If you’re interviewing for a remote job, digging into the culture of the company where you’re hoping to work should be a top priority. And understanding the remote work culture specifically is even more crucial. Why? As experts point out, remote work can provide you many things—such as freedom from a commute and the environment of your own choosing—but it’s also important to ensure that you’ll be able to work well with your teammates and manager, flourish in your role, and have the chance to advance your career.
Remote work looks different depending on the organization and its setup. If your entire team is working off-site and everyone is well-versed in using Slack, Zoom, and Asana, joining the company as a remote worker might be easy. If, however, you’re the only employee having to call into a monthly team meeting from afar, the experience might be more isolating than fulfilling.
“If you’re the odd person out, it might not be so great working from home. You might feel left out,” says April Klimkiewicz, career coach and founder of Bliss Evolution. That’s why she’s a big advocate for exploring the company culture and what it means for you as a remote worker. “It’s important to find a position that’s a fit,” she says. And that includes not only the role and the salary and the mission of the company, but also the remote work culture.
Here are seven questions to ask when you’re pursuing a remote job to discover if this organization will help you thrive in your career, wherever you’re physically working.
1. Would I Be Working Traditional Office Hours? If Not, What Are the Hours?
If you’re a full-time employee of the company, remember that flexibility in where you work doesn’t necessarily translate to flexibility in when you work—so ask about your team’s schedule and the expectations around yours.
“It’s a common misconception that if you’re working remotely, you get to pick and choose your own hours—and it’s quite the opposite,” says Ashlee Anderson, a certified professional career coach at Work From Home Happiness. In many cases, “you’ll have to maintain some sort of consistent and regular office hours, and those hours will depend on your team’s schedule.”
If the team is fully distributed—meaning everyone is remote—Anderson also recommends asking the recruiter or your potential manager how the team collaborates across time zones. That way, you’ll discover if working outside of 9-to-5 office hours will be a requirement of your role.
2. Is This a Fully Distributed Team? What Percentage of the Team Is Remote?
These types of questions about the team’s makeup—which you can ask when you talk to HR or to the hiring manager—can help you determine if remote work is normalized in the organizational culture. “It’s very fair to ask ‘Am I the only person remote? Is it a mix?’” Anderson says. “You can gauge whether it’s completely normal in the company, or if it’s a situation where you’ll have to advocate for yourself to stay in the loop and make sure you’re not missing out on opportunities just because you’re working remotely.”
Even if remote workers are a small percentage of the team, or remote work is new in the organization—which is true of many companies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic—don’t rule it out based on that fact alone. It’s more pertinent to figure out if the team is proactively thinking about solutions for their remote workers, Klimkiewicz says. “If they’re answering your questions with, ‘We’ve accommodated for that,’ then you’re all good,” she says. Or if they tell you about how they’re regularly evaluating how things are going for remote employees and making changes to improve their experiences, that also bodes well.
3. How Does the Team Communicate? What Tools Do You Use to Collaborate?
Whenever you’re interviewing, it’s a smart move to ask about your supervisor’s management style and the team dynamics. When it comes to remote work, it’s all the more important. If you’re not in the same physical space, your boss and colleagues can’t stop by to give you a quick update, toss around ideas, or tell you why they approach something the way they do. So it’ll take some extra thought and effort to ensure everyone’s on the same page.
The chance to connect with your manager, coworkers, or even the CEO is also affected by being remote, so ask questions about how you can get face time within the company. “You want to be able to have open access to these people, just as if you were in an office environment,” Anderson says. “Ask about how many regular meetings there are via Zoom, and what, if any, access remote workers have to their manager.” Does your boss make a point of having regular one-on-ones with their direct reports? Are there recurring team meetings when you would have the opportunity to get to you know your teammates? Are there larger company-wide meetings or email updates where you can learn about what other teams are working on and understand leadership’s longer-term vision?
The tools a team uses are also clues to how they work together on a day-to-day basis. That could be anything from Zoom to Slack to Skype, or collaboration tools that show who’s working on what in real time, such as Trello, says Anderson. “It gives you a sense of if you’re in video meetings all the time, or it’s more flexible—say, with an open Slack channel where people are free to comment,” she says. Neither is bad, per se, but you might have a personal preference and be looking for a team that’s the right match.
Pay attention not only to the answer itself, but also how they answer, Anderson says. “If you’re asking questions about tools and communication, and you’re asking how they’re going to keep you in the loop and they have no idea, that would raise red flags,” Anderson says. “It’s really important they already have these details hashed out. That shows they value remote workers as much as in-office employees,” she says. “You don’t want to fall by the wayside, or be a trial run as a remote worker.”
4. How Do You Typically Give Feedback to Remote Employees?
Getting feedback from a manager often happens informally in an office setting—they might pop by to tell you about a job well done or to let you know the expectations around a new project, for example. Feedback is essential for remote employees, too, in order to keep their careers progressing. But, as Anderson points out, it might get overlooked. “It’s easy for people to get lost while working remotely,” she says.
The best way to gauge how your prospective boss might give you feedback and how comfortable they are doing it is to ask. If the hiring manager doesn’t have a plan in place, suggest one—that reflects your ideal scenario—and see how they react. For instance, you might float the idea of meeting biweekly to talk about goals and get constructive criticism. If they balk or squirm, and don’t suggest an alternative, then it might be a sign that they’re not prepared to invest in the growth of a remote employee in the way you’d expect.
5. What Type of Regular Social Events Does the Team or Department Have?
The types of social and team-building activities, and the frequency of those events, are further clues into how the company culture incorporates remote workers. Will a remote worker feel included in those events? The makeup of the team, whether remote or on-site, will play a big role. “Socializing is a lot more difficult if you’re the only remote person,” Klimkiewicz says. “If you’re looking for camaraderie at work, maybe you don’t want that situation.” If, however, there’s a concerted effort to make events inclusive for remote employees—or if spending informal time with your team isn’t a priority for you—this role might be a good fit.
So pay attention to the types of events your interviewer mentions. If all they talk about is in-person happy hours and lunches, the team may not be set up to welcome a remote member into the social fold. But if they mention virtual trivia and remote coffee pair-ups—even if these are still in the planning stages—it might signal their readiness to include a remote worker in bonding activities.
6. How Has the Organization Overcome Challenges With Remote Work?
It’s unrealistic to expect a company to create a flawless remote work environment instantaneously. But you can expect your potential peers, managers, and company leadership to recognize and acknowledge challenges and make an effort to overcome them (whether they relate to remote work or a project you’re working on!). If an interviewer is able to talk openly about what’s been difficult and what meaningful steps the team has taken to adjust, that can also be a good signal for how they’ll handle any other problems that might arise in the future.
Asking your potential manager this question is all about the phrasing. So keep the tone positive. “You’ll find out things that are going on, but ask in a way that you’re not sitting as a judge, but as a team member,” Klimkiewicz says.
7. What Opportunities for Growth Exist for This Role?
Partly, this question helps determine if a company is invested in your growth as an employee even if you’re not on site every day. But it also clues you in to how a company thinks about its remote workers. Can you be a leader while working remote? Can you take on larger projects and still work off-site? If you’re looking to stay in one role for a while or expecting to move your career forward with this company and those sorts of opportunities aren’t available unless you’re working in the office, that’s a major consideration.
With more and more companies open to remote work these days, it falls to you to determine if the job you’re interviewing for is the right remote job. So use the interview process to your advantage to find out if your potential employer’s remote work culture is a good fit for you and your career.
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