I orignally wrote this on RemoteBase. You can now read it here because RemoteBase is not live.
In recruiting and seeking remote jobs, we are often preoccupied by the jobs themselves, and fail to pay attention to the teams behind the jobs. Such disproportionate attention can not only lead to misinformed career decisions, but also degrade potential benefits of remote working.
The proliferation of remote job boards on the Internet seems to evince the culture in which remote jobs are thought of as something that can be plucked off a tree at whim, like an apple. In this culture, we are reduced to consumers of remote jobs, applying to jobs after jobs that we think we might like.
Yet such instantly gratifying focus on jobs is unhealthy because we are meant to be members of remote teams, rather than workers of remote jobs. I think that we mistakenly put jobs ahead of teams because we choose to ignore the obvious, and sometimes nuanced complications of remote work.
The following list illustrates those complications and allows us to see why we should pay more attention to the teams behind the remote jobs.
Communicating with co-workers while working remotely is not as simple as going up to their desk and starting a conversation. Communication within a remote team is complicated due to the very fact that the team members are not next to one another.
Because of such distributed environment, remote teams are in a constant pursuit of achieving a semblance of real human interactions among its team members. The way they do it can make a huge difference on the effectiveness of the operation, and our personal fit to the organization.
470 companies on RemoteBase are using more than 180 tools to communicate and collaborate internally. Can we really be sure that we will be a good fit for a certain remote position, if we do not know what kind of tools are being used in the team?
As remote workers, we cannot simply tap our co-workers on the shoulder and communicate. Instead, we can choose from other options. Remote teams have a growing number of choices for communication and collaboration, and not all of them will suit us.
Timezones further complicate remote working because team members might be distributed across different regions. Although everyone can just work the same 9 to 5 hours in a traditional workplace, members of remote teams might work at different hours relative to one another.
Since workflows cannot be truly asynchronous in many collaborative efforts, working across multiple timezones might require some compromises in our work hours. We often have to adjust our working hours to have some overlaps with other members who are collaborating with us.
One of the benefits of working remotely is flexibility in working hours. We might not be able to fully enjoy this benefit if we do not pay much attention to the timezone distribution of remote teams.
Many remote teams are distributed to different degrees. The degrees of a team distribution can give us clues about how we will feel working remotely for the team. If we are one of the few remote workers in a large organization, we might feel estranged from the rest of the teams. In this case, is remote work any good for our our happiness and career goals?
Currently, RemoteBase tries to provide some sensible measures of team distributions by categorizing companies among fully remote, remote first, and partially remote.
Fully remote teams are completely distributed. Remote first teams are not fully distributed but work remotely at its core. Partially remote teams have some remote worker presence.
We all have different preferences, and might fit in different categories. Some of us will feel just fine as a minority of remote workers in a large team. Some might fare better in a remote-first or fully-remote setup. ‘Remoteness’ of the team matters for remote job seekers.
In remote team, we get to experience the culture at its most naked form. There is no catered lunch or a hip office with table tennis table. Everything artificial is stripped away.
The abstract notion of team and its culture is all that binds us together at a remote team. Therefore we need to care more about the team culture. Remote job seekers need to look more deeply into it, and employers should explain it better.
In spite of such importance of culture, I admit that RemoteBase currently does not have much information on the cultural aspects of the companies. It is tricky to include culture into the company profiles, because culture is not something that can be objectively measured or represented.
Yet luckily, we need not look very far to see cultures of some remote companies. For instance, GitLab has an open source team handbook demonstrating the internal work process and their values. Hanno also has a playfully named Playbook to showcase how they work.
As seen so far, there are many peculiarities of remote work that make it all the more necessary to give teams another look, not just the jobs. After all, we do not simply get remote jobs. Rather, we join remote teams. Yet, we are conditioned to overlook the teams and see only the jobs, in the culture in which numerous job boards constantly remind us of all the supposedly great remote jobs that we can do from anywhere.
I think that remote jobs are not ready-made, and that we are not mere consumers of them. The goal of RemoteBase is to provide answers to the questions that matter about the remote teams, so that we can join the ones that suit us, rather than getting some jobs that we think we like.
Surprisingly, those answers about remote teams are seldom present in the job descriptions for remote jobs, despite their importance. I have a hunch that the answers are absent not because we do not care, but because we haven’t asked the right questions. We will start asking those questions as remote work matures. At that point, we will grow out of instant gratifications of landing remote jobs, and instead collectively examine what it takes to find remote jobs that can advance our personal happiness and career goals.
I am trying to take steps toward a small theory that remote teams deserve more attention than remote jobs. The destination will further unleash the potential of remote work, and most importantly make our lives happier.