The number of people working remotely is growing rapidly. According to a 2017 State of Telecommuting Report, the number of people telecommuting in the US has increased by 115 percent since 2007. That means that nearly 4 million US employees work from home at least half the time. Higher estimates say that 47 percent of people work remotely for some portion of their workday. But how can workers find these jobs? And what does it take to be successful working from home? This guide answers these questions and more.
Many workers are intrigued by remote work but aren’t sure how to get started. Where can workers find remote jobs? And what kind of positions lend themselves to remote work? Here are the basics.
For the most part, the terms “remote working” and “telecommuting” are used interchangeably. Before many of the technological advances we enjoy today were available, “telecommuting” was the primary phrase for working away from a primary office. Now that most professionals have a smartphone and computer, telecommuting represents the use of technology to work from another location. The term “remote working” is all-encompassing and can represent other work that doesn’t require technology. For example, public speakers, academics and consultants may work remotely without a computer.
“Since the term ‘commuting’ implies something that happens every work day, ‘telecommuting’ may be viewed similarly, while ‘remote working’ may be more occasional,” says Michael Dortch, a professional with nearly 40 years of experience in working remotely. “However, from the perspective of what’s needed for success, it’s a distinction that really makes no difference.”
The great news for professionals who are looking to work remotely is that more and more companies are offering positions for employees to work from home. Some companies even offer positions that are strictly for remote workers.
“There are quite a few sites that are specifically geared toward remote opportunities such as www.flexjobs.com and www.virtualvocations.com,” says Amy Bishop, founder of the all-virtual Amy Bishop Marketing.
Job search web sites like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, or Indeed will often list remote positions as well, but job seekers may need to be more specific when searching for those jobs. “You can also add “remote”, “virtual”, “or telecommute” to any search terms,” says Bishop. “I find that if a job is remote, that’s a big selling point to potential employees and recruiters will often put it in the title of the post.”
In other instances, it might take some cooperation and communication between employee and employer to create a position with the right balance of on- and off-site work for both parties.
“Companies often mention remote working options explicitly in their job postings, because doing so expands the range of available and interested candidates,” Dortch says. “When a company doesn’t do this, applicants who want to work at home must decide how important that option is to them, and negotiate appropriately during interactions with their prospective employer.”
Cameron Clark, a recent Harvard Law graduate who has worked remotely during and since college, says that employees should be armed with research and information before taking it to their supervisors.
“If the company currently offers some permanent remote work opportunities, an employee might be able to pitch their management as to the potential benefits provided by remote work,” Clark says. “Employees should be prepared to discuss the costs of remote work, and may find more luck if they can provide their own remote work equipment.”
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There are some fields that historically were more likely to have remote working positions than others. Sales, marketing and editing are fields in which there has been long-standing opportunity for at-home workers. However, technology is expanding the field.
“The advent of new telecommuting technologies, including group audio and video calls, cloud data storage and collaborative work applications, has made it easier for industries to entertain remote work opportunities,” says Clark. “IT fields are hiring remote workers to handle technological tasks that are not client-facing. Healthcare and customer service industries are more likely to hire employees who can work from home so that the company can save office management costs.”
Arenas that are traditionally thought of as hands-on or on-site are now presenting new ways of touching base with clients. Today people can meet with psychologists, virtual physicians, consultants or design groups over an online network.
There are fields, though, that are seeing an explosion in remote work positions.
1) Therapy: speech language pathologist, marriage and family therapist, social work, counselor
2) Virtual Administration: executive assistant, office assistant, administrative assistant, operations assistant, virtual receptionist
3) Client Services: account representative, client service representative, customer success manager, customer care agent,
4) Tutoring: Tutor, prep instructor, ESL teacher, academic support coach, tutor assistant
5) State and local government: program coordinator, licensing inspector, office director, human resources manager
Professionals of all kinds in many different fields can work from home. “Almost any so-called ‘knowledge worker’ is a candidate for working remotely,” Dortch says. “Anyone who spends more time at a desk, on a phone or in front of a computer than they do engaged in more physical or location-dependent tasks can work remotely, with the right support.”
That said, remote work really appeals to workers in certain demographics, such as:
“Remote work opportunities are particularly appealing to employees who have to travel long distances to work, allowing them to turn their hour-long commute into an additional hour of productivity by working from home,” Clark says.
“Employees who have young children or other important home responsibilities might also find remote work appealing because it allows them to remain close to home,” says Clark.
According to Clark, remote work is also an excellent option for employees with disabilities. Work becomes much more accessible by removing physical barriers like commuting or navigating office spaces. An employee with a physical disability might find great difficulty navigating a workplace with stairs or other obstacles that they wouldn’t have at home.
“A deaf or blind employee might also find benefits in using their own personal technological equipment, which is better optimized to make work accessible,” Clark says.
