How to Evaluate Job Offers From Remote Workplaces
We now know from Stanford University’s Dr. Nicholas Bloom that pretty much every job offered to professionals in North America and Europe starting in fall 2022 will come with some sort of work-from-home component. In most cases, that remote work will last about two days weekly. According to his team with WFH Research, this pattern of three days per week at a company facility followed by two days away is rapidly becoming an emerging norm across these two continents that’s cut time on-site by more than 33 percent.
On balance, it’s challenging to imagine how an employer might lose by offering a remote work option to a job candidate. The vast array of benefits employers enjoy—from increased productivity to all their overhead cost savings—are simply too attractive for most companies to pass up.
Let’s suppose a job candidate or graduating university student faces a decision that has become increasingly common these days. They have a choice between two job offers, both of which come with remote work options. Which job should that candidate accept? Specifically, in other words, this question now becomes: “How do I evaluate which of these work-from-home plans would work better for me?”
As of October 2022, there’s no academic research literature and very little in the business press that’s been written on this important question. Fortunately, the Harvard Business Review has come to our rescue. Since the 1950s, HBR has displayed an uncanny knack for examining cutting-edge work-related issues long before they drew attention from the rest of the mainstream press. Their coverage of this subject is no exception.
Why an Effective Remote Culture Depends on an Outstanding Corporate Culture
In March 2022, HBR commissioned Robert Glazer, the chairman of the board at Acceleration Partners in Boston, to provide an analysis of how one should ideally vet a remote workplace. Glazer holds a business administration degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and wrote the 2021 bestseller How to Thrive in the Virtual Workplace: Simple and Effective Tips for Successful, Productive, and Empowered Remote Work.
Glazer warns job candidates that buyer’s remorse from accepting an offer that’s a poor fit is a significant risk with remote jobs. To avoid regrets, evaluating a company’s effectiveness at remote work requires job candidates to invest significant due diligence efforts in researching that firm’s corporate culture.
Specifically, he says candidates should do two things: First, they must search for attributes about that firm’s remote culture. Second, they should then “ask pointed questions about the principles and norms that dictate the company’s overall culture and remote work experience.”
He starts by laying out a key truth: the elements required for an effective remote culture are the same as those required for an outstanding corporate culture, irrespective of the type of workplace. That said, potential employees must look carefully to see if the firm’s cultural principles match their own values.
Glazer then says that companies build healthy cultures based on clear and consistent core values. Ideally, a firm needs to differentiate its culture from those of other companies. It also needs to stipulate which employee behaviors receive rewards, and which others don’t. That’s critical, he says, because remote work prevents a firm from spreading its culture through modeling in person. Thus it’s essential that the firm consistently reward and reinforce employees who display the firm’s core values, irrespective of their physical workplace at the time.
Researching an Employer’s Values
So how would a job candidate familiarize themselves with a potential employer’s values? Glazer says that early in their application process, a candidate should first find them on the company’s website or ask for them from the firm directly. It’s also helpful to check employee evaluation sites like Glassdoor because strong and consistent core values will almost certainly appear in a firm’s reviews.
Then, during an interview, the candidate needs to ask the recruiter to share those values, then watch carefully how that interviewer responds. The interviewer should know those values cold. Should they not have them memorized and actually have to look up their firm’s core values, that’s a red flag. But believe it or not, that could happen; research by a software firm in 2018 revealed that at almost three-quarters of organizations, less than 50 percent of employees could actually name their own company’s core values.
Glazer then points out that candidates need to assess a company’s degree of commitment to a strong remote work environment. Are they merely luring candidates to join the company with work-from-home or work-from-anywhere promises, or do they actually have a supported strategy for onboarding new remote employees and implementing virtual work?
Asking the Right Questions
“Candidates need to know before joining a company whether its remote policy is a well-planned strategy with supporting systems and processes, or an attempt to avoid having to pick a strategy at all,” he says. Accordingly, before taking any new job, he recommends questions such as:
- How often does the firm expect remote employees to work at their offices? Especially with remote hybrid jobs, the company needs to set forth clear parameters for how frequently it expects remote employees to come to work in the office.
- Do remote employees only have to come to the office only as needed, or does the company have an anchor day schedule for certain days each week or each month?
Briefly, the research shows that the best practice is for a company to stipulate regular days when it insists that all team members show up at the office, which are called “anchor days.” Then the firm must prevent office attendance at all other times to discourage unfair favoritism. If the company doesn’t adopt this policy, ambitious employees who come to the office more frequently than others could use that added exposure to supervisors and senior executives to win promotions.
Meanwhile, some classes of employees who prefer to work from home more often—such as minority professionals and working mothers caring for young children—could end up passed over for promotions and raises.
In 2022, it’s a bad sign if a company hasn’t adopted an anchor day policy like this one, especially if the reason might be to avoid setting norms to try to keep workers happy during a tight labor market. But what matters most is that without any hesitation or equivocation, a recruiter for a company that maintains a clear and consistent remote work strategy should be able to tell a job candidate about the firm’s specific policy.
Other important questions include:
- How prevalent is remote work throughout the company? A new employee could face challenges if they’re going to be one of the few remote workers—or the only remote worker—on a team that works together in the office most of the time. Potential employees need to understand when they can join colleagues for work on-site, and when their colleagues will typically be available to collaborate. Potential hires also need to know what opportunities will exist for them to develop connections with peers.
- How would the company manage common remote or hybrid work situations? For example, how do they conduct department, team, or one-on-one meetings? What about all-division or all-company meetings? Or how about quarterly employee and team reviews? Says Glazer: “A lack of careful planning for those situations may indicate an absence of remote-friendly norms in other functions.”
- What collaboration and communication software do the company’s employees use daily? For example, do they use Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or Google Workspace? What technology infrastructure does the company have in place, and how do those systems support remote work? Any recruiter should be able to answer specific questions related to remote work technology like these.
- Does the company provide its remote employees with opportunities to make in-person connections like co-working days or social events? Glazer points out that companies that invest in annual “summits” foster connections among teammates that last throughout the year. It’s important that candidates know about those opportunities while considering a remote job; it’s an important factor they can compare against other offers. This brief video shot at a summit for Acceleration Partners’ 300-person workforce in December 2019 provides a good example of the kinds of social events candidates should ask about.
Back-Channel Sources and Credibility
Now, do job candidates need to depend on recruiters for this kind of information? Not necessarily, says Glazer, who talks about how these days, employers frequently vet candidates through “back-channel” references.
For example, recruiters might reach out to previous supervisors over LinkedIn to verify a potential hire’s narrative. Similarly, job candidates might want to reach out to a former employee to ask about their remote work experience at the firm. Someone who no longer works there would almost certainly provide more candid and credible information about working at that company.