Note: This article was written well before the world encountered COVID-19. However, most of the advice still applies and in many cases, is more important than ever. Best of luck out there! - SS
Almost 40 years since the Internet was born, we’ve learned to develop a completely new world. One of the more recent developments that has emerged from this connected community is the way our societies have learned to find new opportunities in distributed form.
Remote work has been inching forward for years as it has capitilized on our ability to connect digitally, while people open their minds to the distributed workforce. Entire industries have been built from this revolution, so it’s hard to believe that even just a few decades ago, this form of working (and living) was simply unavailable.
Despite rapid change since the first coworking space opened in 2005 or since Slack was founded in 2009, there are still some misconceptions about the distributed workforce. Some people still believe this is all a fad, while others believe it’s a symptom of a cohort of non-commital millennials. After working fully remotely for over three years and meeting the hundreds (if not thousands) of other remote workers, I’ve grown to appreciate that neither is true. The workplace is shifting as it has many times prior, to accommodate the new opportunities that we as humans have made available.
As we transition, I’ve noticed that many people want to participate in this future, but sometimes don’t know how. In fact, one of the more common misconceptions that I still run into is the perception that only a few roles can be done remotely, namely technical roles.
This notion is born out of the expectation set by some companies that will only hire out specific positions remotely (for example: a company that employs a remote dev team, but refuses to offer remote work outside of that), and is perpetuated by individuals who say “their positions cannot be done remotely”. In this article, I’ll attempt to address why this notion is misplaced and why remote work is the future of work -- not just for our developer friends. Hopefully I’ll also provide some tangible insight into how you can search for, vet, and potentially land a non-technical remote role, should that be something you’re interested in pursuing.
Asking the Right Questions
In order to understand whether a role can be done remotely, most people ask a question like:
- “Where are the most remote jobs?”
- “What jobs allow you to work remotely?”
While these are fair questions, I would encourage people to think not only about careers that typically allow you to work remotely, but careers that can be done remotely. I would instead ask questions like:
- “Is my work primarily done through a computer?”
- “Could my work be done through a computer?”
With the intrinsic understanding that the “remote revolution” was spawned from the ability of the Internet to connect us, that truly becomes the right question to ask. An adjacent concept to understand is that we must start thinking outside of the box as we look to the future. As the digital age accelerates, we need to keep in mind that many of the jobs that we’ll have may not currently exist.
I would encourage each remote job seeker to think progressively and not only within the realm of their current environment. Of course, certain positions over-index on remote work, but the key here is that opportunities are emerging every day and it’s important to realize that there are indeed remote jobs for non-technical individuals. And quite frankly, I think a majority of people would be surprised to understand the full breadth of jobs that can be done remotely.
Note: As you search for a non-technical remote role, I would implore you to learn technical skills in the long-term. As mentioned above, the workforce is changing and remote or not, the digital age is upon us. By taking the initiative to pick up technical skills, you’re putting yourself in a more abundant future. On that note, here’s a series of tips for looking for non-technical remote work.
The most obvious place to look is at remote job sites. With everyone and their best friend trying to start a job board in 2019, it’s important to identify the best remote job websites. When you’re looking to establish what you’ll be doing for potentially the next few years, quality matters.
My two most reliable recommendations for job boards are RemoteOK and FlexJobs. In 2015, I chose to search for remote work and was able to find non-technical positions through both of these platforms.
- RemoteOK is a free feed that segments jobs by various tags, including Non-tech and Marketing. I’ve consistently found RemoteOK to have higher quality positions as compared to other remote job boards and I like the simplicity of the UI.
- FlexJobs is a paid platform, but in my experience, completely worth the investment. It’s approximately $50 a year, but enables you access to a large database of vetted remote positions. The platform as a whole has various filters ranging from location-specific to “Anywhere in the World”. When I was searching years ago, I found at least 3 solid positions on FlexJobs, including my role at Toptal where I’ve been since. Once again, the investment of $50 to ensure a better outcome for years is one of the best I’ve made.
There are many other remote job platforms that exist including Remotive which segments by “Other”, Remote which has search functionality, a FlexJobs alternative called Virtual Vocations, and other more general platforms like We Work Remotely.
When you’re faced with information overload across these job boards, here is my approach for how to search for telecommuting jobs.
- Set a cadence where you check these boards. When I was searching 3 years ago, this timeline was every 2 days.
- Set up specific filters that you check. I always checked for marketing and growth roles.
- Utilize the email feature that many of them have, where you get notified about jobs that are posted within certain filters.
- Set clear expectations for the types of jobs that you will even spend time on. For example, if you want to be fully remote, do not bother spending time on positions that are America-only. Similarly, if you have years of experience, do not apply to entry-level jobs just because you want to “go remote”.