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Generally speaking, remote-working professionals can expect the same level of pay as the employees who do their same job in an office. “Remote workers are and should be paid at the same levels as their commuting colleagues,” Dortch says. “In fact, since remote workers can save businesses money by reducing demands on corporate facilities and even local roads, companies should consider offering remote workers additional compensation!”
“I can not think of an industry that treats payment for its remote workers differently than employees who work in the office,” agrees Clark.
Although many workers find the idea of working from home appealing, a remote environment doesn’t work for everyone. Having the following characteristics can help.
Remote workers need to be able to stay on-task and take initiative. People who wait from direction from others likely won’t make good at-home workers.
Remote workers need to be able to communicate proactively with everyone; clients, coworkers, supervisors, family members. Those who shy away from direct and proactive communication may find working from home a challenge. Plus, without daily direct supervision, workers must be able to get and stay organized.
“Employees will need to be technologically savvy to perform work responsibilities through telecommuting, and will need to be adaptable as the company develops remote alternatives to traditional workplace practices,” Clark says. “For example, the remote work equivalent of a traditional team meeting might require access to group video call applications, including equipment like webcams, microphones and other accessories.”
According to Clark, these employees must also be amenable to new and ongoing training to ensure that they are competent to handle the ever-changing technological landscape that remote work demands.
Flexibility is an attribute of most successful at-home workers. Things come up and the demands of the job change. Being able to go with the flow at times, and stay focused in others, is critical.
Working remotely from home can be very beneficial to some people; however, it’s not the right path for others. Answer the questions below to see if you might be a good candidate.
There are common challenges that at-home workers often face. However, with a little planning and some shifts in habits, most workers can find success working remotely. Here are ways to combat the most common problems.
One of the most challenging aspects of working remotely is the physical separation between the worker and their coworkers. “It can take more effort for remote workers to be consistently included in meetings and activities led or conducted by people in the office,” Dortch says.
Kristina Libby, a professor at NYU who works remotely, adds, “People forget who and what they cannot see. Extra effort is needed to make sure people are aware of and thinking about you.”
Don’t get so wrapped up in the day-to-day work that you forget about the other people who help make you successful. Especially if you’re working in a team environment, it’s critical to recognize the efforts of others and be a great communicator. Go to networking events, reach out for and offer help, and don’t forget a sense of humor goes a long way.
Research says that remote workers are more productive than in-office workers. An article on www.entrepreneur.com notes that 53 percent of remote workers said they were more likely to work overtime compared to 28 percent of in-office staff. Plus, remote workers said they said they faced fewer distractions and had greater daily output.
Unfortunately, perception is often more important that reality. “Remote workers should always be wary of being viewed by colleagues, managers or both as being less productive than people in the office,” Dortch says. “Managers able to focus on whether or not delivered work meets the deadlines and requirements they've set tend to treat remote and in-office workers equally.”
“It takes a certain level of confidence, in the quality of one's work and in one's ability to communicate effectively, to be a consistently successful remote worker,” Dortch says. “It also takes confidence on the part of management, in the dependability of their workers and the quality of their workers' work.”
Meeting deadlines and having a high quality of work is key. At-home workers who develop a reputation of being reliable and on top of things will combat that perception quickly.
The ease of working from home can create a hard-to-find balance for driven and focused employees. It’s so easy to work from home that it can be hard to stop. Without everyone leaving around you at the end of the day, how do you know when it’s quitting time?
Scheduling in downtime can help cut down on overworking. “For me [the hardest part is] being in the house all day,” Libby says. “I’ve got to set up breaks to get outside and see other things. The worst days are the ones where I never leave my apartment for the whole day— then I miss all of the things that inspire me in the world.”
Other remote workers find setting up a designated work area or working away from home, such as in a nearby coffeeshop, can help create a more distinct separation between work and home. If your desk is away from where you typically hang out, it’s easier to get up and walk away from work when it’s time to end your day. If your work set-up is the couch, it can be tempting to just check one more email or spend five more minutes on a project.
“Logistically, employees have to adapt to a schedule that is not as rigid as might be the case in an office setting,” Clark says. “Depending on how much flexibility the employee is offered by their employer, they may have significant freedom to determine when, where, and how they work. This could influence, for example, when they take a lunch break, and the total number of hours spent working each day.”
This can be difficult for employees who are used to being monitored. According to Clark, employees must diligently monitor their work hours and responsibilities, as no one is around to hold them accountable for the completion of their daily work.
“When I worked remotely for a resume editing company, I was challenged to maintain my focus while working from my bedroom, with various opportunities to be distracted by roommates, TV, Facebook or other things,” Clark says. “At times, a minor distraction during work hours meant that I would have to work after hours to catch up.”
Remote workers will find success when they create a work space and a schedule so that they and those around them will respect their work environment. Oftentimes, the workers are motivated and focused, but those around them are not.
