Remote work is a flexible work style where you work outside a traditional office environment. It comes in many forms depending on a company's size, stage, and philosophy.
At one extreme, employees may work from home occasionally. At the other end of the spectrum, fully remote employees stop commuting entirely and work whenever and wherever they're most productive.
This article outlines how and why people work remotely, how to find a remote job, common misconceptions about remote work and the different types of remote companies.
How do people work remotely?
The most common way to work remotely is to be a remote employee who works full-time at a company and receives employee benefits. Remote employees never commute to the office. Instead, they work from a home office, co-working space, or coffee shops.
Remote workers may be allowed to work remotely from anywhere or be bound to specific countries or time zones.
Another option is to be a contractor who works full-time for a company for a set period. Contractors typically don't receive employee benefits like healthcare, parental leave, etc.
However, many fully remote companies employ their staff as contractors to avoid international tax compliance and payroll complexities while still offering remote employee benefits or additional compensation as a substitute.
Digital nomads earn their living online while traveling, working whenever and wherever they please. Digital nomads can be full-time employees, freelancers, contractors, or entrepreneurs.
If you run your own business, you can choose to work remotely. It's never been easier to manage a remote workforce, and it's a fantastic way to attract and retain talent. Many employees got a taste of remote work during the coronavirus pandemic and don't want to return to the office.
Freelancers can work remotely by contracting out at an hourly rate or charge by the project. Freelancers are typically self-employed but can work through employment agencies or marketplaces.
Telecommuting or working from home (WFH) is becoming increasingly common. For example, you may ask to work from home Monday through Thursday but head into the office on Friday to catch up with co-workers.
Regardless of the approach you choose, remote work only works if you have the right mix of culture, processes, and technology to support it, including:
- A dedicated workspace: One of the highest leverage activities you can do as a remote worker is to spend time setting up a dedicated office. Read our post on home office upgrades.
- Boundaries between life and work: Not being able to unplug is the most cited problem for remote workers. You need to clarify when you are and aren't working to yourself and others.
- Time management skills: Remote work is more autonomous, so develop time management skills and a good routine.
- Deep work: The ability to focus without distraction is the best skill you can have regardless of whether you're working in or out of an office. We recommend reading Cal Newport's book Deep Work.
- Reliable Internet: Remote work depends on fast and reliable Internet for video conferencing, real-time collaboration, and access to SaaS products.
- Communication and collaboration tools: Remote workers must collaborate via team chat, video conferencing, file sharing, and project management software. Read our guide on remote collaboration tools and best practices to learn more.
- Strong culture: High-performing remote teams are built on trust and teamwork and typically focus more on results than hours worked. Culture is built on the back of supportive management that understands the benefits that remote workers bring to their business.
- Preference for asynchronous communication: Remote teams tend to exchange information without expecting an immediate reply, which is essential if you're working across time zones as you can't rely on others to continue working.
- Documentation: Remote companies need a single source of truth to operate effectively, which is why most rely heavily on written documentation like employee handbooks to scale.
To learn more, read our post on remote work best practices.
Why do people and companies work remotely?
Remote work has gained traction because the coronavirus pandemic forced organizations to adopt it. However, the long-term popularity of remote work is driven by its benefits to employees and employers.
How remote work benefits employees
Remote work benefits employees by improving their work-life balance. Remote workers have more control over their schedules and can adapt their work hours to suit their lifestyles. Working from home also means you have control over your work environment which can lead to high levels of productivity and performance.
You'll also spend less time commuting, saving nearly ten days per year (based on the average commute time for the U.S. workforce of 26.1 minutes each way). You can invest the time you save commuting into improving your health by exercising, preparing healthy meals, or spending time with friends and family.
Less commuting leads to lower environmental impact. KPMG estimates 13 to 27 million people will continue working from home, reducing commuting by 70 to 140 billion miles per year. Less commuting also means less air pollution. Air pollution has adverse effects on numerous health outcomes and general morality that are widely documented and has high cognitive costs.
Fully remote workers who aren't bound by specific time zones or countries can work from anywhere and can move to cheaper locales or live where they want instead of where is close to the office. Even if you are bound to a country or time zone, you can still move somewhere with lower living costs.
