The changing world of work and careers includes a shift in location. I’ve been working as a remote (a.k.a. virtual, telecommuting, home-sourced, home-based) employee for six years now (across two companies). “Where do you work?” is something people ask me about, locally and at conferences, and it’s always a challenge to explain.
The response I get when I say “I work from an office in my home” has changed over the years. What used to be general skepticism that this kind of arrangement could be “serious” work, evolved to cautious curiosity, and more recently to questions about how one can find these kinds of positions.
The possibilities for remote work have expanded in recent years as the tools available have improved. More employers now embrace flexible schedules and online connectivity. If you are in the midst if a job search or preparing for one in the near future, you may have more options than you think.
A U.S. Census study [PDF] published in 2012 found that “13.4 million people worked at least one day at home per week,” a 35% increase since 1997. While many of these home-based workers were classified as “self-employed,” almost 60% worked for private companies. Freelancers often work out of their homes, but part- and full-time positions are also possible.
The Census report found that management, business and finance were the leading industries in remote employment, and that computer, engineering and science opportunities are growing. FlexJobs.com’s annual list of 100 Top Companies with Remote Jobs in 2015 also includes education, healthcare and insurance services, as well as government agencies.
What to Expect
The Harvard Business Review’s recent interview with MIT’s Peter Hirst described the school’s flexible working initiative, and the challenge of setting realistic expectations about work performed away from an office. According to Hirst, “the only thing that’s in the equation is can you get the work done, and that’s both about the work itself and the person’s performance and capability for working remotely.”
So, what is it like to be part of a virtual team? What is the work like and which skills are required to make it successful?
Tasks and Environment
The work is often project-based. You may or may not have scheduled work hours each day (more on that below), but it’s likely you will have specific deadlines for assigned tasks and milestones to measure your progress. TalentCulture.com’s recent advice to remote employers described the flow of working independently on parts of a project, and collaboratively with a team to pull everything together.
Technology is everywhere. In addition to email accounts you can expect to connect with your supervisor and co-workers via project management systems like Basecamp, Wrike, and Teamwork. These tools provide multiple ways for virtual team members to communicate as well as schedule and document progress on assigned tasks. Instant messaging, interactive calendars and file sharing are just a few of the features available. There’s usually a learning curve when you get started with a new system, and the tools change over time as version updates and better options are adopted.
Communication is constant. This is the crux of the remote working arrangement. You have to ensure that your managers know what you are doing and where you are in your assigned projects. Your managers have to ensure that you have the direction and resources needed to successfully complete those assignments. You may find yourself tied to your mobile devices, etc. checking/responding to email before and after scheduled work hours, especially if you are working with colleagues in different time zones. Be prepared to proactively ask questions, seek clarification and provide regular updates.
Flexible work arrangements aren’t for everyone. Specific skills are required to bridge the distance between the company’s home office and the office in your home.
- Time Management: Working from home can be convenient (I admit to getting the occasional load of laundry done), but it can also be distracting. Career expert Donna Svei shares research finding that the biggest challenges of working from home often involve children, family and pets. Setting up a daily and weekly work routine can help you stay focused. Communicate this with others to let them know when you are working and when you are available for other activities.
- Self-Direction: Can you maintain a structured approach to remote work? Work-at-home tips from the Christian Science Monitor include “find a quiet place to work” and “set a schedule and stick to it.” Establish a dedicated workspace to help separate when you are “at work” from when you are “at home.” This takes some practice, but leads to good work habits that make it easier to stay on task. Self-direction also means that without colleagues to consult with at any moment, you need motivation to make decisions about your projects and move things forward.
- Resourcefulness: In a lot of ways you’ll be operating independently, so it’s essential to be proactive. You’ve got to consistently meet your goals each day, and react to unexpected problems. Without an office manager or tech support down the hall you should have a back-up plan for things like Internet access, and be able to troubleshoot basic computer issues on your own, for example.
Do any of these things sound familiar? You are building similar skills through your experience as an online student. From mastering your school’s learning management system, web-conferencing tools and library databases, to submitting your assignments on time and completing group projects at a distance, you are continually improving your skills and getting more efficient at remote communication.
Finding and Negotiating Online Jobs
So, how do you find remote jobs? Resources for finding legitimate “work from home” opportunities are now readily available. Try some of the following websites in your next job search:
- Telecommuting Sites, like FlexJobs, WeWorkRemotely and SkipTheDrive, specialize in remote job postings and can be searched by industry (e.g., accounting, medical) and other variables.
- Online Job Boards, such as Indeed and CareerBuilder allow you to filter the announcements by type or keyword, such as “online,” “remote” or “telecommute.” Setting up a job alert on these sites, to receive email notifications when new remote jobs in your industry are posted, is often an option.
- Company Websites: Many of the companies listed on the sites I described above are hiring for online and office-based positions. If there is a specific organization you would like to work for, check their website for current job openings that indicate remote options.
I’ve outlined some of the general expectations of working from home, but the projects and day-to-day requirements vary by position and company. Look for additional evidence of flexible working arrangements in vacancy announcements, and ask questions when details aren’t posted.
- Office Hours: Does the position require you to be at work during specific hours each day? Some companies expect remote workers to be online during the traditional business day, while others allow for a more flexible work day. This depends on the organization and industry, and whether or not remote employees are located across time zones.
- Software, Hardware and Internet Connections: Will the employer provide remote workers with equipment? There are pros and cons to having a company-issued laptop or providing your own, but it’s good to know what to expect. There may also be policies about what platforms and services you use.
- Your Location: Jobs that are completely remote, in which you rarely or never visit a physical location, give you the ability to work from anywhere (which is sometimes easier said than done – and perhaps the topic of a future post). But in organizations that meet in person on a regular basis, there may be a requirement to live within a certain distance of the office.
- Flexible vs. Remote: Flexible working arrangements often mean that you have an office, but work from home (or the library, coffee shop, etc.) one or more days per week. This approach offers some of the conveniences of remote work, while maintaining traditional office interactions.
The concept of “working from home” has come a long way. What’s happening in your career field? Add flexible and remote opportunities to your next job search and expand your employment options. Consider how you might present your online learning skills as evidence of your readiness to succeed in a virtual work environment.
Source: Inside Online Learning Blog