Remote Work Life in the Tech Industry: The Ultimate Guide
So you’re thinking about getting into remote work, huh?
Well, you’re in the right place!
Take a scroll through the sections below, and we’ll lay out everything you need to know about what it’s like to work remotely in the tech industry. From common misconceptions to daily routines to the pajamas vs real clothes debate, we’ve got you covered!
So if you’ve ever wondered what remote work at a tech company is really like… here we go!
Chapter 1: What is Remote Work?
Let’s clear the air a bit here.
There are a ton of benefits of working remotely, but not all remote work is created equal!
In fact, there’s quite a bit of confusion these days because there are several different terms that have become popular to describe different types of location independent job opportunities.
So when I’m talking about remote work, what exactly am I talking about?
What Remote Work ISN’T
“Telecommuting” is occasionally working from home, but still being required to show up in the office on a regular basis. It’s obviously better than having to be in the office every single day, but it is NOT remote work.
“Working from home” is also NOT usually remote work. In fact, I think the modern obsession with work-from-home jobs has given remote work a bit of a bad name. It’s a term that is usually used these days to connote MLM/direct-marketing schemes at best, or scammy get-rich-this-weekend ripoffs at worst. These “too good to be true” job opportunities are often just that.
“Freelancing/Consulting” is where you work for yourself. This is an awesome option for location independence and lifestyle freedom if you have certain skill sets like marketing, social media management, accounting, and more. The downside? You need to run your own business, and there’s no guarantee of a paycheck or continued work, and no benefits to be seen. You’re on your own!
“Entrepreneurship/Business Ownership” is a whole other level beyond freelancing even. Not only do you not get your stable paycheck from someone else, but you’re probably even responsible for someone else’s pay and benefits!
There are some people who love that sort of challenge of running a business, and the ability to design your work day.
But my guess, since you’re here right now, is that your ideal is something with stability, benefits, AND freedom.
You want it all! You want remote work.
So What IS Remote Work?
As far as I’m concerned, remote work is a pretty specific term.
It means that you work for a real, legitimate company, just without being required to show up at an office on a regular basis.
You have a steady paycheck, benefits, and coworkers. You get all of the stability of a “real job” with all of the benefits of location independence and schedule flexibility!
So does full-time employment at a legit tech company that pays wells and provides great benefits for you and your family, just without the commute, sound like your cup of tea?
Chapter 2: Remote Work Myths and Misconceptions
Just to be sure, let’s go over some remote working facts and fiction to make sure that this is really what you want before we talk about how to find it!
Myth: People Who Work Remotely Don’t Actually Do Any Work
I get it. Some people just aren’t cut out for working from home in any capacity, and the idea of someone working remotely and actually being productive just sounds crazy to them.
Evidently there are a LOT of people out there who think that remote employees are taking advantage of working from home, and while that can be a concern if they don’t hire carefully and create a remote-friendly culture, the reality is that working remotely is better for business! Really!
There have been a ton of studies on the benefits of remote working for employers. Check out this study from Stanford, which shows that people who work from home are actually more likely to complete a full shift of work than those in the office. Or this article in the Harvard Business Review that talks about the fact that remote employees are more engaged at work than their in-office counterparts.
So I think it’s safe to say that remote workers not getting work done isn’t a concern… but what about the opposite?
Misconception: Remote Jobs Mean You’re Working All of the Time
The truth is, if you have workaholic tendencies, working too much is something you have to look out for if you’re working remotely.
Fortunately, there are ways to make sure that you end your day on time and get on with your life, and it’s not just up to you!
All of the best remote companies stress work-life balance, encourage you to take time off, and will notice if you’re answering pings and emails late into the night… and yell at you to go to bed.
Speaking of bed…
Misconception: You Can Work from Anywhere You Want
Okay, okay. You can work from bed if you really want to.
Just remember, you will likely need to jump on video calls every now and then. Not to mention that productivity might be a bit of a challenge if you’re curled up under your favorite comforter. But to each their own 🙂
The bigger factor that plays into where you can *actually* work remotely from is… you guessed it…
As awesome as it might sound to work from the middle of a National Park or on a boat somewhere, if you don’t have internet, you don’t have a job.