Remote First Companies
There are specific types of jobs that people typically think about when it comes to remote work. For example, developers, designers, and data scientists all come to mind and are typically the titles that take up a majority of remote job board real-estate.
While this is certainly true, a great place to locate jobs that you may not find on job boards is to follow specific remote-first companies. These tend to be tech companies, but there are always non-technical jobs in IT companies! (Ie: IT companies don’t only hire developers)
As you venture into the realm of “tech jobs for non-techies”, you’ll find roles that span product managers, marketers, social media managers, operations leads, and more. All of these roles can be done remotely and more companies are opting for this structure.
Some examples of these remote-first companies include Toptal, Buffer, Auth0, Basecamp, Zapier, Automattic, InVision, and Mozilla. Not only do these companies offer remote roles, but they tend to be full-time remote jobs, unlike some of the more part-time consulting-based remote roles that you may find elsewhere. In addition to that, these companies are entirely remote and have set up the right systems to enable successful distributed teams.
You can find lists of these companies in the following places:
- RemoteOK lists companies in order of the frequency that they post remote roles to its platform.
- NoDesk has a list of 450+ fully remote companies here.
- Remotive put together a list of 900+ startups hiring remotely in 2019.
- This list of 400 companies which can also be edited on GitHub
- Key Values helps sort companies by various values that you care about, including remote work.
- FlexJobs has a list of flexible (not necessarily fully remote) companies listed by state.
Once you identify companies that you’re interested in, go to their career page. This is where you’ll find a multitude of roles that aren’t on every job board. For example, as of writing this article, there have been 11 jobs posted on RemoteOK in the last year from Toptal, while there are over 100 jobs currently open on Toptal’s careers page, of which a majority are not engineering roles.
This exercise is not intending to criticize RemoteOK. In fact, as mentioned prior, RemoteOK does much better than other job boards in reporting this data. For example, as of writing this article, I see 0 results on remote.com for Toptal and 0 open positions on We Work Remotely according to the company page (and only 10 historically). Even as a paid product, FlexJobs reports 13 positions.
The idea of this exercise is just to demonstrate that still, the best place to look for a wider range of non-technical remote jobs is on each company’s careers page. There is certainly an argument for browsing the job boards on a frequent basis and resorting to the careers pages during more comprehensive searches. I would do some form of this exercise monthly, should the quicker searches not be yielding the results that you hope for.
Remote Non-Tech Jobs
Past these non-technical jobs in the IT industry, there are remote roles emerging in areas that many would simply not expect. They include remote sales jobs, remote admin jobs, remote finance jobs, remote legal jobs, and even jobs that span medical, real estate, among others.
Remotive recently compiled a list of hundreds remote roles and their salaries (which I’ll get to later), which were predominantly developer or design positions, but also highlighted many other positions you can do remotely. To name a few taken directly from the sheet:
- Director of Customer Success - $159,000
- PR Manager - $53,300
- Marketing Operations Manager - $150,000
- Head of Communications and Partnerships - $67,000
- Talent Lead - $90,000
- Community Lead - $150,000
- Product Evangelist - $70,000
- Account Manager - $43,000-$100,000
- Event Manager - $75,000
Most of these roles fall within marketing or operations, which I’ll touch on in the next section. However, there are even more surprising roles that can be done remotely. For example, within a few weeks of me writing this article, I located these job postings on the aforementioned remote job boards.
- Head of Real Estate
- General Counsel
- Pricing Strategy Manager
- Recruiting Director
- Travel Agent
- Chief Storyteller
- Program Manager
- Clinical Team Manager
In fact, FlexJobs has a feature called “100 Surprising Jobs”, which aggregates roles of such nature. There are postings ranging from Card Story Editor to Radiologist to Law School Curriculum Writer. I’ve linked the final job postings which I found through FlexJobs, since the FlexJobs links won’t work unless you have an account.
Note: Depending on when you read this article, many of these will have expired, but that just means there will be new postings to explore!
Roles of such nature are less common, but so are the individuals searching for these roles. Should you be unable to find the right remote role, I would encourage you to push the envelope in your current position. I previously worked for a company in management consulting that had never had anyone on the team work remotely. As I was leaving for my role at Toptal, I was offered the opportunity to switch to a fully remote consulting role. I didn’t end up taking the offer, but it showed me that I was the one actually the limiting belief, not my company. Since then, they’ve had multiple people switch to remote positions.
Remote Marketing Positions
In the “year of the IPO”, there has been such a strong focus on companies being able to sustain hypergrowth at all costs. Regardless of “product market fit”, companies achieving hypergrowth require a world class marketing/growth team to enable their success. In fact, there have been entire programs launched like Reforge which aim to train the next group of top “growth experts” and entire industries carved out of this evolution in marketing, like search engine optimization (SEO).
