The world is remote.
Following the COVID pandemic, more people work from home (and elsewhere!) than ever before.
And that's amazing – because giving people the flexibility to better integrate work and life, is huge progress.
But while there are many benefits of remote work, it's a completely different animal from how we used to work.
Based on researching this topic for the past years and speaking to global experts on the topic, I've put together this comprehensive guide including:
- What is remote work?
- The benefits of remote work.
- The various remote work models, including hybrid remote work.
- Remote jobs – what they are and how to get them.
- The best remote companies to work for.
- How to combat work from home challenges.
- Remote work technology.
- The role of AI in remote work.
- Improving your remote leadership.
- Remote work implications for HR and People Operations.
What is remote work?
So, what is remote work? Remote work is a working model where people don't have to go to a physical office.
Instead, they work from home, or from any other place they'd like to.
Certain restrictions may be in place, like being in a certain geography or even timezone.
Companies may also ask to follow specific work hours or use certain technologies for communication and collaboration. (Hopefully for good reasons!)
The benefits of remote work.
Remote work, for many, means freedom.
The freedom to live life on their terms while making a living working virtually.
But the benefits don't stop there, according to leading researchers:
- A 2020 study by Stanford University found that remote workers are 13% more productive than their office counterparts.
- A big reason is the lack of commuting: 30% say that less commuting time made them more productive. (Gartner)
- People also save up to $51 per day working from home. (2023 Owl Labs State of Hybrid Work Report)
- 85% of workers said being able to work from home makes them happier. (2023 Owl Labs State of Hybrid Work Report)
- Employees value WFH as much as an 8% pay increase. In tech and finance, employees value it at up to 11%. (Stanford)
- 71% of remote workers say it helps them balance their work and personal lives. 52% say it helps them a lot. (PEW)
We did some research too.
Our 2023 "Myth vs. Reality" study of remote managers shows that:
- 78% finds managing a remote team (somewhat) easy. Only 1% of respondents finds it hard.
- 58% even finds it enjoyable to manage their remote team, including 28% who say it's very enjoyable.
- 65% of remote managers say their team's productivity has increased vs. the in-office days, and 100% trusts their team to be productive online.
- 68% says that their own productivity has increased now that they are remote.
- 59% of managers say that they've seen Increased employee satisfaction and morale thanks to remote work.
- As a result, 79% of manager would choose a remote role again. Only 6% say they would choose an office.
Another research study we did shows that 55% of remote employees say they would quit or consider quitting if asked to go back to the office full-time. This is much higher than hybrid employees, of which only 32% would consider quitting. 79% of remote employees would choose another remote role.
And it's not just remote managers and team members who benefit from remote work: companies benefit from increased levels of engagement, satisfaction, and save $22,000 per employee, per year (Global Workplace Analytics.)
In short, while there may be some challenges (more on that below), it's clear that remote work provides plenty of benefits.
Read more in our overview of all benefits of remote work.
Remote work compared to other models
Over the past few years, we've seen a number of new working models. Ranging from fully remote to mostly office-bound, remote work is the most flexible of them all. The full hybrid remote spectrum consists of:
- Fully Remote: Companies don't have an office, and each team member is free to live and work anywhere they choose. Everyone, including executives, is remote, as there are no offices to visit.
- Remote-First: In Remote-First working models, also called Work from Anywhere, people primarily work at home or elsewhere, but offices are available.
- Hybrid Remote: Hybrid work, or Hybrid Remote Work, is a mix of in-office and remote work where the company, the employee, or both choose which days to come to the office. See our overview of all hybrid work schedules.
- Mostly Office-bound: Means that you will be mostly in the office but have allowance to work from other places every now and then. This reflects the pre-pandemic way of working.
While there's a lot of noise about return to office, most companies are choosing hybrid work, and more people work remote than ever before. According to the most recent Stanford WFH study data, one in four US working days are now remote.
What is a remote job?
A remote job is a job at company where no (or very, very limited) office days are required.
The definition of a remote job is that your work is done from home, or any location you want.
Still, a company may require you to be in a certain geography or timezone and be online during certain hours.
Remote jobs are sometimes described as "work from home jobs,” “remote-first jobs,” and "virtual jobs."
And that's where it gets tricky. But because remote jobs are so in demand, many companies have been caught advertising a remote role while there is an in-office requirement. To be clear, this is not a remote role!
Be aware of such practices, as well as terms like hybrid remote, which SOUNDS remote but usually means hybrid, and thus, office days!
How to find a remote job?
With that in mind, how can you find a remote job?
