What is Remote Work? And Is It As Good As It Sounds? An End-All-Be-All Guide
Remote work—what it is, what it isn’t, and how it could be just right for you.
Remote work n. The growing trend of employees who don’t walk into a traditional office each weekday morning, instead opting to work remotely part- or full-time from home, abroad, or a well-designed coworking space in the name of flexibility, technological progress, and productivity.
Skillcrush (as in us, the team, right here) is a fully remote company comprised of dozens of remote workers. Every day, we log onto various platforms—Google Hangouts, Jira, Slack—and we get down to it.
Work days for us don’t look that different from a conventional company, honestly, with the exception maybe of the way we run our projects. Despite the fact that we’re working remotely, there are still team meetings, water cooler-esque chatter in various Slack channels, lunch breaks. We just do it from far-flung places like Los Angeles, Prague, Florida, and Finland.
There are advantages and disadvantages to remote work, of course (and I’ll delve into those later in this article), but the point is this: there’s a high probability that remote is the future. That’s why, today, I’m deep-diving into what remote work is, what it isn’t, and what working remotely could be for someone who looks a lot like…yeah, you.
Table of Contents
- What is Remote Work?
- Remote Work, Work from Home, Flex Work, Telecommuting—What’s the Diff?
- But Does Remote Work Work?
- Remote Work: Pros and Cons
- Is Remote Work Right for You?
- How to Find a Remote Job
- The Best Remote Job Boards
- Fully Remote Companies (And Their Job Listings)
- How to Learn Remote-Friendly Job Skills
What Is Remote Work?
You might have heard it called “telecommuting” or even “work from home”, but the term “remote work” simply means any work you do that doesn’t require commuting into an office.
The premise is this: thanks to the digital age, you can successfully complete projects and communicate with your team—even manage a team—without being in the same room or even the same city. That means that, rather than going into an office (or, worse, a dimly lit cubicle) everyday, you can work remotely from anywhere as long as you’ve got a laptop and internet. Good internet is key.
That brings us to the “any work” portion of the definition. Some remote workers are fully remote, meaning they work from home (or a coworking space or coffee shop) 40 hours a week. Other companies allow their teams to work remotely, say, one or two days a week. And then there are freelancers who technically work remotely because they’re calling the shots on their own business. All of these qualify when you’re talking about remote work.
How is remote work different than work from home or “flexible hours”?
Remote Work Versus Work From Home
TLDR: remote work is working from anywhere, work from home is exactly that—at home.
Think of remote work as the umbrella term. At our company, plenty of us work from home, but others choose to head into a coworking space for part or all of the day. Sometimes people shift to a cafe in the late afternoon. And then there are those of us, like our Director of Operations, Caro Griffin, who work from everywhere (seriously, she gave up her apartment last year before hopping a flight abroad), courtesy of programs like Remote Year.
So is work from home right for you? Some people can work from their living room (so far so good with me) while others go nuts without the ritual of leaving the house. For that reason, before diving into remote job boards, it’s definitely worth considering whether it sounds like something you’d enjoy. That doesn’t mean you have to give up on remote work entirely—you can always look for jobs that offer coworking space stipends. Skillcrush does!
Remote Work Versus Flex Jobs
TLDR: remote work is about location, flex jobs or “flexible hours” focuses on determining your own schedule. Also, not all flex jobs are remote jobs.
Our remote team also practices flexible hours. This is pretty inevitable given that we’re juggling multiple time zones. Each team at Skillcrush decides on meeting times based on hours where they overlap (when our graphic designer in Romania meets us in video chats at 8:30am my time, it’s 11 hours later for her).
But “flex hours” don’t always equal “remote job”. Sometimes, flex can mean time-shifting working hours during the week or even job sharing with another part-time person, so it’s important to understand all the options. Here’s a roundup of five flex schedules you might come across.
The biggest distinction is this: a flex job is a role that allows you more freedom regarding when and how much you work so you can prioritize other elements in your life (like parenthood), whereas a remote job allows you the freedom of where you work. Often, companies and roles combine both elements to create a sustainable company culture.
Remote Work Versus Telecommuting
TLDR: they’re kind of the same thing in 2019—but hip companies usually say “remote work” instead of “telecommute”.
Then there’s telecommuting, which is a bit of a dated term (you mostly see it when you’re reading outdated business sites). A telecommuter is someone who works some or all of her hours from home, usually in the same geographic area as the company. She could head into the office for a team meeting if needed. Remote work implies that you don’t have to come into the office at all, meaning you could be living in Bangkok and talking to your boss in Berlin.
