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What is Remote Work? A Guide for Finding Work-From-Home Jobs and Building Remote Teams

lanwo ayotunde


Nov 16, 2019

For anyone who’s ever dreamed of working from home or building a remote-first company, now is a great time to be alive. Remote work has never been more popular and more achievable.

Remote work — working from the place in the world where you are happiest and most productive, regardless of your physical proximity to an office or a coworker — is a reality for more than 40 percent of the workforce. Forty-three percent of U.S. workers spend at least some time working remotely at a growing list of remote-friendly workplaces.

We are one of those remote workplaces at Buffer, and we want everyone to be able to understand and achieve the benefits of remote work for themselves.

We put together this guide all about remote work, finding your dream work-from-home job, and building a remote-first business. This is a living resource, which we’ll update regularly. Feel free to bookmark it and return often. We hope you find everything you’re looking for here!

Curious who’s hiring for remote work jobs?
Here’s a list of 600+ remote-first companies and a list of our current job openings at Buffer.

What is remote work?

Remote work refers to a job that is done outside of the office. It is sometimes called telecommuting or teleworking. Many people refer to it as “working from home.”

There are various types of remote work. Some people are allowed to work remotely for a day or two each week. Others are allowed to be away as often as they’d like. In fact, we’ve noticed that remote work falls along a scale of five stages of remote work that break down like this:

remote work scale

1. Office-based (not remote)

In this model, your whole team is in one or more offices. This is the traditional (and still standard) way of working.

2. Office-based with a work-from-home option

These companies operate from one or more physical offices and give teammates the option to work from home one or more days per week.

3. A remote team, in a single time zone

This is a truly remote setup with no expectations to show up to the office (if there even is an office).

4. A worldwide remote team spread across numerous time zones

A step further is to have the remote team spread across different time zones — a setup where asynchronous collaboration becomes even more vital. Teammates are likely to have just a few hours of overlap with other people on the team. This setup requires a little more structure to make communication and collaboration efficient.

5. A fully distributed team with nomadic team members

This is the most advanced case of remote working. It’s a fully remote team where some of the team members are nomadic and traveling among different timezones with regularity.

To learn even more about the scale of remote working, see our complete blog post on the topic:

There are 5 Points on the Scale of Remote Working. Here’s Where We Fall at Buffer.

The best places to find work-from-home jobs and remote companies

The appeal of remote work is an obvious draw for a lot of employees: flexibility, trust, autonomy, productivity, solitude. If this sounds appealing to you, there are a lot of open jobs for remote workers and a lot of companies that are built on the remote work model.

At the basic level, there are a couple ways to work remotely:

  1. You work for yourself as an entrepreneur, freelancer, or contract employee
  2. You work for a company that embraces some form of remote work

If you want to get started as a work-from-home freelancer ..

Take the plunge!

Many people start off small, working on side projects and smaller-scale work while building up a list of clients or projects. This work often happens in conjunction with a day job. You work the day job, and you build the side job until it is big enough (pays enough?) to become a full-time thing.

There are many fields where this type of freelance work can be very successful. Here are a few of the top ones we’ve found:

  • Coding
  • Digital marketing
  • Social media
  • Consulting
  • Design

Each of these fields has great communities of freelance workers where you can connect, learn more, and find encouragement. Here are a few favorites:

In addition, certain marketplaces exist where you can pick up freelance work and bid on projects. These are some of the top places to find these types of jobs and to test the waters if you think this type of work might be interesting to you:

If you want to work for a remote company ..

You may prefer to take the leap into remote work by joining a company in a full-time role. There are lots of great places to work remotely — especially in the tech and startup world — that embrace remote work and have a wide variety of job openings that may suit your skills.

We put together a blog post of 600+ places to work remotely. You can check out that post for all the details. Here are 25 companies who we feel do an incredible job of championing remote work. We hope you might find a role you love there!

  1. Automattic (WordPress) — See their open jobs
  2. Basecamp — See their open jobs
  3. Buffer — See our open jobs
  4. Coinbase — See their open jobs
  5. DigitalOcean — See their open jobs
  6. Docker — See their open jobs
  7. Doist — See their open jobs
  8. Envato — See their open jobs
  9. Github — See their open jobs
  10. Intercom — See their open jobs
  11. Invision — See their open jobs
  12. Khan Academy — See their open jobs
  13. Living Social — See their open jobs
  14. Moz — See their open jobs
  15. Mozilla — See their open jobs
  16. Recurly — See their open jobs
  17. Salesforce — See their open jobs
  18. Shopify — See their open jobs
  19. Skillshare — See their open jobs
  20. Spotify — See their open jobs
  21. Stack Overflow — See their open jobs
  22. Stripe — See their open jobs
  23. Treehouse — See their open jobs
  24. Twilio — See their open jobs
  25. Zapier — See their open jobs

In addition to simply searching the jobs pages for the companies above, we have a couple other resources and tips that have been helpful for hunting down remote work opportunities.

The website weworkremotely.com (maintained by the folks at Basecamp) is a job board purely for remote work positions. Remote.co is a website and aggregator of remote work tips and opportunities. Remotive.io maintains a spreadsheet of companies hiring remotely. And we’re also fond of searching sites like Angel List for open jobs and filtering with the tag/label “remote” or scouring hiring tools like Homerun for places that are hiring.

