employer and a candidate suss one another out. Remember, they’re not just interviewing you – you’re also interviewing them!

Working Remotely: An Employee’s Perspective

Remote work has been around for a long time. It’s popularity, however, has only really grown in the last 10.

I’ve been working remotely for most of my professional life. At least, ever since I got out of the restaurant/odd job business. Even then, I wasn’t fully remote. When I started freelancing, I taught English as a second language – mainly in big, boring German companies.

coffee
Boring companies, but nice coffee.

Not long after (read: a month), I discovered I could write for money on the Internet. Back then, “content mills” had their heyday and were everywhere. They were a start but thankfully I gave up that life-sucking habit.

After several years of freelance copywriting (earning an okay living, might I add), I got hired to work full-time for a company in Cologne, Germany. I was over the moon. Some of my friends even described it as a “real” or “grown up” job.

There was an office. There was a telephone. There was a desk of my own. The job was more than just writing: it was digital marketing, SEO, a bit of graphic design, translation, project management (i.e., anything that needed to be done).

It was a novelty for me and the job was interesting. The stable salary was also the biggest plus. Definitely the most delicious temptation after spending years carefully tracking how much money was coming in every month.

cologne cathedral
Plus, Cologne is an amazing city.

That was all well and good. Until I started to dread getting up in the morning. Full trams were never the problem though. It dawned on me that for the rest of my time at that company, I would (probably) be sitting in the same chair, in the same room… Eight hours a day, five days a week.

That’s when I began to think about working remotely again. In fact, I started to yearn for those days.

What does “working remotely” really mean?

First things first: remote work or “telecommuting” is not a job or a field of industry. Rather, it describes a type of working environment. An office is a work environment, a restaurant, a bar, a warehouse. “Office worker” is not a real job description, in the same way that “warehouse worker” does not describe what you actually do for a living.

Working remotely can and is done by a vast range of different professions. Those professions can also vary wildly. Copywriters do drastically different work from HR professionals. An accountant and a web developer’s day-to-day tasks are in no way the same.

Remote workers come from a vast array of different fields. Some are graphic designers. Others are business consultants. Quite a fair few nowadays are even medical professionals. What all of these jobs (for the moment) have in common is that they are generally “white-collar” jobs in the knowledge economy.

dog white collar
“White-collar”… What a ridiculous term.

Which brings me to the main point: in these professions, you are being paid for your knowledge and expertise and not for your presence. If your job is done on a computer, it can theoretically be a “remote job”. Of course, we have to make the distinction because most “computer” jobs are, by default, carried out in offices.

The reason more people don’t work from home isn’t because they don’t want to. The real reason is fearful management, worried that they cannot “check up” on their underlings. Fear in the main reason that most people can’t or won’t telecommute.

Remote Work Arrangements: More possible than ever

 

The good news is that setting up a telecommute arrangement isn’t as challenging as it once was. Many companies already offer working from home at least one day a week. That’s fine for a lot of people, however not enough for many.

These arrangements are also surprisingly common at larger companies: from Apple to Amazon to dell. Various other start-ups, such as Hotjar and buffer, have an almost completely distributed workforce.

At my nice job with the stable salary, I realized that all of the work I did was on a computer. Sitting in the same desk every day and commuting was getting old, so I thought…

Why not just ask?

It was as simple as that. For many other people, it isn’t that simple. Those who work in more “tech-like” industries tend to have an easier time of getting work from home arrangements. Programmers and IT professionals in particular have the most choice when it comes to remote jobs.

The good news is that more companies are wising up to how remote working can benefit them. The challenge for us as employees is mainly finding a company that will allow a remote work arrangement.

Remote Working as an Employee: The benefits

I’ll admit that I started my career arseways. While I did travel to companies to teach classes, I didn’t spend all day there. While teaching, I also spent the entire time interacting with people. That’s very different to go into the same office every day and staring at a screen for three hours.