These days, though, fewer and fewer companies distinguish between the two terms, so if you’re looking for a remote job, it doesn’t hurt to search through telecommuting job listings as well. For the purposes of this article, though, let’s use the term “remote work” from here on out.
Does Working Remotely Work?
Absolutely. A fully remote team with flexible hours means that everyone can focus on work whenever and however they focus best. Studies shows that:
- 77% of remote workers report greater productivity, in part because they deal with fewer distractions (think about all those times someone just “drops by” your office when you’re trying to work).
- The rise in the number of remote workers is up exponentially in the last few years, which is pretty clear proof that companies are seeing positive results.
- Also, because more and more millennials say that they’re more interested in companies that offer some form of remote work, remote companies may actually be at a hiring advantage for top talent.
We certainly think remote work works, hence why we’re a fully remote company. But let’s dive into some other remote work pros and cons.
Remote Work Advantages and Disadvantages
Now that you know what remote work is, let’s talk about why you might like it (and why you might not).
Pro: You’re more likely to stay long-term
One of the biggest advantages of remote work is that you’re able to handle most of what life throws at you—including the moments that might have previously put your job at risk.
Last year, before I joined Skillcrush, a critically ill parent meant that I had to spend weeks aways from my office. Despite an incredibly supportive team and boss, that period of enforced flexibility was a major stressor. It meant I ping-ponged back and forth between cities whenever I felt like I’d been out of touch for too long. And had my company not been so understanding, I would have wound up having to take unpaid leave for all those extra days.
Not so with remote work. A laptop means you can work from home, on the road, and even (but I hope this doesn’t happen) from a hospital. It’s work that takes into account how unexpected life is.
Remote jobs also mean that if you’re considering maternity leave or your partner gets a job in a different city, you don’t have to sacrifice the job you love for the person (or future little person) you love. Warm and squishy, right?
Pro: You’ll have more time for deep work
Anyone else remember when that study came out that proved that work interruptions cost you up to six hours a day?
Those notorious “Hey, quick question…”s add up. Here at Skillcrush, we tend to stack meetings in the morning, meaning that the late afternoon is primed for deep work (I’m writing this massive article in uninterrupted bliss right now, in fact).
Working from home or from a coworking space where you don’t know the people around you means more focus. Another bonus: remote work is built on the belief that you’ll get your work done, not that you need to have your butt in a seat for exactly 40 hours a week. The result is that you’ll focus on quality not quantity, which is good for everyone including the company.
Pro: You’ll learn some seriously impressive communication skills
One could argue that it’s much harder to communicate when you work remotely, but I’d actually disagree. Working remotely means that communication is everything. It’s immediately apparent when the way you’re communicating isn’t working, and you’ll be forced to fix issues much more quickly. This is communication on steroids, and it means you’re going to dramatically improve every technique from how you present ideas to how you voice frustrations about a coworker. All good things.
Pro: You’ll feel healthier
A 2016 study from the University of Minnesota found that workplace flexibility lowered stress and the risk of burnout. So that’s better mental health. Then there’s the fact that working from home means you’re less likely to encounter this season’s flu.
Another big benefit of remote work on health: Forbes argues that while people commuting to offices reported that they were less likely to exercise and eat well, remote workers don’t have those barriers. Spoken from personal experience: it’s almost a treat to go to the gym at 5pm when you’ve been at home all day. Almost.
Pro: It’s one (huge) step toward ending the gender wage and leadership gaps
Part of the reason Skillcrush’s CEO, Adda Birnir, decided to build a remote company from the start was that it allowed women to have the flexible schedules they needed for personal priorities and successful careers.
Many studies have found that the gender wage gap is actually a motherhood gap. That gap also affects how many women become leaders within their companies. Time off, especially in a nation that lacks strong parental leave standards, inevitably leads to falling behind.
From the lens of intersectional feminism, there’s another clear-cut advantage: remote work means that you don’t have to live in an expensive city to work for a big name company or find a role that’s ideal for you. This means more opportunities for everyone, but particularly those who might previously have been excluded because of their location, background, or scheduling needs.
Con: You run the risk of feeling isolated
This disadvantage of remote work kind of goes without saying. If you’re used to working in a busy office environment, switching to a work from home schedule might get to you.
That said, many companies offer coworking space stipends or other programs if you begin to feel the monotony of your home office (and there are always coffee shops!). And a remote company done right involves a lot of video conferences and messages throughout the day—so you may find it’s not as isolating as you’d expect.