Check out the section below on remote work location tips, since you’ll need an awesome internet connection wherever you are to get your work done and stay connected with your coworkers.
Which brings us to the next myth of…
Myth: People with Remote Jobs are Anti-Social
Let’s just set the record straight here:
You don’t have to feel isolated when working from home.
You don’t have to worry about having no work friends.
And for goodness’ sake, remote work does not automatically lead to depression.
What you *do* need to worry about is making sure that you’re going to be working remotely for a company with a healthy and developed remote-friendly or remote-first culture. More on that below, but the short of it is…
Remote workers are not anti-social!
Yes, remote jobs are great for people who are introverted, or folks who don’t appreciate the open office plans that are so common these days.
No matter what job you have, any remote position at a decent tech company will mean that you will still connect with people constantly. How, you ask?
Check out some of the amazing tools for remote work and socialization listed in our “Communicating Effectively” section below!
Myth: Remote Jobs Pay Less and Don’t Come with Benefits
Here’s another myth that comes mostly from the conflation of “work-from-home” scenarios with legit remote jobs.
Remote tech jobs should pay you just as much as you’d get in an office. And you’ll have the flexibility to enjoy it more, what’s better than that?
In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that if you’re applying or interviewing for a remote job and it pays less than you’d get paid in office…
That’s right, run the other way, because legit remote jobs, especially in the tech industry, should pay just as much as their in-office counterparts. For a lot of different reasons!
- Remote workers don’t require office space, which saves the company money
- Many tech companies provide meals that remote workers don’t eat, which saves the company money
- Remote workers (like we saw above) are more productive, which saves the company money
So if a tech company thinks that they should get to pay you less because they’re graciously blessing you with the opportunity to not be in the office?
Nope, nope, nope!
Just to prove a point, here are two (of soooo many!) awesome tech jobs at some of the best tech companies that let you work from home (or wherever) that pay you as much, if not more, than other jobs!
Community Manager at Articulate – ~$91,000/yr
One of the leaders of the e-learning industry, Articulate “makes it easy to create compelling courses for every device.” They also not only allow remote work, but there is no corporate office at all! They’ll even send you the equipment you need to set up a home office that will help you be as productive as possible. The benefits don’t stop there though. They also have unlimited paid time off, a 3% 401k match, amazing annual company retreats, and company stock for every employee. So much for getting paid less.
Product Manager at InVision App – ~$125,000/yr
InVision App, in their own words, provides “design tools and educational resources for teams to navigate every stage of the product design process, from ideation to development” for 80% of the Fortune 100 companies. Not bad! You know what else isn’t bad? Working for a company that will give you a comfortable six-figure salary plus benefits like unlimited paid time off, 100% family health coverage, and three months of fully paid parental leave.
Okay, now that we know what remote work is (and isn’t), and we’ve dispelled some of the common myths about working remotely, let’s move on to what remote work is really like!
Chapter 3: Where You’ll Actually Work on a Daily Basis
We already touched on this a little bit above, but basically, your office can be anywhere as long as you have a good internet connection and know you can be productive there.
Sounds great, right?
Here are just a few of the places that you might call “the office” as a remote worker:
Your own home office
Working from home (but doing real remote work!) obviously comes with huge perks! Some reasons that you might want to work from your very own home office include:
- Being able to stay home longer with a new baby (at least until they’re crawling!)
- Having literally no commute at all, except to the next room over
- All the home-cooked meals your heart desires (and the opportunity to make them on your lunch break)
- The ability to design your work setting for optimal productivity
While it’s initially tempting to work from your bed or your comfiest couch, you’re going to quickly find that you’ll get your best work done with a little more support.
For some tips on how to set up the remote-friendly home office of your dreams, check out these inspiring (yet realistic!) home office #goals from our friends at Zapier.
Coffee shops / cafes
Whether you have a home office setup or not, chances are that you’re going to spend at least a little bit of time working out of your favorite cafes and coffee shops. Sometimes it’s good to get out of the house, do some people-watching, and sip that flat white you just can’t quite make at home.