Based on my research, these are the steps to take:
- Make Sure Remote Work Fits You: Not everyone is suited for remote work. Consider factors like your need for structure, ability to separate work and life, communication style, self-motivation, discipline, and technological requirements.
- Find Remote Job Opportunities: Use specialized job platforms like Remote.com, FlexJobs, and WeWorkRemotely. These platforms vet job listings to ensure they are legitimate remote opportunities. Additionally, check the careers pages of remote-friendly companies.
- Craft a Winning Application: Highlight skills relevant to remote work, such as proactive communication, self-motivation, and tech proficiency. Use AI websites like ChatGPT for crafting your resume and cover letter. Ensure consistency across all professional profiles and showcase any remote work experience or relevant projects.
- Interview for Remote Positions: Prepare for video interviews, focusing on demonstrating your ability to work autonomously and your passion for the work. Familiarize yourself with remote work culture and practices through resources like books and online materials.
- Patience and Persistence: Finding the right remote job can take time, especially for those new to the field or without a strong professional network. Persistence is key.
Read more in my guide on how to get a remote job.
The best remote companies to work for
Besides looking for remote roles broadly, it could pay to look into particular companies known for being great remote employers.
Companies that are heralded as the best remote companies to work for include Atlassian, Buffer, and Dropbox – all remote-first companies who've been honing their remote work skills for a long time.
Read more in my guide on the best remote-first companies.
What are the challenges of remote working
FlexOS research shows that most remote managers don't experience many challenges. As referenced above, most remote managers enjoy managing their teams.
This doesn't mean challenges don't exist: in our "What Remote Employees Really Want" report, remote employees report experiencing certain key challenges, including frustrations (and we have the working-from-home memes to prove it) about:
- Manager's unclear communication (35%)
- Manager's assigning conflicting responsibilities (27%)
- Feeling isolated (25%)
- Difficulty connecting with coworkers (20%)
- Balancing work and life (17%)
Remote managers themselves say their teams' challenges include:
- Distractions at home (51%)
- Lack of face-to-face interactions (38%)
- Work-from-home loneliness (31%)
- Technology issues (30%)
- Difficulty managing work-life balance (24%)
As Manager Method founder Ashley Herd told us for the report, managing remote teams is hard, and it's important to acknowledge and overcome key challenges.
Overcoming remote work challenges
To overcome key remote work challenges, experts advise to:
Build New Fundamentals
Experts advice to focus on psychological safety, create team agreements, prioritize one-on-one meetings, excel in remote onboarding, continuously listen to your teams, including frequent employee surveys, sustain a strong company culture and keep the team connected with virtual team building activities .
Encourage transparent working, embrace remote collaboration tools, have less and more effective team meetings (including virtual meetings and asynchronous meetings), find moments of synchronicity, and have clear team communication.
Boost Performance & Productivity
Acknowledge performance importance, focus on outcomes over hours, set clear performance goals, track performance transparently, coach for performance, and frequently check in on progress.
Learning and Development
Create learning plans, decide on learning locations, and revamp learning formats to keep teams engaged and evolving, especially in leadership coaching.
See what twenty of the world's leading experts have to say about managing remote teams.
Remote work technology
All of the best practices above, and what forms the underpinning of all the great remote companies we often hear about, is great technology.
Remote work would not be possible with technology, but in recent years new software has emerged that can make working together online as good as in the office, or even better.
Unfortunately, many remote teams don't have access to this technology.
According to our 2023 research, 59% of remote employees say they don't have the essential tools for communication and collaboration, and getting better remote technology is the #3 wish of these employees.
Here is some of the technology and software that we deem must-haves for strong remote teams and culture:
Team Communication Tools
The number one thing you'll have to do in remote teams is communicating virtually. No wonder that an entire industry has sprung up over the past years to create better tools to do just that.
From chat apps like Slack to innovative all-in-one solutions like Basecamp, here are some of the platforms we've heard remote leaders rave about:
- Slack: A staple in our remote work technology stack, it drives me crazy sometimes, but how would we live without it? Slack replaces a lot of in-office discussions and even entire meetings by letting people discuss and collaborate with text messaging, photo sharing, and more. Alternatives are MS Teams, Google Chat, Twist, and other text + video messaging plaforms.
- Loom: Helps remote teams communicate effectively through asynchronous video messages. Its perfect for a quick explanation, briefing a team member, showcasing work, as well as brainstorming with people in different timezones.
- Notion: While you may use Teams, Zoom, Google, or Slack for video calls and messaging, there is a lot more information in modern remote teams that needs to be stored and found. This is why platforms like Notion, which hosts your company's knowledge online, are another staple of successful remote teams. Alternatives include Confluence and Coda.