Con: You’re responsible for staying on track
Look, we won’t mince words: remote work requires a self-starter attitude. No one is checking to see if you’re working or how hard, you’re just required to get your work done on time. If you have trouble self-motivating, remote work might not be the best job for you. Then again, it might teach you how to take ownership of your work, which ultimately, is a great thing.
Con: You won’t always have immediate access to your team
Not to keep picking on Lizu, our graphic designer, but she signs off for the day (or her night) around 9:30am my time. That means that if I realize I need something from her that I haven’t assigned, I won’t get it until I start the next morning. Luckily, remote work means putting processes in place where those kind of moments don’t happen—or at least happen rarely. It’s all about doing proper planning (which we do through Scrum) to make sure everyone knows what’s coming.
Is Remote Work Right For Me?
The big question, right? If you’re not sure if remote work is right for you (maybe because you’re one of those people I mentioned earlier who has a hard time self-motivating), try this article to start.
I’m tempted to make an argument that there’s a form of remote work for everyone, though. It’s just about finding the right one for you, which brings me to the next point…
How to Actually Find a Remote Job
We wrote an entire article on this! It’s called “Finding a Remote Job, Nearly Everything You Need to Know“. If you’re ready for remote work, definitely read it. But here are the main takeaways if you’re still just browsing:
- Use remote work specific job boards (see our list below)
- Bookmark the career pages of remote companies (see below for some of our favorites)
- Search LinkedIn for remote jobs
- Make sure you have a strong portfolio and resume, and custom write your cover letters to underscore what a great independent worker and problem-solver you are.
- Practice your remote work presentation skills for those inevitable video interviews
The beauty of the digital age is that there are job boards specifically for finding remote work. If you decide that a work from home, telecommuting, or remote job is right for you, you can go straight to the places where companies post more flexible positions. Here are a few of our favorites.
The 5 Best Remote Job Boards
FlexJobs has over 50 remote jobs categories, with positions ranging from freelance gigs, to part-time work, to full-time jobs, with remote careers varying from entry-level to executive. The best part? FlexJobs screens their jobs before posting, so you don’t have to dig through any less than reputable opportunities. The site currently hosts more than 20,000 work-at-home and digital nomad job postings.
With a simple, straightforward layout, this job board is a catch-all of remote, work from home jobs from customer service, to web design, to programming. Living up to their stated goal of ”finding the most qualified people in the most unexpected place,” the We Work Remotely site connects over 130,000 monthly users with telecommuting opportunities. It’s your ticket to remote employment in no time.
Remote.co hand-curates their list of remote jobs. These listings include customer service positions, design opportunities, developer jobs, recruiter and HR roles, sales jobs, and other remote work (including writers, managers, and marketers). The Remote.co site also has the handy feature of allowing you to search or browse by job type.
PowerToFly is a dream come true for female job seekers interested in working remotely. PowerToFly focuses on matching women in tech with remote and work-from-home jobs. If you join the site’s talent database, you’ll then go through a vetting process and get matched for a paid trial (a 2-4 week test period) with a potential employer. The site was started by two tech-savvy moms who were dedicate to making other women’s digital nomad dreams a reality, and PowerToFly continues that mission today.
I got three solid interviews for positions off this board, so it’s definitely legitimate. It’s especially targeted at web developers, designers, and marketers.
These are just a few of the 25+ best remote job boards that we rounded up in another recent article. Told you remote work was the future, didn’t I?
Top Remote Companies
Here are some of our favorite fully remote companies:
- Skillcrush (Sorry, not sorry…)
- 10up (career page)
- Aha! (career page)
- Buffer (career page)
- Close.io (career page)
- Ghost (career page)
- Github (career page)
- InVision (career page)
- Knack (career page)
- MeetEdgar (career page)
- MoveOn (career page)
- Moz (career page)
- Salesforce (career page)
- Skillshare (career page)
- Stripe (career page)
- Toptal (career page)
- Zapier (career page)
Buffer also has a great list of remote companies here.
Sometimes, Though, a Remote Job Means You Need More Skills
Truth be told, a lot of remote jobs are in the world of tech. That makes sense, right? If you’re building digital platforms and brands, you should believe that technology can do anything, including help teams work from any and everywhere. If you’re interested in a new career that’s more flexible, building up some tech skills might be exactly what you need. Take a look at our programs on topics like WordPress and User Experience or sign up for our 10-day bootcamp to learn some HTML & CSS basics. Who knows? This time next year you might be a web developer, fielding emails from Brazil.
If you want the most up-to-date information on getting started with remote work, check out our mega guide to remote work. We’re constantly updating it.