Q&A: What Is Remote Work?
As the coronavirus pandemic forces all but key workers indoors, professionals across the the globe are facing up to a new (if only temporary) normal: remote work. Many have occasionally worked from home in the past, of course, although some gleefully fulfilled the homeworking cliche - wake up late, answer a few emails to the soundtrack of This Morning, then dial in to a work call, safe in the knowledge no one can see you’ve not showered. For full-time remote workers, however, working from home is no time to slack off. It’s a serious business.
In this article, you’ll learn what remote work is and how to find it. You’ll also discover the different types of remote work, as well as the advantages and disadvantages for both employers and employees. So, if you’re sitting comfortably…
What is remote work?
Remote work is easy to define. It’s work that’s done outside of a physical office. It’s also known as working from home or telecommuting. The point of remote work is that people can achieve all their usual, daily tasks, without needing to commute to an office each day. Various levels of remote employment exist, yet each boasts the benefit of flexibility. People that make remote work may tell you it’s improved both their professional and personal life.
Types of remote work
There are a few versions of remote work. These are:
Fully remote job
Fully remote employees work full-time, for a company that has a traditional office. The only difference? They work wherever they like - whether at home, a coworking space, coffee shop, or even the park. With this being an otherwise ‘normal’ job, fully remote workers have a salary just like everyone else, and a path towards career advancement. Fully remote employees also receive the same benefits and rights as on-site employees.
Sole remote workers are pretty rare, so the company itself likely has many - with a structure that supports remote employment. This helps maintain high levels of communication and maximise productivity. Depending on the role, fully remote staff can live anywhere in the country, and sometimes the world. Here are some popular careers that can be done fully remotely:
Copywriting and copy editing
Web or graphic design
Customer service management
Social media management
This type of remote job affords some flexibility with schedule, location or both. Normally, a flexible job is a regular in-office position that allows staff to work from home at least once a week.
Certain flexible jobs work in the opposite way - allowing employees to work remotely most of the time, but with weekly, in-person meetings. In this case, employees must usually live within a reasonable distance of the company office. Fields that commonly offer flexible jobs include:
Computer and IT
Sales and marketing
Accounting and finance
Education and training
A freelancer is, effectively, a remote entrepreneur. They complete work and projects for several clients, often simultaneously. Terms, fees and deadlines are agreed with each client, and while freelancers are answerable to the companies they work for, they’re their own boss. Some freelancers do their work on top of a regular full- or part-time day job, whether as part of a passion project, side gig or to boost their overall income. Fields where freelance work is most common include:
Social media management
Writing and editing
Advantages of remote work
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Any job that could conceivably be done remotely, now should be. If you’re in a role that allows you to do this, be thankful, you’re among the lucky ones (many - who either lost their job, or saw their whole industry disappear overnight - weren’t so fortunate). Right now, the single greatest strength of remote work is that it’s helped so many people keep their job.
Beyond that, there are heaps of remote work benefits for employees and employers alike. Here are the main advantages:
Flexible lifestyle: The most common reason people seek a remote job is the flexibility it provides. Fully remote employees often get to set their own schedule around general business hours, while freelancers can work whenever they want to. For parents, people with side hustles or those in higher education, remote jobs promise improved work-life balance. With the power to control how and when they work, many remote workers have greater autonomy over the rest of their lives.
Better health: Remote employees can be less stressed and more enthusiastic about their jobs than their in-office counterparts. Why? This style of work allows people to work as they see fit - in relative comfort, and without the time-wasting, expense and chaos of commuting. While there are obvious risks - e.g. working without a team around you can breed loneliness, and no commute can mean zero exercise - seasoned remote workers use the time saved to exercise, make home-cooked food (another cash saving) and see friends.
Renewed passion: A greater sense of control can bolster motivation, and remote employees often feel more inspired to complete work when outside of the office. Without rolling noise, perpetual meetings and distracting colleagues, many unlock the sort of focus they never knew they had.
Higher productivity: The outdated stereotypes about working from home are just that - outdated stereotypes. Smart employers love remote work as it’s known to improve productivity. Notable exceptions aside, empowered employees put in more effort - completing their work more efficiently. Besides, any worker that blows their chance to work remotely can always be hauled back in-office.
Cost savings: For firms that hire a completely or even partially remote team, overheads are lower - from office furniture, equipment and rent right down to minor (but actually quite costly) expenses like pens, printer paper, toner and ink.
Engaged employees: Beyond higher efficiency and lower cost, remote workers are generally happier. This, in turn, makes for greater employee retention. The longer employees stay, the more connected and loyal the entire team will be - even if they mostly communicate via Slack and Zoom.
Disadvantages of remote work
Like all working conditions, remote work does come with its own, unique set of challenges. Here are the most common ones, plus tips for how to overcome them:
Isolation: One disadvantage of working away from a team is feeling alone. Moving from a busy office environment to the solitude of your own home can make your days (and week and months) blend into one. Working in a coffee shop or co-working spaces is a great way to feel more sociable, as you’re able to harness the collective power of people without being distracted - as their work is wholly separate to yours.
Requires self-motivation: With no one around to check on you, working remotely requires a focused, self-starting attitude. If you find yourself falling into the cliched traps, or if your output dips below what you’d get done in an office, test out some new environments - to limit distraction and jumpstart your productivity.
Non-immediate access to team: Because remote work has a flexible schedule, the people you need to contact may not always be available. What if you have an urgent question, but the person you need to ask has signed off Slack for the day? In these circumstances, don’t fret. Ask yourself whether the query is genuinely time sensitive and, if it is, consider who the next-best person to ask would be. Long term, remember that forward planning helps reduce unexpected needs.
Potential increase in distractions: While distractions are everywhere in the office, it's possible that remote employees experience even more, for the simple fact they’re surrounded by all their own stuff. Depending on the employee’s home life, they might have to put in a full day’s work while also navigating their partner, kids and pets, not to mention the attraction of the fridge and TV.
Lack of community: Working together in the same space provides community and the opportunity to connect with each other. Because remote work tends to be isolating, there can be a lack of team bonding. To combat this, remote companies use teleconferencing, online chat and other tools daily, to maintain an engaged, social community.
Less reliability or accountability: Less supervision means less oversight. An employee's reliability and accountability for work, therefore, may not be as high as an in-office position - leaving bosses to take staff at their word, or second guess every action. Utilising weekly performance measures and incentives may keep a handle on this, as there is both carrot and stick to ensure workers stay motivated and on track.
How to find remote work
Be in no doubt, COVID-19 has shocked the working world. But that’s not to say finding a remote career is impossible. Far from it. Here are some easy ways to discover your next remote job opportunity:
1. Search remote-specific job boards
Many job sites exist now that only post remote and flexible jobs. You can search by:
Work schedule, (part-time, full-time)
Remote work level (full-time, flexible, freelance)
2. Search job boards for remote opportunities
3. Ask your current employer
If you’re in a job already, and want to enquire about flexible working in your current position, just ask. Also, until we overcome COVID-19, there’s no reason you should have to work on-site unless absolutely necessary.
We are, right now, living through a mass, remote work experiment. As countless businesses around the country and world suddenly adapt to doing their work from home, the future could look very different. Long term, remote work may be not just more common among businesses, but the new normal.