Play podcast

Pros and cons of starting your career remotely

With the rise of remote roles comes a growing interest in this flexible lifestyle from recent graduates looking for internship opportunities.
But what do you gain, or lose, by starting your career remotely? Does this step make sense early in your career? We asked Jakob, our Marketing Manager who joined us at SafetyWing for a remote internship in 2020 and progressed into a full-time role, about his experience.

How I started my career remotely

Before joining SafetyWing as an intern, I launched a few projects of my own and worked part-time in sales, which did not allow for the level of freedom and flexibility I was hoping for. It taught me that working on something I truly care about is a necessity for me.
While I have never worked in a traditional office setting, I know what I like and dislike about my experience of going fully remote from the start and can draw comparisons to the experience my friends - who did not start their career remotely - had.  
There are three important notes to make before we dive in:
  1. Unhealthy company culture will stay unhealthy, regardless if they are remote or not. 
  2. Because of the pandemic, many associate working remotely with lockdowns and homeschooling, which is an emergency version of remote work at best. This is not the kind of remote work I will discuss in this article. 
  3. In a world where companies are increasingly adaptive to the needs of prospective talent, I want to help you to determine what works best for you. Once you know your needs and work style preferences, all you need to do is find the right company.

Remote work can kickstart your career

Remote work is by default results-oriented - meaning that your success is measured by your accomplishments instead of the time you spent on it.
During my internship, I helped create and launch the Building Remotely Podcast and its success was an indicator of my performance. It's a lot of responsibility and pressure, and when you are starting out you will probably end up working longer hours to achieve the same result as your more experienced colleagues. But, this is how you learn fast, and the hours you put in are likely to decrease with gained experience.
In a physical office space, even on a 40-hours-a-week contract, many juniors stay in late, work on the weekends and take part in semi-mandatory work events to show that they “put the work in”. While in a remote environment, you are often expected to take on a certain degree of responsibility and autonomy early on - which means your efforts and results will speak for themselves. It's challenging, but also necessary for personal and professional growth.

Building your community

The quality of social relationships in your 20s will greatly affect your mental and physical well-being. For a happy and healthy life, you'll want to prioritize a work environment that supports your social relationships as much as possible. 

Remote work can be lonely

Even after joining SafetyWing full-time, I missed talking to my colleagues in person and building relationships. I felt lonely. The older you get, the harder it is to expand your social circle. For many, the main source of social interaction is their professional environment - this is especially common in startups.
The loneliness I felt was also amplified by many lockdowns we went through globally, at the very start of my internship. Logically, a question I hear often: Is remote work only for introverted people? Humans are social beings, and it's only natural to ask this before searching for a fully remote role. The simple answer is yes. I believe people that don't rely on in-person interactions to boost their motivation have the advantage here. Remote companies foster a results-driven environment where people that like to focus and accomplish goals thrive. How loud and physically present you are does not matter.
If you get your energy from being around people, don't give up on remote work just yet - there are easy solutions for this:
You can:
  • Join a coworking space in your city 
  • Explore cafes in your area, you'll see other remote workers there 
  • Meet up with friends who are also working remotely
  • Check if anyone from your distributed team is based close to you/in the same city!
My company even offers this as one of the benefits - they'll pay for our trip if we want to go and cowork with someone else from the team in their location. We also have regular in-person team gatherings. Here are a few of us on a recent trip to Mexico!

Networking

The few in-person networking events I've been to were challenging for me. You are mostly rushing around talking to as many people as possible and what do you do at the end of the day? You exchange your contact details to follow-up online. 
What would happen if you just skip the offline part? 
I agree there is value in meeting people face-to-face before maintaining that relationship on a digital platform but, for me, working remotely resulted in many authentic and meaningful connections. I also work with my team every week and have met most of them in person already.
I also created useful connections online - through my job as a podcast manager, through cold outreach and mutual connections or online groups. The world of remote is still fairly niche. It hasn't been difficult to connect with people.

Growth and learning

Is there actually a clear advantage to starting your career remotely for your personal growth?
As with everything, it mostly depends on you.

Tacit Knowledge

Intuitive skills like leadership, sales and even design and copywriting are sometimes easier learned by observing others and with real-time feedback, than through asynchronous instructions. 
This is commonly referred to as tacit knowledge and the office environment has a clear advantage in communicating them - although collaborative software like Google Docs, Miro or Figma are creating similar experiences for remote companies. 
But how much would this affect your job specifically? 
As a designer, I could imagine it to be helpful to work together with a more experienced colleague in the same room to see how they approach a project and get inspired. On the other hand, while it might still be helpful, I imagine an engineer to be less affected by the physical absence of a senior developer. 
As a marketer, I barely missed in-person interaction for my professional growth. It all depends on what you're working on and your personality. I suggest asking yourself:
  • How do I get inspired and motivated? Do I need time and solitude in order to focus, or do I work better while working with others in the room?
  • Is there anything I'm trying to learn that seems hard to accomplish remotely? If yes, how do I bridge that gap (ask for virtual coworking sessions or meetings if your company is async, ask for your manager to create a loom recording so you can understand how they work better, etc.)

Learning by doing

By working remotely you learn by action rather than observation, which has its advantages. 
When starting out, I developed a “fail fast” mentality. I couldn't observe how my colleagues approached an ideation process or writing good copy, so I just tried different approaches, asked for feedback and figured out what worked for me and for my team over time.
By taking action immediately and holding your results to a professional standard, you give yourself the chance to develop the skills needed as fast as possible. And you can do it your way, instead of following someone else's footsteps. 
I know this approach requires a lot of freedom and trust, which is not something every company is willing to give to an intern. But if you like to work autonomously and figure out things for yourself, starting your career at a remote company will probably provide you with the most opportunities for growth and learning. 

Pros & Cons

🟢
  • Significantly more freedom & flexibility in your life
  • Location-independence (in most cases but depending on your company)
  • More autonomy and trust
  • More responsibility and opportunities for learning
  • Better work-life balance
  • Infinite opportunities for people to work with from all over the world.
🔴
  • No in-person contact on an everyday basis
  • You have to learn how to manage your time well since you're working from home
  • You have to put more effort into socializing and meeting new people
  • Depending on your type of work, async communication might not be convenient.

Conclusion

Depending on your personality and preferences, both the remote environment and co-located companies have their pros and cons. I'm glad I started out my career remotely and strongly believe it could have the same positive effect on others.
Before making a decision, think about what you want out of a job: what industry would you like to work in, what skills would you like to learn, what kind of company culture is important to you? 
If you don't want to relocate, there is probably a higher chance that you will find a job that ticks those boxes on the remote job market. But if you feel that a company in your hometown is a perfect fit for you, definitely go for it. You can always jump to a remote position later in your career, but going from working remotely back into the office is a different challenge altogether. 
Remote work has allowed me to learn fast, meet incredible people and have the freedom to decide where I want to be in the world. I can't see myself working in an office anytime soon.

About the author

Jakob Bodendieck

Podcast Production Manager
Jakob is a startup-oriented nomad, recently completed his BA in Creative Business in the Netherlands. He joined SafetyWing as a Podcast Production Manager and helped create and grow the Building Remotely podcast. As the host of his own podcast, The Self Employed Student, he is offering a valuable resource for other young people with an entrepreneurial mindset.