I happen to work out of a cafe almost every day of the week after lunch. I love that I can get a good strong cup of coffee and some fresh air, and the short walk there always helps me refocus my mind midday. The only problem?
Sometimes it’s hard to find that perfect combination of good caffeine options, fast WiFI, and the right number of power outlets… amirite?
That’s where workfrom.co comes in!
An indispensable tool for any remote worker, Workfrom lets you filter for nearby spots based on what’s most important to you. For example, check out this link for coffee shops with fast WiFi near you now. Cool, huh?
What if you actually like the office life a little (teeny tiny) bit, and just want to skip the commute?
Or maybe you’re missing those unlimited coffee refills in the company kitchen? Or just need some more face-time with real live adults?
Never fear, coworking spaces are here!
Coworking spaces really give you the best of all worlds. You get the cafe vibe, unlimited coffee, cool after-hours events, and the ability to get dressed and get out of the house.
As long as you’re cool with the cost (usually $250-$400 per month, depending on your location), coworking spaces are a great option to look into! Aaand a lot of remote-friendly companies will even cover the coworking expenses for you! Awesome right?
Now you just need to find the perfect spot near you, so go for it! Not sure where to start? Check out WeWork, a fun and inspiring chain of coworking spaces all over the world, including just about every major city in the US.
If your company doesn’t cover the costs of coworking yet, and you’re itching to get out of the house and into a real office space every once in a while without committing to a big contract, then I’ve got one more resource for you to check out:
Croissant is basically ClassPass for coworking spaces. As long as you’re near a big city, they’re likely to have around a dozen (or more) locations for you to hop between in your area, and you can get a free one week trial plus $20 off your first month of coworking by clicking HERE! Office time to your heart’s content 😉
Anywhere in the world
Say you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum, and you’re ready to get as far away as humanly possible from anything even kind of resembling traditional office life. Then what?
Well, as long as you can find internet (or a super strong hotspot), get up and go!
Need ideas for where to head next?
Check out NomadList, the number one resource for digital nomads looking to escape to somewhere new.
The site is basically a giant database of different cities around the world, with information on each one’s cost-of-living, internet quality, fun factor, and safety score.
And if you’re not that keen on the idea of trying to figure out how to live abroad and organize your own travel and living situation?
Well, that doesn’t rule out the digital nomad lifestyle for you, because there are companies that specialize in making the jump to nomadism as easy as possible!
Just check out this list from The Remote Nomad for 10 programs that help you travel the world while working remotely!
Chapter 4: How to Stay Productive While Working Remotely
A major part of anyone’s transition to remote work life is figuring out how to be productive while working from home (or wherever you’ll be).
This will be trial-and-error, since everyone’s ideal productivity is achieved in totally different ways, but here are a few things to keep in mind that have done wonders for my personal productivity as a remote worker in tech:
Designate time as “work”
In addition to setting aside a location for work, like we just discussed above, think about setting aside a specific chunk (or multiple chunks) of time from your day for work.
I know, I know, you want to work remotely for the flexibility! Why limit yourself to a schedule?
To be honest, there are some people that really love the here-and-there style of remote work. But from talking with hundreds of remote workers across the tech industry, I’ve found that most people are at their productive peak and ideal work-life balance when they’re able to get a solid amount of work done and then close the computer at the end of the day.
Without that discrete end-of-day stop, it’s too tempting for most of us to check in on things throughout the night, and get roped into something right before bed, and before you know it, you’re working *way more* hours than you were in the office, which defeats the point of gaining all of that work-from-home flexibility, doesn’t it?
Use productivity techniques like Pomodoro to stay focused
The Pomodoro Technique® is a productivity hack invented in the early 90s by Francesco Cirillo.
It’s meant to help you hyper-focus by working in 25-minute sprints with 5-minute breaks in between, and a longer 15-to-30-minute break when four intervals are done.
Those sprints can train your brain to really zoom in for short (but intense) periods, and help you stay on top of deadlines or constantly-refilling inboxes. Some say that the technique can even help improve your attention span and concentration.