If you want to work remotely but stay at your current (non-remote) job ..

There are several strategies to start the conversation about working remotely without needing to completely start over with a new job. Our friends at Remote Year have a guide on taking those first steps and inquiring about the possibility of working one day a week outside the office.

How to hire a remote worker (or be hired as a remote worker)

Absolutely anyone is capable of working remotely. That being said, to be successful from day one, remote workers may need to join the job with a few particular skills in hand. If you’re hiring for remote workers, look for these attributes. If you’re applying for a remote work position, check to see if the following characteristics apply to you.

Works well independently

When you work remotely, you may be on your own for long stretches of the day. (If this sounds intimidating, many remote workers choose to work from coffee shops or coworking spaces in order to enjoy the company of others.) To be a successful remote worker, you must be productive when you’re by yourself.

Has a high bar for personal responsibility

A common remote work question we get asked is, “How can you tell that someone isn’t just goofing off all day?” Well, we hire teammates who wouldn’t ever dream of goofing off when there’s work to be done! This value of responsibility is especially important when there’s no one around to see if you’re working. We trust that you are.

Communicates well with the written word

Working virtually, you get much less face-to-face time. There are some tools to help with this (video conferencing, for instance), but remote work does place a premium on being able to communicate via text: email, instant message, and collaborative docs. Not only do you need to be able to express yourself well, you can also get bonus points for communicating empathetically and being mindful of the “tone deafness” of the written word.

Meets deadlines

A remote workplace is, essentially, a results-based workplace. Did you do the job you said you were going to do? Great!

If you’re looking to learn more about the skills it takes to be a remote worker, check out the folks over at Remote-How Academy. You’ll even see some Buffer faces teaching a few sections of their courses!

How to know if remote work is right for you

By now you may be wondering, what exactly would I be getting into with remote work?

For sure it is a wonderful way to live (more on this below). That being said, there are several lessons we’ve picked up in the past seven-plus years of building a remote company. We wrote a blog post with 40 of these lessons. Here are the top ten, and you can click through to the full article to read lots more:

  1. You’re going to be about 10 times more productive.
  2. Remote or some level of remote-flexible work is for (almost) everyone! It’s within reach for more companies than you might think
  3. If you’re thinking about experimenting with remote work at your company, try to make sure everyone feels equally part of the team and in the loop. It sucks to be a “second class citizen” just because you’re not in the office.
  4. It helps to create a morning and evening ritual to help define your days. It can be as simple as watering the plants or taking a walk.
  5. If you’ve hired people you trust (and if you haven’t, why not?), trust that they’re working.
  6. Most people already know whether remote work would work for them. If you think to yourself, “I can’t do that; I would just watch TV all day,” you’re probably right. Don’t try it.
  7. If you’re an introvert, fewer and fewer things will feel worth going out for.
  8. If you’re an extrovert, more and more things will feel worth going out for.
  9. Close your laptop and mean it at the end of the day. Work will always be there tomorrow.
  10. The “rules” only work if they work for you. A lot of people will tell you to get up and get dressed every day like you’re going to work. After Day Five or so, I was yoga pants and no makeup all the way. Find what works for you.

40 Lessons From 4 Years of Remote Work

Pitfalls of remote work

1. How to stay productive as a remote worker

Despite best intentions, there may be times when productivity lags and motivation wanes. This is a normal part of any workplace, remote or otherwise. It just so happens that these things can be a little harder to spot on a remote team.

We’ve had a lot of experience with testing and iterating on our productivity processes at Buffer. Here are some of the best tips we’ve tried so far:

Theme your days 

I generally theme my days. Some are focused on managing and supporting my awesome executive team. Other days I’m working on the product, putting together documents for strategy and process improvement or digging into customer research or product metrics to find opportunities. Once a week I have “deep work Wednesday”, where I aim to have little to no meetings, and use lengths of unscheduled time to read and reflect on high-level vision and strategy.

Our CEO Joel Gascoigne has a lot more tips on how he structures his day as a remote CEO. If you’re a remote CEO yourself (or just interested in leveling up your productivity), it’s a great read.

Eat a frog

Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.

This advice from Mark Twain comes in super handy. Don’t worry; eating actual frogs is not a prerequisite of remote work. Instead, we view the “frog” as the biggest thing on our to-do list. Do the big thing first, then the rest of the day feels like a breeze (and you feel uber-productive from the start).

Tomorrow lists

Inspired by the “eat a frog” mentality, many of us create lists that contain the metaphorical “frog.” We build these lists the day before so we are raring to go the following morning:

  1. At the end of your day, write down the tasks you need to complete tomorrow.
  2. Look at the list when you start the next day.
  3. End your day by creating another list for tomorrow.

We’ve picked up lots more tips from others regarding morning routines. Check out the full list of morning routines of successful people.

And if you’re interested in building a great day, here’s a longform resource on routines, which incorporates all sorts of different advice and angles on having a healthy day.

