Taking the Leap – Why Should I Consider Remote Work?

It wasn’t long ago that I started my first “office job”.

I had very good reasons for doing so. Up until then, I had been working freelance as a copywriter. I didn’t spend all my time behind a computer, though. I also made money on the side as a TEFL teacher (great side income, not so great career-wise).

Teaching English in companies gave me the urge to try it out for myself. I wanted to know what it was like to work in a more “professional” capacity. I knew with the skills I’d acquired over the years, I would be able to get something.

So, after a few months of applying, I landed myself a job in the online dating industry.

man woman dating
In the office, of course. I wasn’t one of the unfortunate field testers.

The first year was great. I learned a LOT about SEO, social media marketing, how to build/run a website, analytics… You name it. Essentially, you could say that as a copywriter I got the core of my online marketing education which expanded my skillset beyond the other two jobs I had previously done.

Since most of (no, all) of my work was done on a computer, I realized that the whole need for an “office” job was… Well, redundant. What I’d wanted was a chance to improve my skills, learn more and of course, earn a stable salary.

I had heard about remote work before. I knew as a freelancer working from home, I had technically been one of those “remote workers”. What intrigued me more, though, was the fact that…

You can have a stable, “9-to-5”-style job and still do it from the comfort of your home office.

At first, it seemed crazy. Then, I thought about it some more. Working remotely at the time was becoming popular and since then it has only continued to increase. The only people resisting seemed to be fearful managers who think that “management” involves walking around a room and checking over people’s shoulders.

The more I read and learned about remote work and telecommuting, the more I was sold. So, one day I very meekly walked down the smokey (no exaggeration) corridor to my boss’s office and asked him if I could work from home.

Just like that, he said yes. I was back in the saddle, working from my own desk/sofa/kitchen table just like I had been. It was the biggest relief I’d had in years.

NOTE: I will also add, it was a huge relief to get away from the petty squabbles that infested our office daily. My colleagues were nice people but I really don’t think it is healthy to spend all day, every day with the same people in one tiny room.

For me, going remote was easy. I just had to ask. For others, it may be tricky. Many more may need to consider a career change if they truly want to work from anywhere.

However, in my opinion the benefits are so, so worth it.

If you’ve been considering going remote, let me give you a few reasons of why you absolutely should give it a shot, at least once..!

Remote work doesn’t limit you geographically

Probably the most important point for me. While this means for many (like digital nomads) that they can travel the world, having no geographical limitation goes beyond that. It means you can live where you want. You can work for a big city company but live in a quiet haven in the country.

You can go to another country and learn a new language. If you live away from home, you can visit your family regularly without using up those precious holidays.

I am aware that many remote positions require you to be in a certain time zone. However, rules and regulations vary depending on the company and the position. Even the most restrictive remote position is far, far more liberating than any in-office job can be.

You don’t have to be remote all the time

Maybe you like having one or two days at home to get certain types of work done. It means you can sit down, concentrate and avoid the commute for a day or two. Perhaps, however, you still want to join your office colleagues for lunch and other activities. No problem – there are also jobs which allow telecommuting on certain days.

Actually, I’ve never worked for a fully-distributed company. I have always worked for companies that allowed telecommuting if the employee felt like it. Naturally, I take full advantage. I go to the office sometimes but for me, it’s a choice. I’m not obligated to be there.

You may have more social energy

This may be more relevant for the more “introverted” among us. I have a social battery with a certain amount of power. When I worked in the office, that social battery was drained when I came home. The thing is, I was not happy to sit on the sofa and watch TV after work every day. I wanted to go out not to fulfil social needs, but to see my actual friends.

It was exhausting. While I liked my colleagues, all of my social energy was being used on them rather than the people it was meant for. I needed my evenings to be at home but I preferred being out.

There are a lot of articles about remote workers being lonely. For me, it had the opposite effect. I was alone during the day, communicating with colleagues via Skype and Slack, sure. But by the time I closed my laptop, I went out to activities in the evening or to the pub.

beer hand
Okay, I’ll be honest: I was mostly in the pub.

If you’re introverted, working remotely means you can choose exactly where you want to spend your social energy.

Your employer benefits too

With fewer overheads, less need to worry about supplying you with coffee/drinks, less time wasted on stupid office politics… Actually, I think employers get the best deal out of remote work. Some may even insist on paying a lower salary, however this is something you should absolutely not allow to happen.

Overall, telecommuting has benefited me in more ways than I can write about here. If you feel that it’s something you’d like to give a shot, I would highly recommend you try it. If you hate it, don’t worry: there’s always coworking spaces and there are still plenty of office jobs.

4 Things to Keep in Mind During Your Job Search

Hey, do you know what’s not fun?

Job searches.

Alright, there is an element of fun behind it. Personally, I quite like going through job listings. For me, it’s a lot like flat-hunting: it can be fun to see what different but similar roles entail, how you might respond to those challenges and learning what new skills you might pick up.

However, job searches become a royal pain in the neck when we are forced to look for them. The added pressure of needing a job right now, this Goddamn minute! also serves to suck any kind of joy out of the process. Then, of course, we have those wonderful “recruitment” tactics that plague the digital job search landscape. In many ways, it really feels like job seekers are a barrel of laughs for a woefully inept industry.