If you’re looking to transition to a remote online marketing job, I would first encourage you to become proficient in analytics. Having an analytical background is extremely important, regardless of which marketing niche you go into (ex: SEO, email marketing, paid advertising, etc.)
Should you be looking for a remote marketing job, most remote job boards have a Marketing-specific section that you can navigate, instead of going through all postings.
It’s worth mentioning that it’s pretty common for marketers to eventually take their marketing skills, especially if they are specialized, to open a remote marketing agency or essentially serve clients directly.
Entry-Level Remote Jobs
There is a common perception that in order to get a remote employment position, you need to already be relatively experienced in your field. While this helps, as it does in any interview process, it’s not essential. I’m speaking from experience, as I entered many of my marketing-related roles with little direct experience.
I would encourage those “newer on the block” to consider the following points:
- Remote communities are powerful. Attend events and learn from others. You’ll be surprised at how quickly those relationships will become mutually beneficial.
- Most remote jobs care more about your ability to perform rather than a specific degree or credential. As you’re interviewing, don’t focus on your Ivy League diploma, but instead of prior experiences that proved you can #getshitdone.
- Digital skills are dynamic. What is important now will likely be moot in 5 years. Proving that you’re able to learn and adapt is essential.
- It is a positive sign if you’ve worked remotely before. Consider freelancing and improving your skills before you score the “dream job”.
- If you don’t have certain skills, take the time to learn them! The digital era democratizes so many skillsets. In taking the time to learn them, you are simultaneously validating your ambition. This may lead down surprising paths, like starting an online business.
- Whatever you do, please do not make a living off of, as I once heard someone say, “selling useless stuff to dumb people”. Always offer value to the world. :)
I’ve written a more thorough set of tips to consider when applying to any remote job, in the Practical Tips section of my Honest Guide to Remote Work.
Salaries: How Much Should I Make?
Although I cannot provide any global salary advice, there is one important thing that I should mention. Don’t assume that transitioning to a remote role means that you need to downgrade your pay.
Working remotely is a shift in our ability to live and create more opportunities, not less. It’s a shift that allows you to achieve more within your limited time; an opportunity to redesign your life. There is no reason why that should equate to you earning less. In fact, companies save significant overhead with remote workers, as compared to those housed in an office.
As you’re trying to establish your salary range for a remote role, consider what you would be willing to take if the role wasn’t remote. Your remote range shouldn’t stray far from that, as you’ll be doing the same work, just in a location or environment conducive to your success.
I would also suggest doing a quick analysis of salary ranges on Glassdoor, specifically for the remote-first companies listed earlier in this article. For example, what do marketers make at Toptal or Auth0 or Buffer? Buffer actually openly shares all of their salaries, via their remote salary calculator.
Remotive has also compiled a list of salaries from hundreds of remote workers across positions, industries, and seniority. Take these as simply another data point in your triangulation for determining what you should look for. However, comparison only goes so far, so the ultimate data point is determining the amount of money that will let you achieve your baseline happiness. Never sacrifice that in your search of a new role.
As for benefits, there is a pretty wide range in terms of companies offer remotely. Some offer very few, while some place benefits at a high importance. The one benefit which you’re unlikely to get if you work for a company that you are not a resident of, is healthcare. Below are two examples (Zapier and Ghost) of fully remote companies and their benefits.
As someone who has been working in non-technical roles remotely for the past 3+ years, I have seen the world change immensely. These changes signify a new world that is enabled through technology and connectedness which simply wasn’t available in the past. This is the future of work.
This isn’t just a bunch of millennials who can’t commit to a normal job, it’s an entire shift in perspective, of individuals deciding that there is a better way of working. This isn’t the first time the workforce has shifted significantly and will not be the last. The most obvious positions that first made the switch were technical, but now many non-technical positions can be done online. Remember, if your role can be done digitally, it can be done remotely.
As I leave you with this information, please remember to look for legitimate remote work. Legitimate means something slightly different to each individual, but the key is that you should not be trading away parts of your life (whether that be your career, your integrity, your financial stability, your passions, etc.) to work remotely. Remote work doesn’t solve your problems and if you are trading down in one major aspect of your life (something you’ll spend ~⅓ of your life on), that will only introduce additional problems.
These changes are exciting and I hope that in a few years time, this article will be completely obsolete, as non-technical remote roles will be so customary and common.
Best of luck!
PS: I love being able to share my thoughts with the world. If you like my work and want to support it in some way, feel free to buy me a chai or become a patron.
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- The Guide to Remote Work That Isn't Trying to Sell You Anything
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- Finding Top Talent: Stop Looking Inside a Box for People Thinking Outside of One