The Ultimate Guide to Becoming Your Best Self: Build your Daily Routine by Optimizing Your Mind, Body and Spirit

2. How to avoid remote work loneliness

Each year we publish a State of Remote Work report with data from thousands of remote workers. In our latest report, we learned that more than one in five remote workers feels that loneliness is their biggest struggle with working remotely. Plus, loneliness is on the rise in young adults, many of whom are likely to be the ones to take a chance on remote work.

Understanding this risk, we try to emphasize a series of helpful tips to encourage the connection you need in your work and life. Here are a handful of the top tips. Check out our post on combating remote work loneliness for lots more advice.

Find your tribe i.e. people who work and live in a similar way.” Laïla von Alvensleben

  1. Incorporate human connection
  2. Understand your unique personality
  3. Add variety to your day
  4. Slow down

Here’s a link to the post with lots more advice on remote work loneliness:

A Guide To Conquering Remote Work Loneliness from Remote Workers Around the World

Remote work tools: Our top 10 picks

We’ve been a remote workplace for eight years now, and we’ve been lucky to have grown up with many smart and resourceful remote teams around us. People have figured this remote stuff out! It’s thanks in large part to a number of incredible tools that help bring people together from anywhere. Here is our list of favorites that help us stay productive, performative, happy, and connected.

  1. Slack — Great for real-time instant messaging
  2. Dropbox Paper — Collaborative documents that we can edit and share asynchronously (another favorite: Google Docs)
  3. Zoom — Our go-to for video conferencing, team-wide calls, and 1-to-1 conversations
  4. Trello — Project management and team organization. All our tasks and campaigns go here.
  5. Gmail — Email (obviously!). We use a Gmail setup that allows every email to be transparent and visible company-wide
  6. OfficeVibe — This Slack add-on helps us stay abreast of company morale
  7. Timetastic — Keeps us aware of teammate vacations and days off
  8. Discourse — A forum where we share announcements and news
  9. Zenefits — Our HR dashboard and portal
  10. Expensify — How we easily expense things across the team

If you’d like to learn more about how specifically we use these remote work tools, feel free to check out this post from our Director of People, Courtney Seiter, with a full view of our remote tech stack.

And if you’re interested in Trello inspiration for remote teams, these are the Trello templates we use and love the most!

How We Stay Organized as a Remote Team: Our Fave Trello Boards

Check out our remote tools list on Product Hunt for a complete view of our remote work stack.

Why you should consider building a remote workplace

For any budding entrepreneurs or curious CEOs, building a remote workplace is likely a question you’ve wrestled with. Certainly it’s a decision that carries a lot of ramifications to the way your team works and the culture you’re building. We’re biased, but of course we feel that the pros outweigh the cons. Here are some of the factors we would consider when building out a remote-first team.


1. Higher productivity — A Harvard Business Review study found that remote employees contribute almost a full day more productivity per week versus employees in an office. This is likely due to many reasons. A couple of the main ones: With less time (zero time) commuting, there’s more time to get stuck into the work. With fewer distractions, there’s more room to get into deep focus.

2. Lower cost — We used to have a small office space in San Francisco, and now we have no physical office at all. For us, that meant a savings of $84,000 per year. Wow! You save a lot of money without needing an office space, and even if you reimburse employees for their monthly Internet or coworking space (like we do), the expense is still magnitudes less than keeping a contract for an office.

3. High engagement — In a survey by Leadership IQ, over 45 percent of remote workers claimed to love their job, versus just 24 percent of office workers.


1. Trouble communicating — We’ve experienced zero trouble with communicating with one another, thanks to the tools at our disposal. We can talk throughout the day on Slack and hop onto Zoom calls whenever we’d like. Taking an extra moment to plan a call with a teammate halfway around the world is an easy habit to get into and well worth it.

2. Slacking off — As mentioned above, if you hire people with high personal responsibility and work ethic, there is nothing to worry about here. The work gets done.

If you’ve hired people you trust (and if you haven’t, why not?), trust that they’re working.

3. Always-on mentality — The temptation does exist to stay online longer than needed, but again there are tools and structures in place to combat this. At Buffer, we do our best to keep each other accountable to the work hours we commit to (some choose to work traditional hours, some choose to have more flexible days), and many of us build in daily routines to ensure that we have clear start/stop points to our work day.

Real-life stories of remote work happiness

If you’re still curious about the remote work life — either because you want it for yourself or you want to introduce it to your team — we’re happy to share a couple of stories from our Buffer teammates about their experience with remote work.

Here’s one from our Data Lead, Michael Erasmus:

How I Learned to Balance Work, Family, and Life Through Remote Work

And here’s one from our Customer Advocate, Dave Chapman:

Out at Work: How I Bring my Authentic Self to Buffer as a Gay Man

Over to you

  • What questions do you have about remote work?
  • What has been your experience so far?

We’d love to help answer anything on your mind and make sure you get all the information you need. Leave a comment on this post with any questions, or get in touch with us on Twitter.

For more remote work lessons, you can subscribe to our mailing list to hear about new blog content as we post it. We’d love to have you in our community of remote readers!

Originally written Aug 27, 2018. Last updated Apr 23, 2019


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