Back before the pandemic, finding a remote-friendly future employer to work for was in some ways easier – while in some ways, it was more difficult.
It was harder, because it was a rarity. While remote-work friendly businesses have always existed, and indeed remote-first and 100% remote companies, they were simply fewer and further between back in the day. So finding the right one for you was always going to be tougher.
However, those who were serious about remote work tended to signal it clearly as an important part of their culture, and something they wanted applicants to understand and embrace. They hadn’t been bumped into it by expectation or demand, nor by a global lockdown. They were positive and intentional about it, and proud to talk about it.
Nowadays, it’s a lot fuzzier.
Today, most larger employers do have some proportion of their people working remotely /from home. But within this mix includes those who:
- Are trying to persuade everybody ‘back to the office’ and transition away from the whole idea, even if they still tolerate it for now
- Have a problematic ‘them and us’ culture, with those on-site taken more seriously for progression and new opportunities. If ‘WFH’ is seen as a soft or lazy option, this value will ripple across the culture and management thinking.
- Regard remote work as a perk only awarded to senior people or long-standing colleagues, especially if there are issues with trust and not knowing what people are doing when they’re not sat under a manager’s nose at all times.
- Offer a worst of both worlds ‘hybrid’ choice – where you need to live near the HQ, probably in a high-rent location, and provide space to work from at home
- Will only hire people in their own state or country to work remotely for them
So when you’re job hunting, and trying to sort out the truly remote-friendly options from the rest, what should you look for? Where do you start?
Here are a few signals to look out for:
How do they describe remote work in their organisation?
This should be an easy one, but don’t just look at their recruitment collateral – look at their website and people page as well. A remote-friendly future employer will leave clues in terms of how they describe the way people get things done.
Do they use terms like remote-first, remote-friendly, virtual-first, work from anywhere, all remote, distributed, global?
Or do you instead see terms like hybrid, remote-okay, work from home, remote allowed or permitted? All of these are potential red flags. I have never seen the phrase ‘some remote working grudgingly tolerated’, but sometimes, that’s the message coming off the page!
Anything that smacks of graciously permitting, as opposed to enthusiastically embracing, remote work, is something to look out for and avoid if you can.
How do they communicate and collaborate?
It can be very difficult to get a sense of the day-to-day workflow and communication until you are actually working together as a team, but you can get some clues from an application pack about the way they work together and what the expectations are.
For example, if you are required to have good written communication skills, this might suggest that they default to asynchronous collaboration and that you will be working with people not necessarily in the same timezone as you are – so you will need to express yourself using a range of different tools (not just writing), without necessarily being around to clarify what details meant (if your colleague is in another time zone with little overlap.)
Not everywhere I will explicitly mention that communicate asynchronously so you do have to look for breadcrumbs when it comes to this stuff. I would also look out for mention of systems which make the work visible – like project management tools, data visualisations, and so on. Something driven by the outcomes, not the activities.
A negative signal here would be a requirement that you are logged into a messaging platform for a specific time, or that you are available for meetings all day every day – especially if you’re applying for work which requires focus and concentration in order to get it done!
And any reliance on too many meetings is a concern, whether those meetings are online or face to face.
What technology and apps do they use?
The range of software options to help people work together has exploded amazingly in the past few years, and that in itself is a wonderful thing. It’s also an interesting signifier of intent when you look at the way an organisation or team has made choices about their digital workspace.
You can get clues about this from the job requirements, if they suggest software they want you to already be familiar with, and you can also ask about it at interview. Furthermore, the way you are sent information will also provide clues about this.
For me, I love to see project-driven setups like a Notion document describing a person specification, or an Airtable process driving the different stages of the recruitment. Information in truly collaborative forms, like a Google doc. I’m not saying being emailed a Microsoft attachment will actually make me opt out of a process, but it definitely sends the wrong signal so far as I am concerned.
What about you? How many different version and revisions of an important document to you want to work with, before you even get the job!
Hardware is often specified in detailed job application information, and this kind of detail provides useful feedback on how much the work is centred around the preferences and style of the person.
Do they let you choose your own laptop? Do you get a choice of Mac or Windows?
If not, there may be good reason, in certain very compliance-driven industries. Or it might simply express something about a culture where they want everyone to fit inside a tight box. Perhaps they value centralised procurement over personal comfort and preference. All you can do is read the information and decide…
I not long ago saw a job advertisement hiring administrators to work from their own homes, and the company said that they would provide an ergonomic office chair and desk of their specification and choosing as part of the package, one approved by their health and safety department. For me this indicated zero consideration for the preferences and aesthetic of the user for what to make space for within their own home, and would be a dealbreaker for sure.
Speaking of dealbreakers, if any hirer mentions something about monitoring or tracking or logging in their tech stack, my advice is to run for the hills! That is NOT a remote-friendly future employer who will trust you to do the work they are hiring for. You deserve so much better.
How flexible are they about location?
We’ve all seen the adverts for remote friendly looking jobs – which on closer examination turned out to only be friendly/open to applicants within one country
This approach is much easier for the hirer. They don’t have to worry about employment law in different countries, or using an employer of record or similar service. If they have international branches, they don’t have to worry about ensuring pay parity across the different locations, if people can’t move. And it means they don’t have to think about benefits like medical and retirement, on a global scale.
So of course plenty of businesses opt to keep it local, and that’s their choice.
But when you do see somewhere clearly stating you can work from ANYWHERE, that is a very positive sign. It means they’re prepared to get into the weeds and figure out a bespoke deal for the right person, wherever they’re located, which is already a signal of a great place to work in my book.
Do they have a ‘Head of Remote Work’ or similar person?
Clearly this is going to depend to some extent on the size of the organisation, but one strong indicator of genuine remote-first thinking is to employ a senior strategic person who takes responsibility for driving inclusive remote strategy throughout the company, and making sure there are no proximity biases or similar risks of discrimination, and ensuring a cohesive digital-first approach to all big decisions.
In a smaller organisation this could be located somewhere within a human resources team, however anywhere larger (and certainly with international scope) you would increasingly expect to see such a person at board level.
If the way remote work strategy is planned, implemented, and monitored with the business is not clear, then this is definitely something to ask about at the interview stage. Who is ultimately responsible for their remote work culture and intentions?
When you’re looking for remote work, you have greater choice than ever before, and so does your potential new manager. Learning to read what is said (and unsaid) in the recruitment information will help you to filter out all the wrong moves ahead of time, and focus your job search in the right place from the start.
Because your remote-friendly future employer is out there, and you will find them!