Remote work is a great way to avoid paying expensive rent or having a large mortgage. You'll also save money in other ways. The average American commuter spends as much as $5,000 per year on their daily commute - including the cost of gas, maintenance costs, public transport, etc.
Not only can you save money, but you can also earn more money. There's a myth that remote workers are underpaid, but reality shows the opposite. Research from PayScale that controlled for job title and location found employees who work remotely make 1.9% more than their equivalent in-office colleagues.
Remote workers also have access to more job opportunities. When your job search isn't bound by your ability to commute to the office, you can find a role that's perfect for you, and the COVID pandemic has only increased the number of remote jobs.
And because roles aren't bound by geographic location, remote companies tend to be more inclusive and diverse giving you exposure to more cultures and people from different backgrounds. A great example of this is GitLab which has remote employees in over 68 countries!
If you're lucky enough to work at a global remote company, you'll build strong bonds with people from around the world. If you've ever played video games, you know you don't need to be physically around someone to become good friends.
You'll probably also experience less office politics. While avoiding office politics completely is impossible, remote teams tend to hire great communicators which reduces miscommunication and politicking.
And because you can't tap your colleagues on the shoulder, you'll become more self-sufficient, a better communicator, and a more compelling writer.
How remote work benefits employers
Employers also benefit from remote work. A two-year study conducted by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom in conjunction with C-Trip found remote work improved employee productivity equivalent to a full day's work each week.
Companies also save money on real estate, transit subsidies, in-office perks, and all the other overheads associated with a traditional office, and they can hire employees in cheaper locales to reduce wage costs.
This is because remote work provides access to a larger talent pool. Companies that support remote work aren't relegated to hiring employees who live within commuting distance of the office (or those who are willing to relocate). Removing geographic barriers also means you can hire the best person for the job, regardless of where they live.
With employees spread across the globe, you can have a local presence in different geographies, leading to new connections, clients, and employees for your business.
If you're looking to hire remote talent, post your jobs on Himalayas.
The war for talent has never been fiercer, and employee engagement and retention are two of the biggest problems facing every business. The average millennial only spends about two years at a company. Remote work can improve employee satisfaction and retention. Given the average cost of onboarding a new employee is between 6 and 9 months' salary, it pays to retain key employees.
Having remote employees can even improve disaster preparedness because they may not be impacted by natural, local, or national emergencies.
You'll also lower your company's carbon footprint. If all employees in the U.S. who held remote-compatible jobs and wanted to work remotely did, greenhouse gases could be reduced by 54 million tons.
What jobs can be done remotely?
Remote work has never been more popular, forcing companies to adapt their jobs to fit into a remote-first world. Any job where you can do most work of your work online is fair game, but below are popular remote jobs and industries.
How to decide if remote work is right for you
To decide if remote work is right for you, you need to weigh the pros outlined above against the cons.
Not being able to unplug is the biggest challenge facing remote workers.
When you don't commute, you don't have a natural start and end to your workday, leading to longer hours and a lack of structure. You can also become more sedentary if you don't make healthy choices. Knowledge workers already have sedentary lifestyles, working from home can make it even worse.
Your team won't always be online, particularly if you work at a fully remote company. Your manager and the people you work with the most might be on the other side of the world, starting their day as you sign off.
This can make collaboration more difficult. Collaborating is hard enough in the office but becomes even more complicated when you're remote. Particularly if most of your team is co-located and you aren't. There can also be language and cultural differences. Remote colleagues may be working in their second (or third) language, so be aware that misunderstanding can happen. This is why written communication is important, as people can re-read things multiple times if they need.
It can also be lonely. Hell might be other people, but isolation sure isn't heaven. We all need social interaction to be happy. If you rely on work for your social life, transitioning to remote can be difficult, and working async can be isolating.
For people who live in a lively home, you might dream of being alone. While working from home makes it easy to avoid colleagues, they can quickly be replaced by distractions from friends, family, children, or pets.
All of this can cause lower productivity. Remote workers are responsible for their productivity, time management, and task prioritization. There's no one looking over your shoulder to ensure you're on task.
