Career Considerations for Remote Work


Remote work has become a huge topic of conversation in the business and political world since the pandemic shutdowns. The shift to remote that the pandemic response precipitated has upended many of the conventions of how business is done in the United States. In a remote work world, the geographic tie between one’s place of residence and place of work has been severed in many cases. This allowed many people to geographically relocate, has caused problems for America’s downtowns, etc.

There’s been something of a return to office move in the last year. Clearly, many companies would like their employees to return to the office but have been unable to make it happen in practice. A possible economic downturn would give employers more leverage to dictate terms to workers. However, as the future plays out, it does seem that there has been a long term shift towards a greater amount of remote work, either fully remote or a “hybrid” model in which employees only come into the office a few days a week.

I’ve written on this before, but I want to share again some thoughts on we should be thinking about remote work in terms of career.

I am essentially a 100% remote worker. I also spent many years working full time in an office. So I’ve had experience with both sides of the equation.

Early Career

I would encourage younger workers to be wary of remote jobs. Early in your career, say during your 20s, you have to learn what it means to actually work in a business environment that is very different from an educational setting. It’s very difficult to fully adapt to the work world when you aren’t in an office or other business setting interacting with colleagues in person.

In person work is also how skills are built. Yes, you can learn how to do things like program a computer on your own. At the same, there’s a vast amount of tacit knowledge about every field that is most effectively learned in person.

One reason industries like finance in NYC or tech in the Bay Area have been geographically clustered is that agglomerations of people in a single area allows knowledge and innovation to spread more efficiently. If you are not part of these in person networks, you will be out of the loop, so to speak. Your professional development will simply be much slower.

Also, building a network of people you know and can draw on professionally is arguably the most important thing you will ever do over the course of your career. It’s hard to make relationships with people you never see in person. Someone who never spends time working in person will almost certainly have an underdeveloped professional network.

There are other benefits to being in an office as well. You learn the corporate culture. You hear office gossip. You benefit from mentorship and in person guidance from supervisors, something the New York Times just wrote about. Everybody knows that face time with the boss is critical. It’s hard to get that if you and/or your boss are not regularly in the office.

In short, there are many reasons for someone early in his career to be wary of a fully remote job or one in which most people are only in the office a couple days per week.

Mid Career and Beyond

All of the same factors above affect mid and late career people as well. However, at these levels, for most people the wheels of career progress have slowed down. Most of us start to reach close to our peak level of success in our late 30s or early 40s. And at later stages of life, other considerations loom larger.

For example, young people often embrace careers known for being meatgrinders, like finance, consulting, or law. They will work 80+ hours per week, do 100% travel, etc. But at some point, the vast majority of people step away from those type of roles into something more sane. Similarly, most people are not going to live their entire lives in New York City or a place like that. The question is not whether to take a step back, but when.

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Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker and writer on a mission to help America's cities and people thrive and find real success in the 21st century. He focuses on urban, economic development and infrastructure policy in the greater American Midwest. He also regularly contributes to and is cited by national and global media outlets, and his work has appeared in many publications, including the The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post.