Working Remotely: The Basics
Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be discouraging to those who dream of working remotely. It’s all about managing your expectations.
Working remotely, or telecommuting as it’s sometimes called, seems to be experiencing a bit of a boom thanks to Covid. As a result, companies are discovering the benefits of allowing staff to telecommute. More and more people are also wanting to work remotely. However, if you think it is as simple as waking up and logging in, think again. Working remotely has its drawbacks and demands that need to be considered. So let’s talk about them.
First up, technology. You have to be comfortable with it and knowledgeable. It’s more than having a computer and an internet connection. The company will have the expectation that your equipment is in excellent working order with certain specifications, your internet high speed and of a certain bandwidth, that you have good security, and that you have the basic software needed to do your job, such as Microsoft Office. The company will not likely provide you with any of these things. The only software they will give you is any propriety software that cannot be purchased on the open market.
Speaking of software, you’ll have to be good at it or at least capable of picking up on new software without having someone sitting next to you training you. You should have better than basic knowledge of the software typical of your field, like Microsoft Office, Trello, PeopleSoft, and such. You should also be familiar with video conferencing platforms.
You need to be able to work independently. This covers a broad range. There’s no boss looking over your shoulder, which can be a good thing, but there’s also no co-workers. Therefore, there’s no one readily available to ask questions. You’ll have to sometimes be able and willing to figure things out. You’ll also have to be focused enough to not get distracted by the household: kids, pets, the dishes in the sink, the bills sitting in the to-be-paid pile. You’ll need to be productive and be able to show that you’ve been productive. Many managers will have the fear that their remote employees are binge watching Netflix or doing laundry rather than working. In this case, your boss may be more demanding rather than less so.
While many sectors have remote opportunities, the majority of the remote jobs are in sales, customer service, and IT. That’s not to say that you won’t find a job in your career path, but you may have to dig deeper to find them, be willing to battle the competition for the job, and have better than entry level skills. If you haven’t worked in a particular field for at least a few years, the likelihood of landing a remote job in it may be low.
Remote working isn’t the best for those that don’t like working with others. I know it may seem like an introvert’s dream because you don’t have colleagues sitting next to you. However, because of the nature of the work, you will have to be a better communicator, better team player, and better people person than average. A lot of communication will take place in email so your written communications will need to be excellent. Your co-workers may be spread around the world so you need to be cross-culturally savvy. In many companies, the work will be project based which means you’ll be working with a team of people that will have to rely on one another to get the job done. There’s also likely to be more meetings rather than less.
It can be a bit tougher on the work-life balance. Why? It may be harder to “turn off”. Without even a short commute from an outside office, you may feel like you’re always at work. It may especially feel this way if you don’t have a dedicated office space that is a separate room where you can at least close the door, and we don’t all have that luxury of space. This can be remedied by having a routine or ritual that says to you the work day is over, such as going for a walk around the block.
Remember at the beginning of the article that I said that working remotely seems to be experiencing a boom. Well, a lot of people that are now working remotely were incumbent workers that are just now telecommuting due to the pandemic and/or the companies found out that their workers can telecommute and thus save on building/lease/rent expense. So there’s not quite as many remote jobs out there as popularity may make it seem. There are remote jobs out there, but again there will be a lot of competition, entry level remote work is at a higher level than entry level standard work, and many of the jobs may be contract jobs, meaning the company hires (and doesn’t renew the contracts of) employees based on the number of clients that need to be served.
Lastly, starting a remote job as a new hire can be more stressful. You not only have to get used to your new role but also new technology and a way of working at the same time. You also have to do this with no in person contact with a manager or trainer where you can see things being done, easily ask questions, and not feeling like you’ve been dropped into the deep end.
Overall, a successful remote worker has to have certain capabilities and work style. Telecommuting has its pros and cons, and it’s not for everybody. Before you decide a remote job is for you, do a little research into the advantages and disadvantages and see if it’s all something you can live with. Read the jobs descriptions carefully, see if you have the technology, skills, and abilities they’re looking for, take in the pros and cons of remote working, and then consider again if you can live with it all.
Do you telecommute? What are some of the biggest challenges you have come across? Let us know in the comments!