As more workers leave traditional jobs for remote work, it pays to understand what to look for in a remote-first employment arrangement. One of the Commit team members sat down with Commit engineer Prit Patel to talk about what questions workers should ask themselves before pursuing remote-first work, what skills can help people thrive in a remote position, and also how to tell that an organization is truly remote-first. See the first post here and the second post here.
On how to tell whether an organization is actually remote-first
Prit: Not everyone has loved the shift towards remote work or adapted properly. Many startups are rebranding as remote companies, but make no effort to actually make that a good experience. That’s why one other question we want to encourage you to ask when considering work at a remote company is: is that company actually embodying remote-first culture?
Team Member: Companies that are open to remote employees are not the same as companies that are remote-first. We refer to these companies as being ‘remote-ish.’
As Prit alluded to, there are a few important questions you can ask to figure out how remote a company truly is.
First, ask where the leaders are working from. Leaders dictate company norms, and their experiences will dominate. If leadership is working from one central office, then the company is going to make decisions that prioritize people in that office. On the flip side, if your team leader or your engineering manager also works remotely, they’re going to be so much more intentional with their remote work practices because they’re facing it themselves.
Second, even if the startup is doing well, ask them what challenges they’re facing specifically when it comes to working remotely. What you’re really looking for here is just a level of consideration. Are they actually thinking about how to constantly improve the remote work experience?
Finally, remember that the numbers don’t lie. Ask them what percentage of the team lives in which cities or time zones. If 98% of the team lives in Waterloo, that’s probably a cool startup, but they’re also probably just hoping to eventually go back to an office.
Another number you can ask for is what time their team meetings usually start at. Let’s say a Toronto-based company insists on 10am stand ups and you’re working in Vancouver or the Bay Area. That means you’re going to be sitting at your desk at 7am every single day, and it also means that the company probably isn’t building remote-first practices around time zones differences.
Team Member: What about compensation? What do you recommend in terms of salaries as a remote-first company local versus working at a head office?
I think this is a great question. I spend a ton of time vetting start-ups and talking to them about their salary bands, and I think my perspective is to always give the benefit of the doubt to startups.
Our philosophy at Commit is that we have simple salary bands that are universal, regardless of where in the world a person works, because we don’t think that their worth should be tied to the city that they chose to live in or the cost of living in that location.
This approach is both a lot simpler for HR teams and also much fairer for engineers and for all employees. Many companies are coming out of different environments where they used to have multiple offices and made cost of living adjustments, so I think it’s a really fair question to ask startups. I always advocate for having standard salaries regardless of where the local office is.
Team Member: One important question that comes to mind given the fact that we’re encouraging people to quit their jobs is how to quit your job gracefully.
Many people are really afraid to introduce that kind of change into their life because it can seem intimidating to have to tell the people they work and spend so much time with that you want to leave. You don’t want to make them mad or feel like they did something wrong.
We’re big advocates of doing the things that make you happiest and freeing yourself from people’s judgments and expectations.
Prit: When I took my break, I took a different job that I only ended up working at for three months. At first I was extremely anxious about telling my manager that I wanted to quit that job: I had just joined and taken on all of these responsibilities. Looking back, however, I realize that most of it was in my head.
The minute I got honest with my manager and said “I’m not feeling this,” he was on board and supportive. That was really important: I didn’t want to burn any bridges when I left, and I think being honest with my manager helped with that.