Four Steps to Securing a Remote Work Setup

Remote work setups and their variants are more common than you might realize.

This is especially true in the knowledge economy. The reason countless programmers, marketers, designers, customer service professionals etc. mainly work in the office is because either a) they simply don’t question it or b) their managers say so.

If surveys are to be believed, it’s usually the latter. Many more of us would take a more remote-friendly setup if it were offered.

Well, if “remote” is your preferred setup then I have some good news.

You can tailor your job search to suss out remote-first or remote-friendly positions.

It’s easier now today than ever before.

Telecommuting is slowly but steadily entering the mainstream. Getting a work from home setup is more is, nowadays, more realistic than ever. The bad news? If you’re determined to go in this direction, you’re going to have to work a bit harder than the average job applicant.

Now, the reason I’m writing this post is because I have a lot of personal experience in interviewing companies and evaluating their approach to remote work. Yes, companies don’t just interview me. I interview them. That’s what a job interview is supposed to be. My last job wasn’t advertised as remote however, I negotiated a contract and setup I wanted.

Now, I’d like to tell you how to do the same.

Step 1 Towards a Remote Work Setup – Start with research

Researching new roles can be exciting but it can also be draining. Very draining, depending on your current frame of mind. Approaching your research in a structured manner can do a lot of good. Viewing it as a project and setting aside a few hours each day for it will ensure you get one step closer to your goal.

When researching, you have several sources to tackle.

  • Job Boards: All job boards relevant to your industry, NOT just remote ones. In fact, avoid remote job boards for now and just focus on your industry, skills and experience. Generally speaking, I think almost all of them suck and are in a desperate need of an update. However, they are an excellent source and unfortunately the best we’ve got.
  • Companies: Research companies, research roles. Create a big Excel list. Look for words like “flexible working”, “mobile working”, “work-life balance”. Note down any remote or overtly remote-friendly companies too. This is a lot more fun and tolerable than just drawling through job boards.
  • Your Network: You don’t have a network yet? Start building one. This takes time but can pay off in the future. Be active on social media. You don’t have to be glued to my smartphone (mine is mainly a portable wifi router, if I’m honest…), but a certain level of consistency and connection can go a long way.

This is your starting point. Don’t stick only to these, either. Research local companies in your field and see if they mention anything about “work-life balance” on their ads, etc. See what open positions they currently have and start to dig deeper. Now, this of course brings me to my next point…

Step 2 – Research roles

You’ve gathered your sources, now it’s time to research specific roles and see where you could theoretically see yourself as a fit. Now you’ve got your sources, it is time to start looking for actual jobs within your field or skillset. Depending on your telecommute/work environment requirements, you may have quite a lot of options to choose from.

You can use standard job boards to suss out remote roles. In this case, it’s best to use a keyword combination such as “[JOB TITLE] + “remote””, “[JOB TITLE] + “telecommute””, “[JOB TITLE] + “home-based””, etc.

NOTE: Check out my post on how to find remote jobs with Indeed

Go through your list of target companies on a regular basis. Even if you don’t see an open position, see if you can send an open application.

Step 3 – Start a Conversation

If you phone/email to ask a company about their policy, you’ve already started a conversation. If the answer is what you’re looking for, send a CV along or apply. Cover letters are just that: an icebreaker that introduces your experience to a company. If anything, it is a sales letter.

Depending on the feel you get for a company, it might be pertinent to ask about their work setup. Is the role office-based, but with a certain degree of flexibility? Do they only want you to be there now and then? These distinct, unfortunately, are not always clear on job advertisements. It’s annoying, yes, but there’s no harm in asking.

NOTE: When asking about location flexibility with specific roles, make sure to tie it in with further questions about the work in general. You’re not just looking for any old flexible job: you’re also looking for the next step in your career. You want to show your passion, motivation and how working remotely can actually help you achieve that.

 

Step 4 – Start to negotiate

If you get to the next step of the hiring process, congratulations! Your work environment will often depend on the team you’re working with and your manager. It is in this interview that you now have the chance to…

  • Gauge what the company culture is really like. Do a lot of people work remotely, even some of the time? How used to communicating over Slack/Skype/video are your potential colleagues? Ask the right probing questions, as well as questions about the role.
  • Find out what terms and conditions you can put in the contract. What setups do other people have? Do some people work part time?

Conclusion

Finding work isn’t easy. It can be a long, hard slog and in terms of job interviews, you may kiss a lot of frogs (hopefully not literally…). You will also interview companies where you think, “Yes… This is it!” only to be rejected in favour of a candidate who may have slightly more experience or one extra skill than you.

Whatever it is, and whatever work environment you’re looking for (remote or not), you need to remember that ultimately it is up to you to get a setup that you want. There are more jobs out there than you think.