- Jira and other Project Management platforms: Many discussions in remote teams don't happen in communication tools, but inside remote collaboration tools. For example, engineers will skip Slack and have their daily conversations about work right inside Jira, and designers may do the same in Figma. The same goes for other project management platforms like ClickUp, Monday, etc.
- Range: Because remote work is so unique, there are platforms that try to bring all of the above into one place. Range, for example, says that "team communication shouldn’t be all over the place," and brings async updates, agendas, meeting notes, team goals, and project planning all into one place.
See our in-depth review of 20+ remote collaboration tools.
If you want to boost your remote team's performance, setting up a tailored virtual workspace is a must. These are our 5 picks:
- Kumospace: A user-friendly virtual office platform that replicates real-world office dynamics with customizable floor plans and spatial audio. Ideal for teams needing a lifelike, engaging virtual workspace with voice and video chat, screen sharing, and event hosting capabilities.
- Gather Town: A virtual workspace that simulates a physical office, allowing free movement, spontaneous conversations, and personalized avatars. Offers features like spatial audio, screen sharing, and analytics. Best for young, creative teams seeking a flexible and interactive virtual environment.
- Remo (pictured): Focuses on interactive and engaging virtual events and conferences with features like screen sharing, document collaboration, and insights into team engagement. Suitable for large teams or organizations that frequently host virtual events and require a versatile, interactive platform.
- Ro.am: An all-in-one virtual office software offering a bird's eye view of teams, with audio-first meetings and customizable virtual rooms. Ideal for teams seeking efficient communication and reduced meeting times in a visually interactive virtual environment.
- Kosy Office: Offers a virtual workspace with spatial audio and video, interactive object integrations, and customizable office spaces. Best for teams looking for a cohesive, fun virtual work environment with seamless collaboration and social interaction features.
Setting up a virtual office could be a great way to work in the future, today.
See our complete guide and in-depth reviews of these five virtual workspaces.
Virtual Meeting Platforms
If you're working remote, or planning to, you're going to have your fair share of virtual meetings.
Sure, you could do them on Microsoft Teams or Zoom, but there's a whole new class of virtual meeting platforms that you'll want to check out.
Some of our favorites include:
- Butter: A virtual meeting software integrating AI for enhanced collaboration. Offers automated meeting transcriptions, real-time summarization, and smart action items, ideal for small to medium-sized teams seeking intelligent meeting assistance. Features workspace role management and meeting recordings. Has a 21-day free trial and paid options.
- Whereby: Focuses on simplicity and ease of use, offering virtual meeting rooms with unique URLs for effortless collaboration. Features include video conferencing, screen sharing, chat, and customizable branding options. Suitable for small teams, freelancers, and solopreneurs. Available in free and competitively priced paid plans.
- Tandem: Designed to recreate the in-person office experience virtually, Tandem offers features like virtual rooms, screen sharing, and file sharing, integrated with productivity tools. Ideal for remote and hybrid teams needing a virtual office environment. Provides free and various paid options for different team sizes.
- Mmhmm: Adds creativity and fun to online meetings with dynamic visual effects and interactive backgrounds. Perfect for presenters and trainers who want to enhance online presentations. Offers a free membership, premium ($10/month), and team ($15/month/user) options.
- Around: A video collaboration platform with spatial audio technology and automatic speaker highlighting. Includes features like screen sharing and collaborative notes, integrated with popular tools. Best for teams seeking an immersive video collaboration experience. Offers Free, Pro, and Business plans.
See our unbiased reviews of 13 exciting virtual meeting platforms.
When you don't see each other all the time, planning tools becomes more important than ever. A step up from more individually-focused tack trackers, planning (or project management) tools allow everyone to understand what needs to get done, by when, and with whom.
Having all this information transparantly available makes it way easier to get the right results out of teams, no matter what time they log in and do the work. The more geographically distributed and asynchronously you work, the more important this becomes.
Here are some of the best planning tools we've seen:
- nTask: Project planning software with a straightforward interface, catering to all professions, featuring meeting management and Gantt charts.
- Trello: A Kanban-style project management platform that facilitates team collaboration and task management through boards and cards.
- Monday.com: User-friendly tool for managing projects and workflows, offering clear task assignments and visual dashboards for easy tracking.
- ClickUp: Integrates with numerous apps, providing features for role definition, task management, and efficient collaboration.
- Wrike: Versatile project management platform with customizable templates, suited for various team sizes and project management needs.
See our unbiased reviews of 11 of the best planning tools.
Additional Remote Work Technology
Many software platforms have evolved to accomodate the needs of remote teams. Here are some categories of software that many remote teams swear by:
- Time management: What gets measures, gets improved. As such time management tools (for your team) and time management apps (for yourself) are becoming indispensable tools for smart remote teams.