However, my “remote work” experience began when I started working as a copywriter. I would spend entire days either at home or in a café working away and dealing with clients.

Fast forward three years and suddenly I was in an office. Every. Single. Day. It was an interesting change at first but soon became very suffocating.

Once I started working remotely again, things generally got easier. I did sometimes work longer, though I noticed just how much more effective I was. My boss remarked on it as well.

During my office days, I actually used to dread getting up in the morning. While I like a bit of fresh air and social interaction, it’s usually the last thing I want to do at 8 AM. When working in the office, I was usually one of the later ones (my company isn’t too strict on hours, being an online marketing firm). When working at home… Suddenly, I was up and working at 7. I had plenty of time to do shopping, washing, household chores and still get my work done.

My social battery also improved. I don’t like spending all my time around people. However, I do need to spend time with them – more specifically, people I actually want to have quality time with. My work involves very little social interaction to begin with and, although my colleagues are nice people, we don’t get much of a chance to really spend quality time. It made sense to concentrate during the day on my work, and then get out in the evening.

Yep, I still really like working remotely

In conclusion, I would say that at least on a personal level working remotely is my absolute preferred method of getting things done. Spending time getting bits and pieces done in cafes also helps, though it’s not mandatory. Of course, some people cannot concentrate without being in an office environment. I have full sympathy. I’m not one of those people who advocate the abolition of offices completely, however offering employees a much more flexible system of work could make a huge difference on their general happiness and well-being – as well as that of the company.

Shameless Self-Promotion: Starting Off as a Digital Marketer

I’m not new to the digital and online marketing game. I’ve been doing it for over six years, beginning as a humble copywriter (at first working with content mills *shudder*). Eventually, I was taken seriously enough to work in what some might call a “grownup” job. I did SEO in the online dating industry. That being said, I believe any job that gets the bills paid on time is a grownup job. Though some might disagree…

There’s a lot to be said for self-promotion: and what I can is… I hate it. I don’t like writing about myself. However, in a professional context it helps to get the word out. It’s much easier to big-up dating sites, dental offices in random US towns I’ve never heard of and countless other products (even VoIP… though I had to research thoroughly into what VoIP was back in the day). So, the first step was creating my own site.

Building a Professional Website/Online CV: Where to start?

If you work in any marketing job, you’ll probably want to have your resume or CV out there for everyone (who is relevant) to read. So, it makes sense to have a website. Whilst my web development skills are currently still nascent, I do know my way around HTML and CSS at least. However, during the last week I’ve needed to get things done fast. So, I chose Wix.com to help me build a professional site – quickly.

wix landing page
Beautiful… but SLOW

I must say I found it confusing at first, coming from a coding background. I eventually got the hang of the tools. Although you can’t actually code anything yourself, the Wix site builder does helpfully indicate what titles and paragraphs are (h1, h2, etc.) for SEO purposes (which, to be honest, would be ridiculous if they didn’t…).

The site actually looks quite nice. There are a lot of themes that you can easily customize and quite fast as well: the site was up and running in a few days, and all I had to do was add content, chop and change things until it turned into something I could bear to look at.

My biggest problems with the Wix.com website builder?

I live in Germany. The word “Wix” in German (pronounced “Vix” and spelled “Wichs” by Germans) sounds like something very indecent that you ought to do in the privacy of your own room. While potential clients and employers may or may not be German, there will probably be a few people who’ll have a good chuckle.

Practically speaking, the site is very slow when it comes to loading (it does have a ton of features to make the site-building process as easy as possible). It took a good few seconds. While I’m not expecting the site to rank high on search engines, it doesn’t look very good for a digital marketing strategist to have any site that takes an eon to load.

I do plan on leaving it for now, though. The site looks nice, clean and displays my work experience, portfolio and projects clearly and efficiently. However, I think I will be migrating it to a new provider in the very near future… Lessons learned!