In the end, there are many of us forced to take jobs we know we will hate just to cover our basic expenses.

That being said, some of us are lucky to hold the wolf from the door for at least a few months. Maybe you’ve got substantial savings or you’re blessed with living in a country that provides decent social security (thanks, Germany). That can definitely take the pressure off – especially if you have dependents.

However, even with our basic expenses covered, looking for a job still often ends up being a painfully tedious, degrading and dehumanizing experience. It’s enough to make you want to run away and live in the woods.

woods
…and lurk in the trees, throwing pine cones at HR managers who dare come near your lair.

I’m actually in the middle of a job search myself right now. I am also very much at my wit’s end. I applied, last month, to over a hundred companies.

Over a hundred companies.

Let that sink in for a minute. That is quite a lot for the space of a month. Now, let me tell you how many positive responses I got (i.e., interviews) I got.

Just under ten.

I had rejections left, right and center. Not even polite rejections, most of the time. A lot of them were automated responses. Not only is that intensely discouraging, it’s just plain rude.

dating flowers
Flowers don’t work either… Not that some companies even deserve them.
I’m clearly doing something wrong,” I thought. “Maybe my cover letters sounded too braggy. Maybe they weren’t bragging enough! Perhaps I should’ve included my entire job history – not just that relevant to digital marketing. Perhaps employers scoffed at the fact I don’t have a Bachelor’s degree – or maybe (in the case of German companies) my German was just too “foreign”.”

Maybe, I’m just not good enough.

The above musings are nonsense. I did everything right. If you’re applying for jobs in a professional manner, you’re doing everything right as well!

We’re taking all the right steps, yet we get very little in return. It just doesn’t seem very fruitful.

fruit 400x
Bribing them with fruit doesn’t work, either.

Sadly, this is a totally normal experience for job seekers. It certainly seems bleak while you’re in the thick of it. You’re throwing CVs left, right and centre. Despite that, you’ve also got to remember that it seems worse because you need the Goddamn job right now, this minute!

However, if you’re doing your level best to get out there, you should always try to keep in mind that…

…you’re doing fine!

That’s why I threw the following points together. For anyone who needs a bit of encouragement and perspective, read on!

Hiring processes are painfully outdated

Application Tracking Software, online application methods and even my beloved job boards all, for the most part, suck. Now, job boards can be a great way of discovering new companies and new positions. However, when you’re applying, I would strongly advise you apply to the company directly. If possible. Don’t go through a middleman. You’ll just get lost in a wave of resumes.

Companies also seem more than happy to throw out a job listing and then spend the next eternity responding to candidates. They seem to think that automated responses constitute an actual response. Furthermore, many of them are woefully unprepared to deal with the onslaught of applications they receive.

I find it painfully hilarious when I get an interview for a job I applied to three months previously. While it is great to get an interview, it shows just what an utterly sad and pathetic state the HR industry is in. So remember, it’s not you. It’s them.

Getting the perfect position (could) take months

Terrible, outdated HR practices have a lot to do with this. At the same time, finding the perfect “match” is a lot like dating – much of it is down to fit. Do you fit in with the company culture? If not, that’s no particular person’s fault. If anything, you’re doing yourself a favour by turning that job down.

Then we have other points: salary is naturally one of the most important. While a good work-life balance is paramount, salary is the main reason you want a job in the first place. If it weren’t, I’m pretty sure many of us would be running our own raccoon kingdoms or setting up a circus or whatever.

snail house
Snail racing, anyone?

Then of course there’s the work-life balance the job itself offers. Are you allowed to work remotely (that point, for me, is non-negotiable at this stage). Will you actually enjoy your day-to-day tasks? What are your colleagues like?

Job interviews are vetting processes. Not just for the company, but for the candidate as well. Remember, when you go to an interview, you are also interviewing them. This whole process of finding a position, applying, seeing if you’re a good fit and maybe doing “trial” days can end up taking a long time.

Many HR managers have no idea what they want

I’ve been quite lucky in my working life. When I was a freelancer, clients wanted written content from me. When I looked for work as an English teacher, language schools hired me to teach English. Pretty straightforward. Then, I got into digital marketing. In both cases, they were small but successful companies who knew what they wanted. We didn’t even have HR departments.

The sad truth is that most HR “professionals” have no clue what they’re talking about when they write a job ad. It becomes even more apparent when they interview you. I’m not saying all HR people are like this but far too many are painfully unaware of what the job they’re interviewing for actually entails.

Consider rejections as “standard”

Occasionally I receive a “you were not successful” email, along with an unnecessarily long list of instructions about how to deal with rejection. I find it incredibly patronizing but I understand where they’re coming from. However, if you’re a grown up who has had several jobs then you should be well-hardened against rejection now.

If not, remember: rejection is more common than acceptance. Apply for jobs and go out there fully expecting to be rejected. Consider each rejection as just one more step towards your goal of getting a job. It’s as simple as that. Even if HR managers knew what they wanted and we had the best recruitment systems in the world, you would still get a healthy dose of rejections.

All in all, I’ll maintain that looking for a job sucks. Companies don’t make it any easier on candidates, which is why these four points are so very important for us to remember. We are not the problem. We need to power through, look for those diamonds in the rough (I REFUSE to use that stupid word “unicorn”) and build relationships that way.

 

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.