Remote work is no longer just a novelty we get to pull off when we take a sick day or an emergency that leaves us no choice; it’s a defining feature of the modern workplace. The convenience of technology, globalization of business operations, and normalization of remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic have all contributed to changing our perception of how work gets done, and many companies have embraced stepping outside of the traditional four walls of an office in favor of collaborating via screens, emails, and virtual meetings.
This shift hasn’t happened without challenges, like determining what remote work truly means. Some questions that might arise when defining remote work are: Do you need to be in the same country as the head office? Are periodic office visits still mandatory? Is a company just using remote work to lure candidates and then changing their tune —i.e. spouting remote work bullshit?
What is remote bullshit?
Remote bullshit refers to the exaggerations, misrepresentations, and outright deceptions a company could use regarding its remote work policies to get top talent through the door. Once you’re in, the story is different. Suddenly, your shiny new remote job comes with some catches.
So how can you avoid finding yourself in that situation and spot remote bullshit during the interview process? Nadia Harris, Founder of remoteworkadvocate.com, has been championing the remote work lifestyle for years, and she knows how to get to the bottom of whether a company’s remote work practices are legitimate, starting with the definition of what even is truly remote work and the right questions to ask your prospective employer.
What does it mean to be a remote workplace?
Remote can be an ambiguous term. For example, some companies state they’re a remote-first environment but still need you to be in the same country. For others, remote means you can be anywhere in the world. Per Harris, the definition is simple, “Remote work is location-independent work,” she begins. “The core of remote work is getting things done in the most optimal way, according to mutually agreed upon performance expectations.”
She points out that companies that still expect a 9-to-5 type workplace from home are not, in her view, actually remote-friendly workplaces, stating that “working from home is a way to work remotely, but these concepts are not the same.”
For Harris, this is a red flag for a company that states it has a remote work policy, listing a few things to keep your eye out for:
- A 9-to-5 job that monitors mouse moves
- Short coffee breaks have to be marked in the system
- The company allows some team members to work remotely but there’s no detailed policy yet
- Employees aren’t allowed to work from any location other than home
- There is no remote work playbook or written policy that the company is committed to.
“These are all telltale signs a company is bullshitting its remote-work policy,” she says.
What questions can a job seeker ask to assess a company’s remote work policy during an interview?
If these issues aren’t obvious, you have to ask questions. If you’re interviewing for a remote-first job, instead of assuming what you think that means, ensure you get clear with the hiring manager what it means for them. “Job seekers should expect full transparency,” Harris states. “A company can’t publish a remote job offer when it’s really ‘there is a possibility to work from home’ or ‘occasional office commute’,” she says.
To help demystify a company’s remote policy, here are some questions Harris suggests asking to get your answers:
- Ask about the team. Where is the team based? Is it just one country, or are team members spread around the world? Does the company hire employees or contractors? How does the company foster asynchronous collaboration?
- Ask about time expectations. Is there a time-tracking policy? If yes, why? What are the core working hours?
- Ask about general work expectations. How are employers expecting people to deliver work results? How does the team communicate? What tools do they use to collaborate?
Once you get your answers, ask for proof to back them up. Harris believes that every company offering remote work should have a clearly defined playbook in place with these standards in writing. “There should be a guide and best practices,” she starts. “If that’s not the case, there’s a risk that employers are falling into the ‘proximity bias’ threat, which ends up tracking attendance over green lights on Slack.”
Harris also points out that companies that promote a hybrid work model or working from home might be open to a discussion of offering remote work on your terms. However, companies that post ‘office-first’ roles are usually strict and closed off to conversations. “Don’t waste your time and move on—unless you know the company makes exceptions,” she says.
Remote or bust? How to make remote work work for you
Remote-first work might conjure images of being on your laptop at the beach. However, before you walk away from a job because they don’t offer a fully remote environment, reflect if it’s really all you think it is.
As Harris puts it, “Remote work is not a job itself, but rather a job that can be done remotely. So, before you start looking for a remote job, evaluate your skills, experience, and professional desires. Don’t apply just because the role is remote.”
If you know with certainty that a remote is the only way for you, and you’ve established the company is ready to offer it on your terms, then it’s time to make sure your application shines—and make sure you’re in agreement on how you’ll work together on a remote basis.
“The competition in the remote job market keeps increasing all the time, so you have to present yourself as someone who stands out,” Harris begins. “If you’re part of a multicultural team, explain if you’re a high or low-context person and how to work with you. Also, speak with your [future] manager about your working style and their expectations to make sure you’re aligned.”
Finally, Harris says one of the most important aspects of thriving in a remote environment is learning about boundaries and establishing priorities. “That’s how you hopefully end up with a long-lasting and fulfilling working relationship,” she states.
Key takeaways: How to spot remote bullshit in an interview
Time to turn on your bullshit detector: here’s what to look out for when examining a company’s remote work policies under a microscope.
- Ask about office visits. If you’re looking for something 100% remote, make sure there aren’t any mandatory office visits or offsites (unless, of course, you’re flexible with that—but this could get tricky if you end up living on the other side of the world from where the office is located).
- Establish remote versus work from home. Once you’ve established there are no requirements for office visits, the next step is to determine the difference between remote and work from home. If from home, does that need to be in the same country as the office? Ask about any legal implications of working from another destination and whether the company allows it.
- Determine the work style and how performance is measured. Working remotely requires consistent and clear communication. Define team roles, project deadlines, and expectations with your colleagues and direct reports, as well as any mandatory working hours for meetings or expectations for being online. Ask to see written company guidelines and standards on how they operate as a remote company.
- Choose your remote adventure. Once you’ve assessed the company’s remote strategy, it’s time to think of your own, too. Reflect on your own work style, expectations, and what kind of environment you thrive in. Remote work isn’t for everyone, and though it seems enticing to work from anywhere you want, assess what it will look like for the long term, and whether it’s something you really want.
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