Another cause of lower productivity is unreliable technology. Inadequate tools can destroy productivity and morale. The Internet can come to a crawl, and real-time collaboration might be impossible.
Career advancement can be harder. If you're one of a few working from home, it can be hard to get promoted. You're simply not as visible as your in-office colleagues, and your manager may not know how to manage a remote team. You'll need to overcommunicate your contributions to ensure you're not passed up for promotions.
Remote work makes also informal information sharing harder. So learning, mentorship, and tribal knowledge can be hard to come by. Most organizations have unspoken rules, behaviors, and ways of doing things that are learned through osmosis in the office but must be deliberately cultivated when remote.
Team members who have never met face-to-face can also have a hard time building trust with each other. That's why remote companies tend to nurture a set of shared values, objectives, and methods.
If your company is new to working remotely, they might not trust you to work productively which can cause your manager to micromanage you, which can lead to unnecessary meetings.
Finally, there are real information security concerns. Security is an overlooked challenge of remote work, but there is a real risk of exposing customer data if you're not careful.
If you'd like to learn more, you can read about each of these remote work challenges and how to overcome them.
How to find a remote job
There are several ways to find a remote job. You might not even need to look for a new job!
For example, you could ask your current employer to let you work from home.
You could start freelancing. If you're a freelancer, you're probably already working in a hybrid fashion and could transition to fully remote if you ditched the in-person meetings with clients. If you have a few long-term clients, float the idea of a trial remote work period.
Another option is to work for yourself. It shouldn't be too difficult to transition to remote work if you run your own business. Consider allowing your team to work remotely too. Read our in-depth guide to attracting remote employees here.
If your current company doesn't support you working remotely, it might be time to look for a job on remote job boards. We've got thousands of remote jobs on Himalayas, and you can use our remote company profiles to learn about each company before you apply.
If you plan to apply for remote roles, you should assess whether the company and position are right for you by:
- Thinking about when you work best: In-person jobs tend to have standard expectations around when and where you'll work, like 9-to-5 in the office five days per week. Remote jobs tend to be more flexible. You could work from home at a company in your time zone or asynchronously at a company with no set hours.
- Determining what type of company you want to work for: You spend about 80,000 hours at work in your lifetime. It's one of the best ways to impact the world positively. At a minimum, you want to get along with the people you work with and be excited about the company's mission and values.
- Considering what management style you enjoy: Some remote managers schedule regular video calls with their remote employees to stay in touch. In contrast, others prefer to work asynchronously and communicate primarily through text. Think about what approach you prefer. Neither is inherently better than the other, but it's essential to get clear on what you like.
- Researching companies before applying: Company research helps you during the interview process, but more importantly, it enables you to filter out companies that aren't a good fit for you. Himalayas has thousands of remote company profiles you can use to learn about remote companies, their culture and benefits, and even their tech stack. We also have a guide on researching a company for a job interview.
If you're looking to find a remote job, we've done an exhaustive search for the best remote job boards and compiled them in one place. If you want a teaser, here are our top five remote job boards:
Our job search experience is fast, efficient, and beautifully designed. It's designed explicitly with remote workers in mind. You can filter by visa or time zone requirements, company, salary, job type, employee benefits, and markets.
We also have 1,600+ remote company profiles outlining what the company does, their open remote roles, tech stack, and remote employee benefits. Our company profiles make it easy to find companies whose culture and mission match your values.
Best of all, it's 100% free for remote job seekers.
FlexJobs has been around since 2007 and is one of the most popular flexible and remote job boards. It has 20,000+ jobs across 50+ job categories.
The downside is job seekers need to pay a recurring $24.95 per month before they can use it.
3. Remote OK
Remote OK is the most popular remote job board receiving hundreds of thousands of visitors per month. Given its reach, it's a great place to find remote job opportunities.
The site lets companies label their jobs to allow job seekers to find relevant positions. You can also filter by "only worldwide jobs" to find roles that will hire you from anywhere.
We Work Remotely is another large remote job website, claiming more than 3 million visitors per month. It offers thousands of remote jobs from all over the world.
They also recently improved their job search experience, allowing job seekers to filter by keywords, categories, companies, and time zones.