Setting Up Your Mobile Office

A mobile office is probably one of the most essential tools for a digital nomad. You need to be able to whip out your laptop and work – from almost anywhere. Especially if you want to practice the art of efficiently working and traveling.

In most cases, this means getting a travel-friendly laptop. One that has enough processing power for you to complete tasks (especially if you work with videos and/or other graphics). It must also be light so that you’re not dragging a weight around – and must fit any bag you carry.

Of course, setting up a mobile office goes far beyond buying a laptop.

There are a couple of other tools that make the set up even easier.

The basics of a mobile office

Choose the right laptop

I’ve just said this, but I’ll repeat: the core of an efficient mobile office is a good laptop. You must able to (easily) carry it around. Make sure it fits snugly into your shoulder bag/backpack. Make sure the screen is big enough (some people can work with small screens, others go crazy).

antique typewriter 400x
Typewriters are cool and retro… but would you really want to lug one around?

With regards to size and compact portability, Dell and Acer have some pretty nice models. Acer’s TravelMate range, in particular, is designed exactly for what it says on the tin. Size-wise, Apple’s computers aren’t terrible either.

Have your own power supply

Ideally, wherever you work should have power outlets available. Having trekked through cafes in various European cities, I’m aware that this isn’t always possible. Especially on trains. If you’re working 10+ hours without an outlet, you need to have a backup supply handy. Plenty of power banks are available nowadays.

potatoes
Delicious and nutritious but not a great source of power. Seriously, invest in a power bank.
Note: Make sure you find a power bank that can charge laptops! There is a difference!

Bags!

I’m not very fancy when it comes to bags. My current office holder is a cheap Ikea design – yet its perfect thanks to the various compartments it has. A lot of bags these days have a special pocket specifically designed for laptops, so make use of it. In addition, make sure there are separate compartments for USB cables, plug adaptors, your phone, etc.

Plug Adaptors

For a mobile office, these couldn’t be more important. Even in Europe, there are differences between plugs depending on whether you’re in the UK or on the mainland. Tuck a few necessary plug adaptors into your bag and leave them there. It will seriously throw a spanner in your plans and leave you scrambling to go to the next electronics store if you forget.

Headphones

If you have regular meetings, you should really conduct them in a quiet space. It could be your bedroom or a bathroom… Noisy cafes aren’t advisable. That being said, headphones are still a plus. Not just in terms of having a meeting, either: you may simply want to drown out the surrounding noise and concentrate on your work!

Setting up a mobile office really is that simple… Although it can be as elaborate as you like. The main point is that you want to be able to whip it out and start working wherever you are.

The Plague: How to Avoid “Work from Home” Scams

What I was surprised to learn was that work from home scams are pretty common – even today.

Why?

Well, remote jobs are easier to find than ever these days. There are plenty of remote job boards available with real, legitimate companies listing actual positions.

Long-gone are the days of the low-paid, “grunt work”-type telecommute jobs. Programmers and customer service workers tend to have the most choice but digital marketing, HR, finance and management professionals are also beginning to see more remote-friendly jobs available in their field.

So why, then, are work from home scams still a thing?

Well, first all remember this:

There will always be scammers and con artists. They will always try to prey on those of us who need something. If anything, the more desperate you are the more susceptible you will be to a scam.

I’m not knocking desperation here, either. We’ve all been there. Sometimes, we see an offer that is too good to be true and hope, just hope, that maybe it is the answer to our prayers.

Up until recently, I did digital marketing for online dating sites. Part of the job was researching and creating content about online dating scams. Many of these dating scammers followed similar principles to job scammers. The only difference is that job scammers aren’t playing off your need for affection. Rather, they’re playing off your need for an income.

PLEASE NOTE: Job scams exist in the “real world” too. Although remote jobs have a higher level of legitimacy these days, it is much easier to get away with a scam on the Internet.

That’s why when you’re looking for a job online (which, let’s face it, is the main method most people use these days), you need to be all the more vigilant.

What makes telecommuting a particularly “lucrative” industry to scammers, however, is the fact that getting a remote job is competitive business. The good news is that many remote job boards do a pretty good job of vetting potential employers and cleaning up job advertisements.

However, as a job seeker you still need to should some of the responsibility and…

…you should still be able to recognize a work from home scam yourself!

That means looking for certain signs. As a general rule, I would recommend remaining suspicious if anything seems fishy. And I mean really fishy, not that they just took forever to respond because, quite frankly, that’s the sad state of recruitment these days.

