Not too long ago, there was no such thing as a fully remote company. Even as recently as 2018, a global study by Owl Labs found that only 16% of companies were fully remote—despite the fact that 80% of workers surveyed told Global Workplace Analytics in 2019 that they want to work remotely. Now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, companies across the globe are experimenting with fully virtual business models.
With the last barriers finally breached, fully remote companies are guaranteed to become more common.
When I started my company in 2007, I was at the vanguard of a new way of doing business. My goal was to allow myself the freedom and flexibility of working from home, or anywhere else, on my own schedule. As the business grew and I brought more people on board, I never gave having a physical office a thought. I wanted the mission of my business—helping others work from home—to apply to my own team as well, which made keeping it 100% virtual a must.
After 13 years, I have seen firsthand how the remote business model has evolved and changed over time. Employers like myself have learned lessons about what works and what doesn’t, and have adapted to take advantage of opportunities and overcome challenges.
Working for a 100% virtual company today is a different experience than working for a non-remote or hybrid company in a few key ways. If you are pursuing a position with a fully remote company, make sure to consider the following points when making your decision:
1. Communication is king.
Learning the corporate culture and the personality types of the people you work with is more difficult in a virtual setting. Without the visual cues that come with in-person interactions, frequent and transparent communication is critical to the learning process. While technology helps to facilitate communication, it still takes time and patience to learn what type of communication works best with your coworkers and what they expect regarding responsiveness and collaboration. Skilled communicators adapt most quickly to a fully remote environment.
2. Employers want results.
Clockwatchers need not apply. When working for a 100% virtual company, one of the biggest benefits is flexibility. However, this means that instead of having your participation measured by hours, you are often instead measured by the quality and reliability of your output. Results-based work and responsiveness to other team members and management become the basis for determining your value in the workplace. Before you take a position, make sure you understand the job expectations and are confident you can meet them without working 100 hours each week.
3. Trust is essential.
The biggest difference between remote companies and brick and mortar companies is the level of trust required between co-workers, and between management and their team members. When working in an office, there is onsite monitoring of performance, so not as much trust is required. In a distributed environment, with co-workers and managers living in different locations and perhaps different time zones, building trust becomes an intentional activity. The ability to give people the benefit of the doubt while being trustworthy and reliable are critical assets.
4. Resourcefulness gets you ahead.
When you work remotely, you don’t have an IT team to come to your rescue when your computer crashes—and there is no facility manager to call when the light goes out. The ability to work independently, self-motivate, and troubleshoot problems is a must in a fully virtual work environment. Fully distributed companies tend to have flat hierarchies to allow for independent thinking and proactive solution development, but it only works if you remember that you are part of a team, whether they are physically with you or not.
5. You work alone.
It may seem obvious, but the reality of working alone is often underestimated. When you work for a 100% remote company, chances are you may never meet any of your colleagues in person; most of the time, you will work alone. In fact, feelings of loneliness and isolation have been cited among the biggest problems remote employees experience, according to Gallup polling. Many companies will try to offset this by incorporating social moments in their employees’ workdays. Sometimes this might look like a watercooler communication channel or a virtual happy hour or pizza party. Employees can also address feelings of loneliness by finding a community at a local coworking space.
Working for a 100% virtual company can be a wonderful experience. You can take advantage of a flexible schedule to accommodate your lifestyle, work from wherever you choose, and save money from reducing your commute (and maybe your wardrobe). But it is a big adjustment from an office environment, so before taking the leap, make sure that you honestly examine your aptitude for remote work.
Admitting that some aspects may be a challenge for you doesn’t mean you won’t be successful working in a distributed environment. However, you may want to implement strategies to help you transition more successfully. That way, you can truly enjoy the freedoms that come from working for a fully remote company.