So, you’re considering making the switch to remote work, either because you’d like to work from home or maybe you’d like to lead a digital nomad lifestyle. But you’re wondering: “What should I be looking for in a remote job?” Or, if you’re “remote” already: “Is remote work overhyped, or do I just have a bad employer?”
If this sounds like you, keep reading as we take a deep dive into what remote workers should look for in a remote employer.
Wait, what’s a digital nomad?
A digital nomad is anybody who’s referred to as “location-independent” as a result of them being able to work remotely, and leverages this unique opportunity to travel continuously.
Considering the current of things (hello, COVID-19 👋), it’s worth noting that being a digital nomad doesn’t mean you need to travel between countries. Many digital nomads travel within their own countries, sometimes even via their own camper vans.
It’s a thing; look it up. It’s really interesting!
Why are you (or why do you want to be) remote?
First of all, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to work remotely (nomad or otherwise) simply because it’s the hot new thing and it sounds exciting. We only live once, so why not?
This is especially true if you learn best by doing. If it turns out that it’s not for you, there’s no harm done really.
Who says you can’t go home? — Bon Jovi
However, the most likely scenario is that you’ve considered working remotely because your current lifestyle isn’t allowing you to be your best self. Perhaps you’d like to learn more about other cultures (or even yourself — that is, soul-searching), or maybe you’re looking to reinvent your lifestyle by embracing flexible hours or switching up your routine in the hope that it might improve your mental health or boost your level of work output.
Also, there’s nothing wrong with craving a little wanderlust if international digital nomadism is what you’re thinking about.
Some digital nomads simply enjoy the cheaper cost of living (which benefits them) while boosting the GDP (gross domestic product) of their host city/country (which benefits the city/country, assuming of course they’re contributing responsibly).
However, with that being said, employers don’t always enable remote work as well as they could (even when they’re supposed to be a fully-remote company), so what exactly should one look for when searching for a digital nomad–friendly remote job?
Let’s take a look.
1. Flexible Hours
One thing that’s very synonymous with remote work is flexible hours, especially when team members are distributed (because of the multiple timezones). This appeals to digital nomads a lot because they typically would like to explore the city/country that they’re visiting.
But “flexible hours” can be misleading. Sometimes, it means “as long as the work is completed” — which, in translation, actually means “we’ll keep sending you more work while trying to convince you that you’re mismanaging your time”.
Many remote workers say that, although they technically have the freedom to work whenever they want, there’s so much work to do that they have literally no life in their work-life balance.
A remote work contract must include the following:
- the amount of forced vacation
- the number of hours you must work
- a crystal-clear overtime agreement
Hopefully, all of this should be evident from the job description, but if it isn’t, then enter the remote job interview with a bucket of questions. Trust your instincts.
Speak to other remote employees if you can.
2. Productivity/Mental Health
As much as your remote employer should care about your work life, they should also care about your life life. Besides, how you feel outside of work deeply impacts the way you work anyway.
Now, a remote job description isn’t necessarily an accurate representation of the job itself (or the company that’s hiring), so make sure to ask these questions during the remote interview:
- Generally, is the whole company remote?
- Does the company have a wellness policy?
- Does the company invest in wellness and education?
- Does the company actually help you to work remotely?
- Can you talk to other employees before accepting the job?
- Again, is there forced holiday and how flexible is flexible?
- Overall, does the company allow you to be your best self?
There’s a huge difference between a company that allows you to work remotely because you’ve requested it (or because it somehow benefits them — through smaller overheads, for example) and a company that truly believes in and advocates for remote work and its benefits.
Again, ask the right questions.
3. Cheaper Cost of Living
Gentrification certainly isn’t made better by over-tourism and wealthy expat communities (in this respect, I suppose(?), digital nomads lie somewhere in-between tourist and expat). However, if you live a somewhat modest lifestyle, you can benefit from a cheaper cost of living without negatively impacting the local communities.
And yes, this does apply to those simply moving to a new city.
Here’s what you can do:
- support local, independent businesses
- rent modest apartments at reasonable costs
- give back in other ways (mentoring, volunteering, etc.)
Being a remote worker from one city can help to spread the wealth to less developed cities, but this only works if you spend this wealth wisely. With that in mind, I’d argue that it doesn’t really matter how high your salary is as long as your remote employer is paying a salary that’s relative to their revenue and that you can actually live on, and if there happens to be anything left over (because you live in a city or country with a cheaper cost of living), spread it responsibly.
Personally, all my money goes to independent (but reasonably-priced!) coffee shops, cafés, bars, and restaurants. I really hate working from home, so I’m generally out and about all day.
Be aware, though, that working remotely means you’ll (likely) have more expenses (whether that’s bills, co-working rental fees, or as mentioned above, an absurd amount of coffee). A lower salary isn’t automatically justified just because your cost of living is lower. Keep this in mind when negotiating.
So, what does one actually have to look out for (in terms of salary expectations) when applying for a remote job? Well, if it’s a huge company and the salary seems a little low, you might want to investigate why. Essentially, having a remote workforce means having fewer business overheads. But these overheads don’t just disappear. Instead, they become the responsibility of the remote worker. Protect yourself: always ask questions and be responsible with whatever salary you eventually end up with.
When in doubt, turn to established remote workforces like InVision, Buffer, and Toptal. Reach out, see what’s “normal”.
Remote work isn’t necessarily better. It’s just different. But that being said, a lot of remote workers wind up disappointed by the remote work lifestyle but fail to attribute this to having a remote job that’s either bad, or just not suitable for them.
Not having a job at all is obviously tough, but do make sure that you ask the right questions and look out for yourself too.
Prepared for your remote job search? Head to SitePoint Remote to find your next role, where we handpick the best remote jobs for developers, designers, and digital professionals. Not prepared? Find out what you need to do to make a career transition into web development.