Evaluating a Work from Home Scam: What you should look for

There are a couple of points which immediately scream “scam!” in your face when you encounter them. As a general rule of them, I would maintain that if something is too good to be true, then it’s a lie. However, consider the following points…

  • If it looks like a “get rich quick scheme”, then it most certainly is. For the scammer, that it is. For you, it means you’ll simply lose a lot of money. Get rich quick and pyramid schemes naturally predate the Internet, however the digital world has become a very viable medium for scammers to carry out their work (hey, it’s great! Even scammers can work remotely these days!).
  • If they want you to part with ANY amount of money, then get out fast. Some jobs in the real world do require you to pay upfront for certain materials (uniform, etc.). However, this generally shouldn’t be a necessary. It is you who are selling your services to a company, not the other way around. If they want to train you then they should pay for it. The same can be said for any software or hardware they provide you – and if they want to train you. You should never have to pay out of your own pocket for any of that… Ever.

Think of it this way: the main thing a scammer wants to do is extort money from you. It is as simple as that. If the “employer” on the other end consistently insists on getting cash from you, then you know you’re dealing with a bullshit merchant. Forget about what they promise you because it’s not true.

Let me repeat that again in more clear, concise language. Just so those of you at the back can hear me clearly…

NEVER, EVER, EVER GIVE MONEY TO A RANDOM STRANGER ON THE INTERNET. EVER.

Are we clear on that? Good.

In addition to the “employer” wanting money from you, there are a few other signs which should spark your suspicions. Consider if…

  • …the job ad itself is written clearly and concisely. Now, I have seen real, legitimate job listings which were terribly So bad, in fact, I wondered how the person behind it even had a job in the first place. HR is in a sad state these days so I can understand that a lot of legitimate listings may seem “scammy” at the start. Which why you should also…
  • …check the job ad’s credentials. By credentials I mean telephone, email and web address as well as other social media. How big is their web presence? How consistent is their branding (and check URLs!). You’ll usually know pretty quickly whether or not it is legitimate.

Remote “jobs” that are usually scams

There are certain “jobs” that are indeed complete bogus. Generally speaking, the easiest jobs with the highest promise of income are out and out scams. Data-entry positions, for example, should be avoided if they offer you something along the lines of US$50.00 an hour.

Below, however, are a few “jobs” you are probably better off avoiding:

The Assembly “Job”

I hadn’t even heard of these until I actually did some research on job scams…  This type of “job” seems particularly mean (and depressing). The “employees” are sent starter kits to assemble craft supplies… And the products are then sold on by the company. Of course, the assembler gets paid… Not. It’s pretty obvious off the bat that this is a scam because… guess what? We’ve got machines to do that nowadays.

It’s simply not a valid business model. Forget it!

The Data Entry Job

Unlike assembly jobs, data entry is actually a valid type of work… And yes, a lot of people do it. You can actually find valid data entry gigs online which will pay you a couple of dollars. Honestly though, a full-time data entry is not only a) rare to come across and b) doesn’t pay very well. That’s because it’s quite literally grunt work. It’s the digital equivalent of stacking shelves.

Data entry is part of a host of other jobs. From VAs, secretaries to online marketers and programmers. All at different pay scales.

You’ll know that this job is a scam when you’re promised even a liveable salary.

Nope, forget it. These are usually bullshit as well.

So then what is the best way to get a remote job (without being scammed)?

There’s no magic formula to finding a remote job. It’s just like finding any other kind of positions. You need to have the qualifications and/or experience for the role you want. And during your job search, make sure you’re aware of the most common types of work from home scams. As well as any other kind of job scam.

Just being a little savvy will help you separate the wheat from the chaff… and get you the job you want.

LIES: Remote Work Myths That Are Nonsense

The concept of remote work is plagued by myths and misconceptions.

This is, in part, thanks to the rising popularity of telecommuting. While many people read the facts and statistics, many more prefer to listen to half-truths and outright lies. After all, they are much quicker and easier to believe simply checking the facts.

Guess what’s worse: some (no many!) of these people are managers, HR professionals and even company leaders. Many of them balk at the idea of letting their employees work from home.

To these managers, leaders and human resource professionals, being unable to physically see their employees and peer over their shoulders means they may as well not be working at all.

Well… at least until said employee breaks their leg and needs to stay home for a few weeks. That’s far too long to wait and there’s lots of work to do… Ah, simply let them bring their laptop home and work from their.

But only until they’re better! Apparently, working from home is perfectly fine if you’ve done yourself an intense injury.

For these people, working from home is also a very viable solution. If it happens to be the weekend. Somehow, though, it just doesn’t work during the week. Must be the magical weekend fairies and their productivity dust.

woman doing a line
“Productivity dust”… Yes. That’s what we’ll call it.

It is this particular type of poisonous attitude towards remote work that causes a lot of people to be miserable, holed up in atrocious “open plan” offices, get on each other’s nerves, significantly decrease their productivity, lose money and commute for nearly two or three hours a day.

Younger, trendier companies have countless solutions. “Isolation” pods, pizza parties (yay?), foosball, games..!

Leaders decide against treating people like adults. Instead, they do a u-turn and every employee becomes a naughty child who must be carefully monitored. “Work from home? Why? Here, have whatever your want… right where I can see you!”

