If you’ve searched the Internet for jobs recently, you may have come across “remote” positions. Admittedly a foreign concept for military veterans, whose presence was required at their unit to the point of endless hurry-up-and-wait events, remote work is gaining traction in the civilian employment world.
So what is it? What are the advantages? What are the disadvantages?
What is remote work? Remote work is simply a job that you do from home, instead of at a workplace or an office. You communicate with co-workers and supervisors via telephone, Internet video conference and email. Generally the work is done on a computer – transcribing, managing websites or social media, analyzing data and producing reports, resolving customer complaint tickets, and the like.
How do remote workers get paid? The payment part is easy: direct deposit, like military pay. However, some remote workers are on a 1099 schedule, which means they are a contract worker. This means the company pays for their work only; the worker is not an employee – so no benefits.
It also means you will have to pay estimated income tax (which you calculate yourself) to compensate for lack of federal tax withholding. Also, your pay will have to cover health insurance premiums. Some remote workers are on the W-2 schedule, which is the way the military pays: workers are considered employees and are eligible for the benefits offered by the company, along with federal tax withholding.
How do remote workers get evaluated? Because there is limited face-to-face interaction, evaluations of remote work tend to focus more on “deliverables,” things like reports and projects that you submit online, or “KPIs” (Key Performance Indicators) like website hits, tickets closed, or tasks completed. This is desirable if you prefer to do your work with minimal human interference.
Does remote work pay well? Industry reports show that remote workers earn about 15 to 30 percent less than in-office workers on average. This is partially offset by avoiding a commute – gas and vehicle maintenance – as well as by incidentals like occasional meals out. However, there is no denying that companies tend to treat remote workers as less-than-regular workers, especially because there is still throughout the civilian world an old guard of managers/supervisors who judge workers by the appearance of diligence (i.e. how much time they sit in their chair at work) rather than by results.
Still, if you can’t stomach office politics or hate the constant interruptions and discomfort that come with working in a cubicle, or simply want to do work in solitude and in your own way, remote work may be worth it.
What do I need for remote work? Generally the price of entry is a high-speed Internet connection, a phone line and a capable computer. Most people will have that anyway, so it’s not much of a price. Also, remote workers must learn and use software tailored to their work, which allows them to link into company networks, download and upload files, and attend chatroom meetings.
Aren’t remote workers distracted all the time? This is the crux of a large debate throughout the civilian work world about the efficiency of remote workers. Some people assume remote workers are all stay-at-home parents who squeeze work in between screaming kids and trips to the grocery store. Others argue that without office distractions, remote workers are way more efficient. If you choose to explore remote work, prepare to meet both types in your new job(s).
The reality is that remote work is perfect for stay-at-home parents – but it’s equally perfect for people who live far away from the workplace, or who prefer to work alone, or who can do most of their work on a computer anyway.
And it’s a good investment for many companies, who can access skilled workers across the country (and around the world), take much of the emotional baggage out of human resources by evaluating submitted results only, and pay their employees a little less than on-site workers.
Will remote work give me a flexible schedule? This depends on the job. Don’t assume that you will be given only a series of deadlines and total freedom to meet them, however. Most remote workers have to attend several conference calls or video conferences a week – and some of these remote meetings may occur at odd hours considering the time change.
Some jobs, like website monitoring or customer service, require you to be “on call” for long stretches of the day or night – you can’t just go to sleep or take a trip to the grocery when you’re supposed to be moderating comments or answering customer calls.
However, most remote jobs do give you more freedom than office work – and you don’t have to feel the guilt of being a “bad worker” if you leave work for an appointment or something.
How do people succeed working remotely? There are many articles online where remote workers share the secrets of their success (and defend their contributions to their company). Ultimately their success comes down to one thing: treating remote work like a job.
Some designate an office in their house; others spend a lot of time at the local coffee shop. It’s personal preference, but you’ll need to find a place where you can be productive.
Communicate professionally by being active and engaged in conference calls and looking presentable in video conferences, and write concise emails with meaningful subject lines. Nearly every remote worker also recommends finding a way to interact with other people by conversing outside of work with distant co-workers and befriending fellow remote workers (even of other companies) – it will help you feel more connected and less isolated.
The bottom line: Remote work is not an excuse to get up late, work in your pajamas and enjoy freedom from responsibility. It is, however, a viable career option that permits you to avoid cubicle life and long commutes, options when arranging your work schedule, and the comforts of your own home/office/favorite cafe. As long as the pay is enough for your needs, remote work can be a pleasant, productive and rewarding career.