All you really need to get started is a timer, but if you’re more technologically inclined, you might like one of these awesome apps you can add to your phone to help from this Zapier blog post.
Need a little more help?
Check out the Strict Workflow Chrome Extension, which will not only give you a nice little timer in your browser window, but will actually block distracting websites while you have a Pomodoro session going! [Note: This may not be great if you do a lot of Social Media work, but for the rest of us, it’s definitely helpful in weeding out distractions.]
Take time to take care of yourself
It’s no secret that getting up and moving is a huge productivity booster.
In fact, a Harvard Business Review article in 2014 pointed out that some of the benefits of regular exercise are so relevant to job performance that getting your blood flow and heart rate up should practically be considered part of your job:
- Improved concentration
- Sharper memory
- Faster learning
- Prolonged mental stamina
- Enhanced creativity
- Lower stress
Fortunately, when you work from wherever you want, you’ll have the opportunity to take time to get moving in whatever way works best for you. Whether it’s walking a few blocks instead of commuting in the morning or heading to your favorite rock-climbing gym during lunch, the flexibility that comes with remote work is definitely a perk in the exercise department.
Want to take that a step further? How about finding a company that’s not only remote, but will pay you for five hours of exercise a week?
Too good to be true?
Nope! Check out Balsamiq, just one of the remote tech companies that put employee wellness at the front of everyone’s minds.
Dress for success in your remote job
Yes, the rumor is true, you can really wear PJs to work every day if you want.
And who wouldn’t want to, they’re super comfy, right?
One recommendation: if you’re working in PJs, make sure that they’re either socially acceptable to be around other people in, or that you have a shirt nearby that you can throw on top for the video calls that are a frequent part of most remote workers’ days.
Better prepared than sorry!
Just one more thing to consider though…
While PJs may be ok, some people find that they’re way more productive if they actually get up and dressed first thing in the morning.
Not to say that you need to, but I’d give it a try and see if you find it affecting your productivity.
The good news is that it’s up to you!
Need some guidance on your work-from-home outfit choices?
Check out this AMAZING comic series by Tyler Feder. There’s way more truth there than most remote workers would probably like to admit!
Chapter 5: Communicating Effectively on a Remote Team
Getting used to a totally new style of communication is one of the biggest challenges of switching from in-office to remote work.
Fortunately, there are a ton of different tools and methods these days that make it totally possible to work just as effectively (if not more so!) as part of a remote team.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re trying to establish connection and trust with your remote teammates:
Over-communication is key
Let’s face it… sometimes it’s nice to be able to get up from your desk, walk over, and chat with someone about an idea or issue.
Since that’s not exactly possible in remote work settings, you’ll likely need to adjust to speaking out loud on things that would be known automatically in an office setting.
“I’m heading out to lunch, back in 45” or “Stepping out to grab a coffee” or “Jumping into a video call, ping me if it’s important or I’ll miss it” are all normal occurrences in a remote company’s chat app.
In addition to adding context about what’s going on in your day to day, it’s also important to remember that a huge percentage of communication is nonverbal. When it comes to remote communication methods, that presents an interesting challenge!
Without tone of voice and body language, what’s an employee to do?
Emoji, of course! 😉
While sometimes seen as “unprofessional” in more traditional work contexts, emoji are a huge communication tool on remote teams, since they allow teammates to communicate intention and expressions that might not otherwise make it from one person’s keyboard to another person’s screen.
I wasn’t a huge fan of emoji before I got my first remote job, but now? 🙌 I’m a big believer! Here’s an awesome piece from the team at Aha! on how to communicate effectively on apps like Slack, HipChat, or Gitter… including emoji, of course.
Always assume good intentions
Speaking of nonverbal communication, what do you do if you receive an ambivalent message that could be interpreted negatively? And there aren’t any emoji to indicate to the contrary?
Since you’re missing the huge amount of context that typically comes from that nonverbal communication we mentioned above, it’s super important to always assume good intent.