The truth is that in the knowledge economy, you’re being paid for your knowledge. Not your physical presence. You are not a tradesperson or a doctor. For decades (nay, CENTURIES), businesspeople were happy to pay external freelancers for tasks they didn’t want to do. Oftentimes, these people wouldn’t even be in the same building.

Nowadays, the only reason you have to be in an office is because of your contract.

Well, it’s time to give up the bullshit. Let me introduce you to some of the most common remote work myths I’ve common across and tell you why they are bullshit.

“Collaboration without face-to-face communication is impossible/ineffective!”

meeting collaboration hands

Yes, it is ineffective.

Until it isn’t.

Circumstances (like a business trip) may force colleagues to be apart for weeks or months. In fact, it happens quite a lot. Contracts are negotiated, products are sold and money is made all the time with neither party ever physically meeting one another.

This also happened long before even ARPANet existed. The thing is, when it comes to making money… business finds a way. Do not underestimate the power of human greed.

Just watch dramas from the 60s and 70s featuring businessmen who can’t leave work at the office. They still do paperwork on trains. They draw up strategize at home. They telephone their bosses and clients from their living rooms and hotels.

If you’re dedicated to your job and have shit that needs to get done, you will get it done.

This myth is weakened even more thanks to modern communications technology. Unless your job literally involves working on someone’s actual body, physical presence is wholly unnecessary. While there are many jobs which call for that, I’m pretty sure it’s actually inappropriate in most business contexts.

cat licking
“Aww come on, just one lick. One lick and your company has the Morgan Account for the next 20 years!”

“You can’t let people work from home. They’ll just arse around on the Internet all day!”

party lights

That is very true. Certain people exist whose life ambition seems to be to do nothing but spend time looking at cat pictures on company time. But, here’s a secret: work shy layabouts who do nothing at home will go to the most extreme lengths to avoid doing work in the office, too. Sure, it may be harder for them, but you’ll amazed shocked at the ways people will try to appear busy.

Without actually being busy!

I’m no business genius. Yet if I set a series of tasks for someone on a team I’m leading, I can easily tell if they’re working because I can see the results. You, as a manager, should have a certain set of metrics by which you measure your employees’ success. Whether they’re sitting in the office or in Bangladesh, you’ll know if they’re working because shit is getting done.

It’s not rocket surgery, people.

Oh, and those lazy people who need ‘supervision’ in order to actually do their job? I have a simple question for you:

Why the hell haven’t you fired them yet?

“Remote work is new-fangled, passing fad…”

bewitched

I believed this remote work myth for the longest time. As the years trickled by, I started to realize that it probably wasn’t true. What really made the penny drop, however, was watching Bewitched (I kid you not!).

How many times did Darren Stevens (usually thanks to a spell of Endora’s) stay home and work on his advertising campaigns? Or call Larry Tate to say he was working from home? Or do work on the weekends because a client was coming to town the next day?

And people, people… That show was set and filmed in the damn sixties!

Yes, I know it probably wasn’t that common for a regular employee back then to work from home. I am also aware that it’s a television show about witches. But television reflects real life. Steven and Tate had urgent business to do, and they did it. Office or no office.

Let’s expand further. Accountants have been able to work from home… Since forever. So have newspaper/magazine journalists. Carpenters. Oh, and just take a look at this article while you’re at it.

Telecommuting is absolutely nothing new. It has just become more common and a hell of a lot easier.

“Everyone, everywhere can and should work from home… All the time!”

woman by the pool reading

I personally would slightly prefer to work for a fully-distributed company. However, as long as they have an effective remote work policy in place and I can choose where I work, it’s not a necessity. I am also not opposed to fully-distributed companies, either. However, we need to realize that not everyone can or wants to work from home.

There are many dedicated, intelligent and talented employees who just prefer and even excel in an office environment. In the same way that I both prefer and excel at my work when I’m in my own space, listening to my own music and sitting on a bean bag rather than a back-crippling office chair.

ergonomic chair
And don’t get me started on that “ergonomic” nonsense. Humans were not meant to sit in chairs of any kind for long periods of time.

Although I talk about “remote working” a lot, in reality what I’m trying to advocate is employers treating employees like adults and focusing on getting the work done and achieving results. NOT watching people like hawks, treating them like children and fussing over stupid rules that actually waste precious company time($$$). Sure, in jobs where physical presence is necessary, you have to be there. End of story.

But that’s exactly why I chose to be a digital marketer over being a receptionist.

For workers in the knowledge economy, we should ultimately be afforded the choice to work either in the office or at home or on top of Mount Vesuvius.

While remote work still has many myths surrounding it, it is my hope that one day we (read: MANAGERS) will have gotten these pedantic, patronizing attitudes we have towards employees. It is no wonder so many of us are miserable at work.

Just look at how we’re treated.