6 culture questions to ask if you’re a remote worker

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No traffic, no noisy office, no pants—what’s not to love about working remotely? Today, 70% of people around the world say they spend at least some time working from home.  

But even though working sans office gives you the freedom to work from a coffee shop, the comfort of your own home (with Netflix on in the background) or even a tropical paradise, you don’t want to feel like you’re isolated on your own island, disconnected from the company, your team and the work you’re doing.

In fact, a recent Harvard study found that remote workers often feel shunned and left out, especially if they’re one of just a few work-from-home employees. That’s why if you’re looking to escape the cubicle (or open office space), you should evaluate the company’s remote culture before accepting the offer. Because even though you won’t physically be in the office, a healthy remote culture still matters for your overall work/life balance, productivity, happiness and success in the role.

Below, you’ll find six questions to ask during the interview process to gauge if the company’s remote culture is right for you—from a distance. (Keep in mind: Company culture doesn’t come from the physical space people work in, but from the people themselves.)

Remote-first, remote-friendly, remote-ready—what’s it all mean?

Before we dive into the culture questions questions you should be asking, start by figuring out if the company is remote-first, where working remotely is the default, or remote-friendly, where just a few employees work from home.

For many tech pros, working at a fully remote company is the best bet as a remote employee. You won’t suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) since no one in the company shares an office. But for others, working at a part remote, part in-person company can also be a good option, as long as the values, benefits and in-person discussions transfer from the physical office to your home office. For example, if your coworkers have an impromptu discussion in the hallway about a code rewrite, will that conversation reach you?

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Whether the company is fully or partially remote, pay close attention to the interview process to find out if the company is remote-ready at all—e.g, are there processes in place to interview remote workers, or do things seem disorganized? This gives you an opportunity to see what the remote culture is like first-hand (and what your future work life might be if you choose to join the company).

Remote culture questions you should be asking 

Remote-first or remote-friendly, here are six questions you should ask during the interview and hiring process to make sure you’ll feel engaged and connected to the company, no matter what time zone you’re in. 

1. How is feedback given in a remote context?

If you don’t get regular check-ins from your boss, you might wind up feeling neglected, unappreciated or directionless in your remote role. That’s why it’s important to ask how (and when) you’ll get feedback to track your performance, grow in your role and stay aligned on priorities and expectations—especially since you won’t be getting the nonverbal feedback you often get on a daily basis by sharing an office with your manager. 

Will your future boss have a virtual open door policy? Will you have regular one-on-ones? Ask how often these meetings will take place (e.g., biweekly, weekly, monthly), as well as if they’ll happen via video chat or over the phone. 

Take automation software company Zapier, for example. Managers at this 100% remote company hold weekly 1:1s with each of their team members via Zoom video conferences to ask how work is going and give and receive feedback (on both individual tasks and wider company goals).

2. What are the career growth opportunities like?

Make sure that just because you’re out of sight, doesn’t mean you’re out of mind when it comes to advancing your career. Since you might miss out on spontaneous networking convos in office hallways (and get no extra brownie points for showing up early and staying late), you could end up getting passed up for promotions and raises—especially if the company has a mix of both remote and in-person employees.  

Ask the hiring manager how career progression works at the company. Will you have access to mentors, even as a remote employee? Do you get a professional development budget for courses, industry conferences or certifications? If the company is partially remote, are there equal promotion opportunities for both remote and office workers? 

If the company is unclear about how (or if) you’ll be able to grow in your remote role, it may be a warning sign that the company has a bias (conscious or not) against promoting, or even retaining, remote workers. 

3. How does the company manage teams across multiple time zones?

Nobody wants to wake up at 3am for a stand-up. That’s why when remote teams are distributed across the world—and are only online at the same time for a few hours (or less)—it’s important to ask how the company handles communication across multiple time zones. 

Will your boss be available to you during your working hours, no matter where your IP address is? At companies where employees are far-flung, will meeting times be alternated so that certain people aren’t forced to wake up at odd times on the regular? What strategies do they use to keep remote employees across the world connected?

GitLab is one company making it work. With 900 employees in 50+ countries, GitLab records and uploads meetings to YouTube so all employees can attend—without having to wake up in the middle of the night. At Help Scout, the Java team uses Slack to share the status of projects whenever they’re available, instead of holding a daily standup when some employees are fast asleep.

4. What tools do you use to communicate?

Since video conferences, chat apps, project trackers and version control software will be your new office, make sure the company has mastered the art of both asynchronous and real-time online communication (and invested in quality solutions to support it). The last thing you want as a remote worker is to feel left out, so look for a company that uses a variety of tools to keep its employees in the loop. 

This might include face-to-face communication tools like Skype, Google Hangouts or Zoom, instant messaging apps like Slack and content management systems like company wikis, where you can browse through news, updates and internal documents.

Customer support software company Groove, for example, uses Slack for daily communication, Zoom for video calls, Trello for project management and Google Docs for collaboration (among 18 tools the company uses to keep its 100% remote workforce connected and productive).

5. Do you offer any remote-friendly perks?

Company culture isn’t all about the perks, but they can definitely make you feel valued and included. So what exactly are “remote-friendly” perks? Beyond the typical 401(k) matching and health insurance, we’re talking anything that makes your life as a remote worker easier.

For example, home office stipends (to pay for things like a laptop, desk, chair, printer, etc.), reimbursement for your internet and phone bill and memberships to coworking spaces in your local area. Some companies might even offer more unique perks for remote workers, like subscription services to snack boxes, reimbursement for your Starbucks habit and free noise cancelling headphones.

For example, MeetEdgar is a fully remote social media scheduling company that offers $100 a month towards your internet bill, $300 a month for access to a coworking space and a new MacBook that you’ll own after six months. They even cover the cost of a monthly house cleaning to keep your home office organized and squeaky clean.

6. How do you build and maintain a sense of community?

Building trust with people you can’t interact with in person is difficult. In fact, 30% of remote workers say that a lack of community is one of the major downsides of working outside the office. That’s why it’s important to get a feel for how the company fosters connections remotely. Ask if there are any opportunities to meet your coworkers IRL, whether it’s at an annual company retreat or the chance to fly out to the office once or twice a year.

Fully remote companies Buffer, Zapier and InVision hold company retreats where the whole team gets together in-person to work, connect and have fun. US-based software company Mynd even flew out its remote employees to Barcelona for a 3-day hackathon. If there aren’t any opportunities like this, it could be a sign that the company doesn’t invest in relationship building, which can be a red flag if you’re worried about feeling isolated in your new role.

For partially remote companies, make sure they have processes in place to make you feel included. Do they have a virtual water cooler? The Indeed Assessments team, for example, uses Slack for both work and personal convos. They have dedicated channels for #pets, #kids, #food and more so that people can chat, build personal connections and establish trust outside the context of work. Remote company Help Scout even randomly pairs employees from different departments each Friday for an informal 15-minute video chat to help forge relationships.

Look for a company that’s willing to go the distance

You might think working remotely automatically gives you a better work/life balance—but that’s not always true. That’s why you have to carefully evaluate the company’s remote culture (whether it’s a remote-first or remote-friendly company) by finding out how teams interact, if workers are fully supported throughout their career journey and if your voice will be heard—even when you’re far away.

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