Remotive is a remote job board, community, and newsletter founded by Rodolphe Dutel in 2014. It's got thousands of open opportunities that are screened by their team to ensure they're remote.
Jobs tend to display location restraints too, which makes it easier to find remote work opportunities based on where you live.
Common remote working misconceptions
There are still common misconceptions about remote work despite its increasing popularity.
Many people believe it's too hard to collaborate remotely. While it's true it can be harder, you don't need to be face-to-face with someone to strike up a conversation, come up with ideas, or collaborate on a project.
You don't even need to be working at the same time. It's possible to work with people asynchronously. If you've ever worked with someone in a different time zone, you already know this is possible!
Modern technology has made it easy to communicate virtually. Remote employees tend to be excellent communicators who put in the effort to communicate project statuses, obstacles, and progress. Whether it's through video conferencing software, written documentation, or annual in-person retreats, it's never been easier to communicate and build relationships with remote co-workers.
People also believe remote workers aren't productive. There's also a stereotype that remote workers aren't as committed as in-office employees. The opposite is closer to the truth.
Long-term studies conducted by Gallup Research, The University of Melbourne, Harvard Business School, and Stanford University all point to the same thing: Most people who work from home experience increased productivity due to fewer distractions and more time for deep work.
At the other end of the spectrum, some people believe remote workers are constantly working, and for good reason, when you don't separate work from life, it can be hard to know when to stop.
But remember one of the main reasons employees choose to work remotely is for more control over their schedule. If you're an employer, you don't want employees to burn out, so set clear expectations and communicate them.
Another common concern is remote work hurts company culture and remote employees aren't integrated with the team. These are only as true as you let them be.
Your company culture isn't based solely on face-to-face activities. Strong company culture comes down to what you value as a company, how you communicate and bring those values to life, and how you work together.
Yes, you need to be more deliberate about how you integrate remote employees into the team. For some people, this will mean constant instant messaging through Slack or Microsoft Teams, while others prefer occasional video chats through Zoom or Google Meet.
Some companies think everyone wants to return to the office. Yes, some people do, but not everyone! Some people are happier and more productive in the office and others prefer remote work.
Remote work can be lonely if you get all your social interaction from work. You can fix this by catching up regularly with your team over video calls or in-person, hanging with friends and family outside of work, working out of a co-working space, or by finding a new hobby.
Employees who work outside the office often have a better work-life balance and reach out proactively to build relationships with their co-workers.
There are also a lot of misconceptions around jobs like specific roles not being suited for remote work. Most roles can be adapted to support remote work. Before the pandemic, it seemed like remote work was out of reach for most employees but most companies adapted quickly.
People also think that it's too expensive to hire and support remote workers while overlooking that offices and their associated costs are one of the largest expenses for most businesses.
Global Workplace Analytics estimates employers can save an average of $11k/year for each half-time remote worker, so it's not hard to project out and see how you could save even more with full-time remote employees.
Finally, don't believe remote workers earn less. While 44% of workers would take a 10% pay cut to work from home forever, it doesn't mean you have to earn less. Owl Labs' State of Remote Work report shows 26% of remote workers earn more than $100,000 per year versus 8% of on-site workers.
The different types of remote companies
If you're planning to work remotely, it's helpful to understand the different types of remote companies. While many people categorize companies as "remote" or "not remote", most exist somewhere between the two extremes.
A hybrid company has at least one physical location where employees work from regularly while also allowing employees to work from home a few times a week. Typically, if you work at a hybrid company you'll need to live within commuting distance of the office.
In contrast, a remote-friendly company might maintain a physical office and core working hours but have a subset of their employee base as full-time remote employees. The remote employees will probably be bound to specific countries or time zones that overlap with the physical office's core working hours because most collaboration is still synchronous.
Then there are fully remote companies (or fully distributed or all-remote) that have no physical offices. Fully remote companies may or may not require you to live in specific countries or time zones. Check out our post on 150+ fully remote companies.
Remote-first companies are remote from day one and are increasingly common. Read our post if you'd like to learn more about the differences between remote-first and remote-friendly companies.
Even if a company doesn't support remote work but has multiple offices, it deals with many of the same challenges as remote companies. Even co-located companies with multiple floors can benefit from adopting remote work best practices.