“Depending on an employee’s specific work situation, they may also have to navigate others who interpret their remote work as an opportunity to juggle other tasks or responsibilities while ‘at work,’” Clark says. “When I worked remotely from my parents’ home, I found myself having to clarify to my family that I was at work and could not handle chores like running to the grocery store.
“On more than one occasion, my mother would try to spark a conversation with me while I was in the middle of a client call or working on a resume!”
The solutions to these struggles include creating a physical work-zone with the appropriate equipment where you are most comfortable and productive. Create a Productivity Plan in which you carve out time for your tasks, and keep that schedule as consistent as possible. Build a culture with your housemates/family that will allow you to gently remind them that you’re at work and unavailable until your work hours are complete.
Christine Perkett has worked remotely and managed a virtual workforce since 1998. The first company she founded, PerkettPR, was one of the first all-virtual PR agencies and has won numerous awards for HR initiatives and client work. Forrester Research wrote a report on its “golden image” as a virtual company.
Alexander Miller is a digital strategist with a specialty in start-up growth marketing. Currently, he is the Online Marketing Manager for Swiss footwear brand, Baabuk. In addition, Alex provides freelance services in digital marketing and website design to clients around the world. When not knee-deep in marketing analytics, Alex can often be found exploring the many hiking trails near the Washington, DC area.
Christine: I’m in the client service business as well as running a software startup, so no two days are exactly alike. My routine generally revolves around what my clients need. There’s always a new request to handle, event to attend or breaking news to manage.
Alex: I try to stick to a somewhat consistent routine to give the day some structure. Usually, I'll start the morning at home by outlining my most important to-dos for the day and responding to emails. I do a daily check on analytics of any campaigns or websites I'm managing to ensure there are no anomalies. Then, I'll start my to-do list at home until lunchtime comes around. I do a short run or trip to the gym to get some energy for the afternoon, then I take lunch.
Because most of my day is spent in front of a screen, I always spend lunch away from my laptop. After lunch, I head out to a nearby coffee shop, get a large cup of tea, and settle in for the afternoon. Being in a coffee shop provides a bit of social interaction - something I severely missed in my early days of remote work. I spend several hours in the coffee shop during which time I tend to the majority of my to-do list. On most days, I spend some additional time after returning home to close out any remaining tasks.
Christine: Focus. Self discipline. Time management. The hardest part about being a remote worker for me is turning it off - aka, “closing the door” at night. I used to be terrible at it, which wasn’t great for my marriage, my kids or me. You still have to have a personal life. I think sometimes remote workers are so worried about convincing people they are working that they overcompensate and work more than in-office counterparts. Of course, this wisdom has come with age, experience and confidence in my work and what I deliver.
Alex: Time management is the most important skill that I've had to work on since becoming a remote worker. I've learned the importance of being accountable to my to-do list and realistic with deadlines. Additionally, communication is key. When you're not able to walk into someone's office or catch them in the hall for a quick question, communication can become a task of its own. Being clear about when and how to communicate is essential.
Christine: A great advantage to working remotely is that I am interrupted less than I was when I worked in an office, but I have to be self disciplined enough to focus 100% on work and not get distracted by personal life during the day. It isn’t for everyone. And you’re always having to explain to people that yes, you’re actually working and no, you can’t go shopping/to the beach/out for a two-hour lunch. Also, don’t think you can just work from the kitchen. I highly recommend a dedicated workspace, preferably with a door. It keeps you focused and able to turn it off at night.
Alex: The lack of social interaction can drastically impact your workday when working from home. I like getting out during the day for this reason. If I have a busy day of calls and therefore probably won't make it to the coffee shop, I'll go out to pick up lunch just to get out of the house.
The home environment can be very distracting. Unless you work in a dedicated office within your home, your brain isn't used to being fully productive in that environment. I used to work at the dining room table which had a direct view into the kitchen. When I started a less-than-thrilling task, I'd almost instinctually get up, walk to the kitchen, and begin snacking on whatever sweet treat was on the counter. Without realizing it, this can take time from your day (not to mention the weight gain).
Christine: Absolutely not. I have employed virtual workers from coast to coast and some people just lack the self discipline. Others don’t deal well with the isolation. I think introverts tend to do better with it than other personality types.
Alex: I think most people can find their way to enjoy and succeed in working from home, but it can be more difficult for some. Those without the discipline to manage their own time and daily expectations may struggle at first in finding a structure that works. Additionally, those who are more social by nature may find difficulty in the isolated setting of the home office.
That being said, remote working has many benefits that, in my opinion, are worth adapting for. Getting more time with my friends and family, less hours commuting, and a greater sense of autonomy and freedom have been great boosts. And in my particular case, I believe that being more responsible for I can accomplish during the day has allowed me to grow professionally at an accelerated rate.