Think about it… there are so many different things that could be going on when someone sends you an ambiguous message or email:
- They could have been in a rush and didn’t have a chance to add more context
- They could have been sending you a quick note from a meeting about a conversation to start afterwards
- They could have meant something totally positive and forgot their emoji 🙃
- Or they could just be having a bad day that has nothing to do with you!
Worst case scenario, jump on a video call so that you can clarify what was meant, but this time with the additional context of tone and body language. Speaking of which…
Get used to video chats
Not just for calling Grandma and Grandpa anymore, video chats have quickly become a staple of the workplace, especially for remote teams!
Apps like Google Hangouts/Meet, Zoom, Skype, BlueJeans, and more are likely to consume a good portion of your weekly calendar.
So get comfortable on camera, because your one-on-one calls with your manager, your team meetings, and your company-wide all hands are all going to happen in a room that looks like this:
That awesome photo is from a Buffer All-Hands meeting, and you can read more about how they run their Remote All-Hands meetings on their Open culture blog.
Other tools of the remote trade
Now that you’ve got the basics down, here are some other things you might encounter on the job at a remote tech company, along with some of the best tools for working remotely in tech:
Many remote companies use mailing lists to create searchable archives of all messages as a way of conveying trust and making sure information doesn’t get siloed. It takes some getting used to, but can be a really valuable communication tool!
Project Management Tools
While not unique to remote companies, project management tools usually take a front-and-center spot in the day-to-day working life of remote teams. You’re likely to encounter something like Trello, Asana, Pivotal, or Basecamp in your company.
These tools are super important in software companies for tracking things like bugs and user feedback, and collaborating on how best to address them! Keep an eye out for tools like GitHub, Jira, or DoneDone for things like this.
A huge part of working effectively is being on the same page about internal policies and procedures. Everything from employee handbooks to onboarding materials to sales guidelines will find their way into an internal documentation source. Some of the most popular ones are Confluence, Guru, or BoostHQ.
Looking for something else? Or just want a huge list in one place of every tool you should be familiar with if you want a remote job? Skillshare did the work for you in their blog post on 27 Tools Every Remote Worker Needs. Go check it out!
Chapter 6: Remote Life Tips from Women in Tech
Well, that’s enough from me. 😁
But before you go, here are some tips and tricks of the remote work trade coming to you straight from women who work at some amazing tech companies out there!
Split your day with a workout
“The best part of working remotely is that you can shift around your workout schedule to what works for best for you. I am *not* a morning person, but I love being active in the middle of my day. So generally, I’ll work the morning, get out of my house and get sweaty. A quick shower and I’m back to work. Splitting up my day makes me a lot more productive and makes sure I actually talk to people in the real world.”
Consider a team retreat
“It’s not 100% necessary, but one thing remote teams do is use some of the money they save on office space to invest in a yearly team retreat. When I was VP of Product at RebelMouse I worked with some people for years before meeting then and we always worked well together, but I will say that when I did finally meet them it was an incredible bonding experience and helped us communicate even better in the future.”
Find your rhythm
“For me – routine is key. While I don’t get up and get ‘ready’ like I used to in an office job, I am most productive if I start each day with a routine. This is typically a quick workout, and sitting in the same spot for the first part of my day. I travel a good bit with work, but having this consistent pattern no matter where I am helps my brain know it’s time to start work.”
“I chose to work out of my current coworking space, Appleton Coworking in downtown Appleton Wisconsin, because it’s two blocks away from a YMCA and is in walking distance of the local library and a number of downtown businesses and restaurants. It’s also within walking distance of two museums. Because my schedule is flexible, I walk to the Y on my lunch breaks or take a walk around downtown. I think that remote working gives people the chance to truly think about what work environment is best for them in a way that is just gaining acceptance now.”
Create your space
“I recommend setting up a dedicated workspace, and a start/stop ritual to make a clear boundary between work and home. I have a corner set up in my room where my desk and work stuff lives. Every morning I make coffee and take it up to my office. At the end of my day, I have a document where I review my finished tasks, and tomorrow’s to-do list. Once I’m done for the day, I’m done. My laptop doesn’t follow me around the house.”