- Employee surveys: Speaking of measurement, keeping a firm finger on the pulse of how your people are feeling is even more critical when you don't see them often. Running frequent employee surveys or employee pulse surveys with employee survey tools, survey apps, or for large remote team, with the help of employee engagement survey providers, is a must-have to keep employee engagement and retention high.
- Employee Engagement: And speaking of employee engagement, you can tap into technology here as well. Employee engagement tools like Nectar and Worktango help you drive employee engagement even when you're not physically together.
- AI Tools: In just the past year, AI in the Workplace has advanced astronomically. This is great for remote teams, as AI websites like Adobe Firefly and Copy.AI, free ai tools like Rows AI and Invideo, and specific AI Productivity Tools like Otter and Mem, all help improve productivity. Training your remote teams on how to use AI for work will help skyrocket their enjoyment and productivity.
The role of AI in remote work
Speaking of AI – there is a beautiful relationship between AI and remote work. As I wrote in my article about AI in remote work, remote work and AI strengthen each other, as remote companies create more digital data that AI can feed off of.
This helps make remote work and even more compelling idea for companies, especially when they take full advantage of what AI and remote work have to offer.
Taking advantage of using AI in remote teams start by looking into the most digital workflow, and by wide exploration and experimentation of AI websites that can supercharge the employee productivity of remote team members.
Getting started with remote work
We recently moved to a remote-first work model and I wouldn't look back.
But as all the above likely underscores, remote work isn't just where we work, it's a cultural shift in how organizations operate.
Embracing this model involves moving from controlling employees to empowering individuals and teams to be productive when and where makes most sense for them, without losing connection or their affinity for the organization.
To implement remote work successfully, consider these steps:
- Understand Stakeholder Appetite: Before starting the transformation, assess the enthusiasm and readiness for hybrid remote work among key stakeholders. Consider their views on flexibility in terms of space and time, and what hybrid work means to them.
- Survey Your Team: Gather insights from your team to determine the extent of hybrid remote work adoption. Key information includes the need for dedicated workspace, preferred number of days working from home, maximum travel distance to work, physical office requirements, and concerns about hybrid work.
- Measure, Learn, and Optimize: Approach this as a journey. Set clear goals and success metrics, regularly measure and review these metrics, and adjust strategies as needed, similar to the lean startup approach.
Becoming a better remote leader
In some ways, being a great remote leader is built on the same principles of leadership used decades ago.
But while the principles may be the same, the way we manage remote team is completely different.
If you're looking to upskill yourself as a remote leader, consider one of these courses, books, and interviews.
Many courses exist to level up your remote leadership skills. From general training to communication, check out one of these remote work training courses:
- GitLab - How to Manage a Remote Team (Coursera): Developed with GitLab, this course is ideal for new remote managers. It covers managing remote teams, effective communication, and using collaborative tools. It focuses on building trust, maintaining team culture, and productivity in remote settings, offering practical strategies and best practices.
- University of Toronto - Communication Strategies for a Virtual Age (Coursera): This course addresses digital communication differences and is suitable for remote managers seeking to improve virtual communication skills. It covers applying communication principles, giving impactful presentations, conducting effective meetings, and handling difficult conversations. The instructor, Ivan Wanis Ruiz, provides comprehensive knowledge on virtual and real-world communication.
- Skillshare - Effective Communication: Five Best Practices for Remote Teams: Led by Claire Lew, CEO of Know Your Team, this class is beneficial for CEOs and remote team members. It teaches five best practices for effective remote communication, including managing Zoom fatigue, Slack notifications, and embracing asynchronous communication. The course is aimed at improving overall communication in remote environments.
- Udacity - Managing Remote Teams with Upwork: In collaboration with Upwork, this course is tailored for managers and professionals using Upwork for remote team coordination. It includes tools for managing distributed teams and techniques for effective communication and motivation. The course leverages Upwork's experience in remote resource management.
- Hubspot - Remote Leadership Training: How to Manage a Remote Team (Hubspot Academy): This free course is an introduction to remote management, addressing common challenges and solutions for remote leaders. It covers fostering a positive business culture, creating an inclusive work-from-home environment, and establishing productive team engagement rules. Suitable for those new to remote leadership concepts.
These courses are mostly free and will help you master the basics and pro tips of leading remote teams and organizations.
Check out our complete overview of remote work training courses.
