You’re probably hearing more and more about people who work remotely and companies that want them to. But even though “flexible location” seems like a tempting and highly coveted benefit, it’s not a good fit for everyone.
Sure, it’s easy to be charmed by the idea and overlook the traits and skills you’d need to flourish outside a traditional work environment. But will you excel with freedom or crash and burn without a manager monitoring you on a regular basis?
As someone who’s worked remotely and managed remote employees for the past eight years, I’ve developed a short, four-step program to test whether it’s likely to help or hinder you as you try to reach your professional potential. Let’s get cracking.
1. Consider How Social You Are
One of the major drawbacks can be the lack of social interaction many take for granted in a busy office or workspace. In The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier, author Susan Pinker concludes that there’s no substitute for in-person interactions, which boost our immune systems, lower cortisol (the “stress hormone”) while increasing dopamine (the “happy hormone”) levels in our bloodstream, and can even lengthen our lifespans.
During my first winter working from home in Vermont, I struggled with what felt like Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). But it turned out I just needed more human interaction to keep me connected and in a positive frame of mind. It was a relief to learn that scheduling two lunch meetings (either business or personal) and working from a public space two days per week was all I needed to get back on track.
Before you dive into working from home, count the number of positive, in-person interactions you currently have with co-workers over the course of three days. If you find you look forward to nothing more than eating lunch with your colleagues or that you need frequent visits to the break room to stay energized, then a solo, work-from-home situation could leave you feeling unfulfilled and even a bit lonely.
2. Ask Your Manager for Honest Feedback
Personal accountability and self-motivation are crucial for success in remote work. The trouble is, most people believe they’re independently accountable and self-motivated whether they are or not. It’s a common blind spot.
Ask yourself some tough questions—and try to be honest. When facing deadlines, do you need reminders from your supervisor to stay on task? Have you ever held up a project because you couldn’t deliver your contribution on time? If either answer is even close to “yes,” then working out of sight of your manager or team could spell disaster.
Talk to a current or former manager or a respected team member and ask for their candid assessment. If they confirm that you consistently turn out quality work on deadline without a friendly push from above or the person one desk over, then you’re ready to work from wherever.
3. Cold Call a Stranger
Just because you aren’t physically near your coworkers doesn’t mean you don’t have to talk to them. Remote work still requires a significant amount of communication.
Maybe you’re perfectly comfortable talking on the phone or video conferencing with your co-workers and have your tech support specialist’s birthday marked on your calendar. But some people find phone calls intimidating and are afraid to learn how to use new hardware and software for video conferencing or group chats. And to top it off, if you start a position with 100% telecommuting, all of your new co-workers will be strangers, at least in the beginning.
To more closely replicate what it’d be like to start a remote job, pick up the phone and cold call potential clients or local businesses to ask questions or deliver a pitch.
If your position isn’t client-facing, consider setting up a few informational interview calls with others who work in the same field—perhaps by reaching out to LinkedIn connections you’ve never met in person. How comfortable and natural does it feel? If it makes you anxious and you dread doing it again, that might be a red flag for an entirely remote position.
4. Request a Remote Work Trial
If the first three steps haven’t committed you to corporate headquarters for life, then it’s time for a dress rehearsal. Ask your manager for one day per week to work from home or another location over the course of three months (and these templates make it easy to ask). If your boss says no, consider testing this out with a side hustle or a serious hobby. And if you aren’t currently employed, you won’t have much of a choice but to create a similar environment for your job search tasks.
During the trial, set up a schedule you think you could repeat and sustain over a five-day work week. You’ll only be testing out a single day per week, but you’re trying to gauge whether it could become your daily routine. If you know from the first step that you need to be around other people, consider working from a coffee shop or co-working space.
And don’t forget to review how it went! Were you able to deal with the lower interaction levels? Did you get good feedback from your manager or team? Were you comfortable using phone and video chats to communicate when needed? If so, a full-time remote position might just work for you.
Armed with this newfound knowledge about yourself, you can either abandon your grandiose illusions of remote work or move full-steam ahead to increase your out-of-office time. That might mean a change to your current role or a new position with a flexible location.
Regardless, make sure you use any hard evidence you collected from these tests when you negotiate with your boss to carve out your ideal work arrangement. It’s proof for them, too, that working remotely works for you.