As I talk with more and more people entering the workforce a common thread I hear is “I want a job where I can work remotely.”
The remote workforce is taking the job market by storm. A question many young people should be asking then is, “How do I prepare now to work remotely later?”
Remote Work Isn’t New
While modern technology has allowed for a new kind of remote work that has never been possible, the idea of working remotely isn’t new.
Before the Industrial Revolution hit in the 1700s, many, if not most, worked “remotely.” This simply meant working out of their homes to provide for their families. Farmers, blacksmiths, carpenters, etc. Many simply “set up shop” at their homes and worked “from home” every day.
When the Industrial Revolution hit there was a need for humans to travel to factories and run machines. After World War II, this kind of work exploded even more with the creation of office working and the 9-to-5 job.
While the ability to communicate and travel across countries while working has never been possible, working from the home isn’t new.
Remote Work Perks
Why is it that so many people are gravitating to remote work? Is it really that much better than working on location? Are there disadvantages?
It’s easy to see remote working as the answer to all problems and think that it will be better in every way. There are certainly good things about it. Many of the perks include (not an exhaustive list):
- Increased flexibility
- No commute time
- Comfortable work environment
- Ability for more focused work
- Increased time with family at home
- Less stressful environment
- Decreased employee sick days/time off
- Reduced cost for employers
The danger many employers fear when looking at remote workers is not being able to keep tabs on the work they are doing and more difficult communication company-wide. While these can be legitimate concerns, the numbers and stats seem to speak for themselves when it comes to remote work. And, according to a two-year Stanford University study, almost 50% better retention rate.
What Is Needed for a Remote Employee to be Successful?
No matter what work you’re doing, if you’re not a self-motivated person, you are going to find remote work extremely difficult. Not having peer pressure and in-person motivation will start to drain your desire to do quality work.
Even if you are good at what you do, the act of being out on your own will hurt that performance if you’re not self-motivated. It’s not public school anymore where every hour is scheduled for you so that you can do the work that you’re told to do. You have to schedule those hours for yourself. You have to know how to fill the time with productive tasks.
You have to figure out how to be disciplined even when your whole day gets thrown off by things outside of your control.
Communication is often one of the biggest roadblocks for employers letting their employees work remotely. “What about our weekly sales meeting?” You have to figure out how the team you’re on is going to communicate or how you will communicate with your superiors. If you don’t figure this out early on, you and the rest of the company is going to be frustrated because simple things are taking a long time due to miscommunication or non-communication.
The good thing is, remote work can drastically improve communication as well. Many companies waste valuable time rehashing issues that should have been dropped months before. When you are restricted to a 30-minute Zoom meeting or a quick message, the temptation to carry on over minute details becomes a smaller risk.
The Right Amount of Direction
Everyone learns differently. The faster you can understand this, the better boss, employee, customer, etc. you will be.
Even those who are self-motivated, without the correct direction, will often end up failing. There are some who need incredibly specific direction. The kind of people where if you ask them to get something out of your car and hand them your key, they ask 20 more questions so they can perform the task to completion with no errors.
These people are fantastic…with the correct direction. If you send someone like this out to work remote and say “I want you to do these 20 big projects in the next two months”, they will more than likely be an unproductive employee. They need someone who will spell out the tasks for them so that they can crank them out like a machine gun.
You also have the opposite end of the pendulum: people who become less productive the more specific the direction. They thrive on creativity and freedom to put their own spin on their work and when someone is telling them exactly what to do with no freedom they lose the motivation to produce quality work.
Most people are somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. If a company can figure out where each of its people fall on this pendulum, there’s a much higher chance they will be able to produce workers who contribute to the 35% increase in productivity when going remote.
Two Things That Made Me a Perfect Candidate for Remote Work
As I look back on my life, it’s easy to see the things that prepared me to be successful in remote work.
Homeschooling is the No-Brainer
The similarities between remote work and homeschooling are vast. The list above for what is needed to create productive remote employees is almost identical to the list needed to create productive homeschool students.
I wasn’t one of those homeschoolers who graduated high school at 15 and had a bachelor in engineering by 18. I was a homeschooler that stopped doing formalized school after 5th grade. I had almost no formal education past the age of about 10 or 11, even still this prepared me much better for the environment of remote work than any school system ever could.
I had more freedom than most to pursue what I wanted from a young age. Because of this, self-motivation, or the lack thereof, came to light very quickly. I got exactly what I put into things, and if that was nothing, I got nothing out of them.
I learned the importance of good direction and communication. If someone gave me too specific and detailed direction, I would burn out quickly. I’ve never been a super creative person, but I had to have a certain amount of freedom to make the work I did my own.
I did not have a particularly productive childhood but anything that was productive came because of self-motivation.
Music also has numerous similarities to remote work. Playing piano and cello for most of my life, I was once again used to being held accountable to doing work on my own and presenting my work once a week or in big performances.
There was no one there telling me every day what I needed to do to improve. I had lessons once a week where I would get feedback, but the daily task of improving was up to me.
I’ll be the first to tell you that I miserably failed for much of my life in the daily task of improvement. However, once again, just like in homeschooling, when I didn’t put in the work, I didn’t reap the rewards. The success was completely tied to what I put into it each day. The better I structured those days, the more there was improvement, and the better I could report my success in weekly “meetings.”
How do YOU Become a Perfect Candidate for Remote Work?
While being homeschooled (or unschooled as the kids say these days) may have been my biggest positive in being prepared for remote work, there’s nothing saying you have to be homeschooled or do music performance to be the perfect candidate.
If you can go back to the list of things that are needed to create a productive employee and become a pro at all of those, that’s how you become the perfect candidate.
This isn’t a “how to” on getting hired as a remote employee. This is simply what you need to be successful once you’re there. Lots of people want to get hired in these kinds of roles, and getting a company to recognize you for that deserves a separate post.
Before you start trying to get those jobs though, you have to be honest with yourself so that you know that you can do well before you hop into the role and realize the difficulties associated with it.
Who Should Work Remotely?
If you want to, you should.
There are certainly people that will do better working remotely due to their personality and natural self-motivation, but if you want to work remotely, work on what you need to be productive in it, and go all in.
You may end up hating it. If you do, assess how to overcome it or work a job where you’re not remote.
I like a fine balance of remote work. I both love being in the office and I also love the freedom of doing my own thing and being comfortable outside the office.
Find out what you like to do and go all out in that direction. You might find you prefer a job with more structure. That’s okay. Everyone can work remotely, but not everyone needs to be able to.
What things in your life now are preparing you to be able to work remotely?
Joey Wickham is a Praxis participant and visionary. He chose Praxis because he “never fully fit into the ‘education’ mold that seemed to be set for every kid growing up.” He currently works as an Account Executive at Vital Interaction, a Praxis business partner. Follow his work on his website, joeywickham.com, or check out his previous project feature on the Praxis blog.