I've loved reading some of the great books out there about managing remote teams and being a great remote worker. Some recommendations include:
- Understanding Remote Work: These books look at the general aspects of remote work, ideal for those new to the concept. It discusses the benefits, challenges, and strategies for effective remote work. Books include "Remote: Office Not Required" by Basecamp founder Jason Fried, "Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere" by HBR author and professor Tsedal Neeley, and "Running Remote" by Time Doctor CEO Liam Martin.
- Building Remote Company Culture: Focusing on cultivating a strong remote work culture, these books provide practical advice and stories from experienced leaders. Books include "Remote Not Distant" by culture expert Gustavo Razzetti, "Office Optional" by Centric Consulting CEO Larry English, and "Remote Work" by remote culture expert Chris Dyer.
- Managing Remote Teams: Here, the emphasis is on leadership strategies for remote teams, offering tactics for boosting productivity and engagement. It's aimed at remote managers and leaders, with books including "Leading From Anywhere" by David Burkus.
- Thriving in a Remote Work Setting: These books guide employees in maximizing their remote work experience, covering effective communication, work-life balance, and productivity strategies. Books include "Remote, Inc." by author Alexandra Samuel and Robert C. Pozen and "The New Corner Office" by Laura Vanderkam.
Check out our complete review of 20+ remote work books courses.
Of course, you can't go wrong with refreshing your overall leadership chops by reading classic leadership books.
Over the past years, I've interviewed a large number of remote work experts, which has been an incredible learning experience. From remote company culture to how to engage remote employees, here are a few of my favorite interviews:
- Brian Elliott (Slack, Future Forum): How Slack and Future Forum Redesigned Work for the Digital Age. In this great interview, Brian Elliott shares lessons of taking Slack from an in-office to a remote company, the importance of meeting in-person, alongside great reminders of how we lead the highest-performing teams.
- Christie Hoffman (Pingboard): Employee Engagement Best Practices. The way we work will continue to change, and the competitive landscape we operate will too. This means listening to your people, fixing issues in the way the company operates, and creating a great experience will be more important than ever. "Corporate" Christie gives us a masterclass in how to do this.
- Chase Warrington (Doist): The Secret Playbook of One of the Most Famous Remote Companies. In this interview, Chase shares why getting together in perso is crucial for remote teams, and how to do it well. He also shares practical tips on engaging remote employees. A must-listen for any remote leader.
- Jennifer Dulski (Rising Team): Great Managers Are Like Sports Coaches. Jennifer is a leadership guru who transformed her own company to a remote one, and now supports remote companies on every continent with their culture and management practices. Her insights are the playbook for leading remote teams.
- Mark Birch (Amazon): Why and How to Run Your Company like a Community. How does Amazon have so many people who LOVE working there? A big hidden secret is its emphasis on building community, helping people feel connected to each other and the company's mission, even when working from home. Community expert and AWS leader Mark Birch shares how we can build our own community at work.
The implications of remote work for HR and People Operations
From labor laws in other countries to leadership telling them that 'we need to increase engagement,' Human Resources and People Operations teams have many additional responsibilities related to remote work.
As an HR or POPS leader, you may consider the following:
- Embrace and Enhance Flexibility in Work Arrangements: HR often leads the charge in adapting traditional office-centric policies to the needs of a remote workforce. This includes rethinking, updating, and facilitating policies around work hours, communication protocols, and performance metrics to accommodate different time zones and work-life balance. It also means ensuring equity between employees in different countries and legal compliance, including working with an EOR (Employer of Record.)
- Invest in Remote Work Technologies and Infrastructure: The success of remote work heavily relies on the technology that enables it. The best HR teams take a proactive role to ensure employees have access to the right tools and platforms for effective communication, collaboration, and productivity. This involves providing the technology and offering training and support to maximize its use.
- Foster a Strong Remote Culture and Employee Engagement: Building and maintaining a strong company culture is crucial, especially in remote teams. HR and People Operations teams should develop strategies to ensure remote employees feel connected to the organization and to each other, such as virtual team-building activities, regular check-ins, and inclusive communication channels, as well as remote retreats. HR must work with leadership and management to create an environment where remote employees can thrive, feel valued, and contribute effectively to the company's goals.
Incorporating these strategies requires HR and People Operations to rethink traditional approaches and embrace the cultural shift toward remote work.
The best teams focus on flexibility, technology, and culture to support a productive, engaged, and satisfied remote workforce.
For inspiration, check out my interviews with Nansen's Director of People Experience Stephanie Lee about building remote employee engagement and culture:
Stay in the know
I hope this guide was helpful. For more details, check out:
- Benefits of remote work
- Work from home quotes
- Remote work training
- The best remote-first companies
- Remote work books
- Remote work experts
- Remote work best practices
- Five steps to engage remote employees