A Few Insights on Finding Remote Work (Part 1)

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: I’d 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.

Jobs & Remote Working: Mentioning That You’re ‘Mobile’

After I vowed never to work full-time in an office again, finding a job has been tricky. Remote working arrangements are notoriously tricky to find or even organize. This is evidenced by the countless questions many digital nomads post on forums all over the web.

With most computer-based, white-collar positions, there’s a particular standard. When a company hires you, they provide you with a desk and equipment. Some may be generous and offer “flexitime”, so you don’t have to be there at nine on the dot every day.

If you’re particularly unlucky, you may have to commute up to two hours or more per day.

Let’s backtrack quickly: what I’m talking about here is a standard. Most jobs are office-based by default because that’s how it’s always been done.

For professionals who’d prefer not to listen to Carol munching on carrots every single day – it sucks. However, the majority of us just suck it up. That’s understandable and admirable. After all, we’ve got bills to pay!

Is there any way around this?

The good news is yes, there is. The bad news… You may have a harder time finding a job. However, that’s depends on your particular industry. First and foremost, I’ll say that those working in customer service and IT are probably the “luckiest” when it comes to remote work arrangements. Many companies, desperate for talent and expertise, don’t really give a flaming where their programmer is as long as they, well, program.

For some bizarre reason, this expectation hasn’t been passed on to other careers which are computer-based. Many accountants, digital marketers, graphic designers, copywriters(!?), human resources professionals, etc. are expected to plod into the office every day. Even if we quit our jobs and look for something else, we’re faced with a problem like the following:

I recently applied for a job in Braunschweig, Lower Saxony, Germany. It’s all about vaping (yes, I’m a vaper… But I swear I don’t sit in Starbucks or have a Mac – well okay fine, I sit in Starbucks sometimes). It looks like a great job to have as a main egg. It will also make a nice change from promoting online dating, which I have done for the last three or so years.

The problem?

I live in Cologne. It’s a good few hours away from where the company’s offices are based. Now, I’ve been applying for quite a lot of jobs lately. Until now, I haven’t really encountered a problem with location. And that’s simply because I’ve only applied to remote companies. This company, however, is different. They have mentioned nothing about remote work.

So it was up to me to suss out whether remote work would be acceptable.

That meant asking.

But, pray tell, how do you go about asking for a telecommute arrangement? Before you do, consider the following:

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 favourable. 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

You could say I was a working remotely long before I knew what that really meant. I wasn’t fully remote, though: when I started freelancing, I taught English as a second language – mainly in big, boring German companies. Becoming a copywriter happened by accident. I discovered that I could write for money with many of the “content mills” that were trawling the Internet back in the day. I quickly learned to get out of that habit.

When I got hired to work at a company in Cologne, Germany, I was over the moon. It was what some of my friends called a “real job”. There was an office, a telephone, my own desk… It was new, varied, interesting and of course, came with a stable salary. Probably the most delicious temptation after spending years carefully tracking how much money is coming in every month.

cologne cathedral working remotely
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.

I nearly went crazy although I managed to hold out for two years.

Arrangements for Working Remotely: Are they possible?

If you want to start working remotely, the general advice is this: instead of quitting your job and going after any freelance gig you can find, you should speak to your boss first. Remote working arrangements are available at a surprising number of companies these days: from Canonical to Dell to various start-ups such as Hotjar and Buffer (the latter of which operate entirely remotely).

It also depends on your company culture. Do you have team members based in offices in other countries? How much of your work involves meeting people? All must be taken into consideration. For those of us who SEOs, online marketers and programmers, pretty much all of the work can be done with a laptop and an Internet connection.

There are naturally countless arguments against it: employees may slack off, are less visible etc. However, this post isn’t about that. It’s about remote working from the perspective of an employee who started it.

Remote Working as an Employee: The benefits

The benefits were obvious to me. Since I spent most of my time in front of a computer anyway, it made sense to work where I was most comfortable and could concentrate. That usually means a bean bag or my sofa (not a fan of chairs in general). Once I started working remotely, 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 used to dread getting up in the morning, getting ready and going out somewhere. 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.

I even noticed another benefit: I had more social energy. I’m not someone who likes spending all my time around people. I like to choose with whom I can do it. 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.