Some people enjoy driving to work and mingling with coworkers. Me, I was never much for office life. Every job I had that required me to commute to work felt like a daily 8-10 hour prison sentence. Long drives and bumper to bumper traffic, which culminated to sitting in a sterile, air conditioned building with no view, were never appealing to me. I would leave in the morning before the sun rose, sit in an artificially lit building all day, then arrive home after sun set. It felt like I was living in perpetual darkness, especially in the winter when there are so few hours of daylight.
You see, I need the natural light. I thrive in it. My husband always makes fun of me when he finds me in the kitchen “cooking in the dark”. “Why don’t you turn the light on?” he says, while watching me cook by the faint light coming through the kitchen window. He can’t understand why I would risk cutting myself to work in the dim, indirect sunlight. In my defense, I can’t understand how anyone would choose artificial lights; which always project a sick-looking yellow, blue or green cast on everything in the room. To me it’s unnerving.
In jobs that allowed it, I would try to arrive earlier and work through my lunch break so I could be home before the sun set. In other jobs, I would take my lunch outside or take a break near a window and stare longingly outside, wishing I could have a job raking leaves or digging ditches; anything that would allow me to be outside.
Later on in life, I found a company that allowed me to telecommute. This changed my life. I still had to work in a home office; but I have a view outside to my front yard. I can open my window to allow in some fresh air. Instead of listening to water cooler gossip and the annoying clackety-clacking of keyboards, at home I listen to the crickets and birds. Much to my husband’s dismay, I can choose to “work in the dark”, as I am right now. But possibly the biggest difference is I can get up from my desk anytime I wish and walk outside. I am able to check on my garden, watch my chickens, make myself a homemade lunch, and all with bedhead. Believe it or not, having the freedom to look and wear what you want is a big deal. There are no pretenses to keep up. In addition, I save on gas and car maintenance and I have gained a couple hours from not having to sit in traffic. That little bit of freedom makes all the difference in the world to me.
As with anything, there are downsides with telecommuting. The biggest one is the jobs are scarce and highly competitive. At the end of this article, I will give you a list of websites to view open positions, and you will see quite a bit of jobs and think “what is she talking about, there are tons of jobs!”. Ever since the H-1B visa was implemented, companies in the US are now able to hire foreigners. When you apply to these jobs, you will find you are tossing your hat in with about 300-500 other people from around the world for each position. Because companies have their pick-of-the-litter, so to speak, they can choose to offer extremely low wages. Companies are taking advantage of H-1B visas to cut costs by firing their W-2 workers and replacing them with cheaper, foreign workers under the H-1B visa program. A dollar goes a lot further in India than in the US, so if you do happen to get a telecommute job, expect to do the same amount of work as an office job for about 1/4 to 1/3rd the wage. Oh and no benefits. Which leads me to my second drawback to telecommute jobs: they are almost all contract positions.
Contract or freelance positions allow a company to hire out for several months without having to pay any benefits. Most contracts are 6-month positions that hire you to do a specialized task on a job and then the contract ends and you find a new contract. A few may renew your contract and even fewer will hire you on as an employee, but that is rare so don’t expect it. What you should expect instead is that you will need to carry your own insurance, pay out your taxes on a quarterly basis (something you will need to look into if you are freelancing), and that you will continually be looking for new contracts. To give you an example, I had a contract from October 2015 until May 2016. The company ended my contract in May and I have been looking for another contract since (it is now September). I put in an average of 7-10 resumes a week and I hear back from about 2% of all resumes I submit. It is very competitive. These are the realities folks, I don’t want anyone disillusioned into thinking they will quit their regular job and just be a telecommuter. If you want to telecommute, you need to have a backup plan for income.
Another disadvantage to telecommuting is almost all companies expect you to have and maintain your own hardware, software and high-speed internet connection. Computers and software can run into the thousands and often need upgrades. High-speed internet and a router can run upwards of $100 per month. Some positions also require you to have a landline, smartphone, and tablet. You need to take these costs into consideration if you want to telecommute. It may not be cost effective to hold a $10 per hour customer service job if your expenses are more than your paycheck.
Finally, the last drawback to telecommuting is the application process. For those of you who like old western movies, do you remember when a gunslinger would confront another gunslinger and shoot at his feet to “make him dance”? They call it bullet dancing. It was a way to degrade the other person. Expect to do a song and a dance when you apply for telecommute positions. A good number of companies will expect you to submit a very detailed cover letter that often includes answering a list of questions that can be quite absurd. Some require you to submit a video in addition to your cover letter and almost all will require you to “name your expected salary”. Don’t think you can skip this either. This is a “Price is Right” game for recruiters to quickly sort through hundreds of applications by disqualifying anyone who comes in over their predetermined and unpublished salary range. It is also a way to easily hire the cheapest most qualified candidate.
One last thing to note is that although positions are labeled “telecommute” some companies will only hire locally. This is because they may require you to go into the office for occasional meetings.
If, like me, you still think the advantages of telecommuting outweigh the disadvantages and you want to give it a shot, below is a list of the most common telecommute job categories and their pros and cons.
Developers and System Administrators
Includes Database Administrators, Software Engineers and Front and Backend Developers.
Pros: This encompasses the majority of telecommute jobs.
Cons: Highly competitive and technology is constantly changing, especially with open-source coding. This means you constantly have to learn new computer languages or stacks to remain competitive. H-1B visas opens these positions to internationals which drives down the salary range.
Includes Product Designers, App and Website Designers, and Marketing Designers.
Pros: Not as many positions available as in Information Technology, but still a significant number.
Cons: Must have an extensive as well as impressive portfolio to stand out from the competition. Most companies are looking for unique and innovative ideas.
Includes Internet Marketing, SEO Positions, Social Media Managers, and Growth Marketers.
Pros: Less competitive than other areas and salary is generally reasonable.
Cons: Companies are generally looking for a “one-stop-shop” marketer who is expected to be an expert in everything from social media to content to PPC Marketing and typically requires managing a team. Must have a proven track record to be considered.
Project and Account Management
Includes Program Managers, Account Managers, and Implementation Managers, and Sales.
Pros: Positions are generally high paid positions.
Cons: There are very few positions available and all require previous management experience and exceptional people skills. If you are in Sales, expect to work on a commission.
Includes Data Entry, Customer Service (also called Happiness Engineers) and Administrative Assistants.
Pros: There are a significant number of positions posted and these usually require the least amount of experience.
Cons: Very competitive and very low pay. Most positions fall in the $10/hour range. Amazon is almost always hiring at $10 per hour for remote customer service jobs.
Includes Content Writers and Editors.
Pros: Depending on your writing skills, it can be fairly easy to find a position.
Cons: You must be an expert in a particular field with a significant number of examples. Expect to write several “for free” as sample articles for consideration. Articles can pay as low as $5 for a 400-600 word essay.
If you are ready to get started job hunting, below are several of the more popular telecommuting job boards. I am not promoting any one of these nor am I paid to list these sites. These are listed as a convenience only. Note that some sites list both telecommute and non-telecommute positions.
There are advantages and disadvantages to telecommuting. I hope this article offers some clarity for those who may be considering this option. It can be a great way to have your homestead and to still maintain an outside income. The key to successful homesteading whether you choose to telecommute or not is to have no debt, reduce your expenses, and to diversify your income as much as possible.