Finding Remote Work

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive changes across the workforce, and some of these changes may affect you. You may find yourself in search of work you can complete from home, or “remote work.” While fulfilling and worthwhile remote jobs exist, there are also many predatory companies and organizations that seek to profit from people searching for flexible work. Because of predatory people and organizations, many remote work options are frustrating and offer little pay for a disproportionate amount of work.

This page will educate you on two key things: firstly, the difference between being an hourly employee and being an independent contractor, and secondly, how to vet potential remote work employers. Mastering these two ideas will help keep you safe in your search, but the information on this page is just a starting point: you should always do diligent research before beginning remote work with any organization and be attentive to your instincts. If you are unsure about the legitimacy of an opportunity, contact Career Services: we can help you determine if the opportunity is a scam.

This video presentation from 5/29/2020 hosted by Career Advisor Sarah Basil provides an in-depth walk-through of the information covered on this page, as well as related information from the Detecting Fraudulent Opportunities page. The presentations' slides can be viewed here.

Hourly Employee vs Independent Contractor: What’s The Difference?

You may be familiar with workplace anti-discrimination laws mandated by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. These laws state that an employee cannot be discriminated against on the basis of race, color, nation of origin, sex, and religion. Other laws prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of disability or health condition, and still more laws mandate that hourly employees must be paid minimum wage. What you may not know is that the protections provided by these laws do not extend to independent contractors (also called “freelancers”). This is because independent contractors are considered “free agents” that control their own working conditions. Conversely, hourly employees are considered employees of the company, not free agents; thus, the company is responsible for their working conditions and must adhere to certain federal laws in maintaining these conditions.

Why is this important for you to know? Because in seeking remote work, you’ll likely come across both hourly employment opportunities (which afford you employee protections) and independent contractor opportunities (which offer no employee protections). In fact, you may see some independent contractor opportunities that look like hourly employment opportunities—such as including hourly pay in the job description (click here to see an example of this).

For these reasons, many people prefer hourly paid jobs to independent contractor gigs. However, hourly paid jobs are much more difficult to find in the world of remote work. As such, it’s to your benefit to know how to navigate both types of employment opportunities while protecting your time, your personal information, and your well-being.

Remote Job Titles To Search For Hourly Employment

When looking for remote hourly employment, we recommend first making a list of any technical competencies you have that you could utilize remotely, such as programming, design, or collaboration/productivity software. You might also pair common keywords from your major with the keyword “remote” and other keywords like “associate,” “specialist,” and “assistant.” You may then use these as keywords to build your job search and find opportunities suited to your technical skills. See What Can I Do With This Major? and Five Steps To Build Your Job or Internship Search for more on identifying and utilizing keywords (and of course, a Career Advisor can assist you with this in an appointment, too).

You may find in your search for remote work that you’re only faced with selections that have little relation to your major or future industry. However, this is not a bad thing—many of these jobs may provide the opportunity for you to develop valuable transferable skills that will transfer to future opportunities: skills like database management, administration and organization, conflict resolution, workplace writing, and more.

Remote work jobs that are commonly in demand are Contact Tracer, Data Entry Associate, Customer Service Representative, and Virtual Assistant. You may consider looking at the linked O*NET Online pages associated with these jobs to see alternate position titles that you can add to your search. See the “Sample of reported job titles” section at the top of each position page for these alternate position titles.

Vetting All Remote Employers: Overview

Vetting employers is necessary for both hourly employment and independent contract work, but especially contract work, since you have no workplace protections as a contractor. In addition to familiarizing yourself with our Detecting Fraudulent Opportunities page, you’ll have to conduct some research on your potential employer. The following section details where you’ll conduct this research, as well as what questions your research must answer. If you’re having difficulty finding the answers to these questions on your own, ask Career Services for help.

Vetting All Remote Employers: Where Do I Look To Answer My Questions?

There are two types of useful resources to gather information about employers: pages that are managed by the organization and employee review websites and threads.

Examples of pages that are managed by the organization include the organization’s official website, their LinkedIn page, the position posting, and any official social media. Bear in mind that even “shady” organizations can have attractive websites and social media profiles: in fact, many such organizations count on you trusting the sophisticated languages and images on their websites in hopes that you won’t dig any deeper. Be sure to assess pages managed by the organization critically:

  • Language that is informative, precise, neutral, and clear is generally a good sign

  • Language that is vague, urgent, and tonally inconsistent is cause for caution.

Examples of employee review websites include Indeed and Glassdoor. These websites allow current or past employees to articulate their experiences as employees or contractors for an organization. These can be one of the most useful tools in your job search, but it is important to assess each review objectively:

  • Negative reviews that lack specific detail and are overly emotional may be more of a reflection of the person than the organization

  • Positive reviews that are short and simply regurgitate well-known information about the organization (“flexible hours,” “easy,” etc.) may be fake.

The truth of an organization is often somewhere between these two extremes. Click here for a walk-through on assessing reviews.

Reddit is a collection of forums organized by topic where people can share their ideas, opinions, and experiences. You can find how-to’s and insider’s guides to pretty much anything on Reddit—and that includes insider info on companies and organizations.

To find a forum or “subreddit” on your employer or organization of choice, you can use Reddit’s search engine or Google the organization name alongside the keyword “Reddit.”

Just as with reading employee reviews on Glassdoor or Indeed, the employee experiences described on Reddit should be assessed carefully; ultimately, though, Reddit’s crowd-sourced information is a valuable resource, especially if you are educating yourself on how to make it as an independent contractor.

Vetting All Remote Employers: What Questions Do I Need To Find Answers To?

First, we recommend answering the employer research questions detailed on the Detecting Fraudulent Opportunities page. If the employer you’re interested in passes that first round of screening, use the suggested resources above (Indeed, Glassdoor, and Reddit) to answer the following questions:

Questions for both hourly employee roles AND independent contractor roles:

      • Is it clear from both the position posting and the organization’s website which category this job would fall into (hourly employee or independent contractor)? Tip: check the FAQ section of the organization’s official website.

      • Does the company pay on time?

      • How many hours a day/week are current employees actually working? Is it greater or fewer than the hours advertised on the position posting?

      • Are the supervisors/management responsive to issues?

      • Is there any specific technology or software required to do the job? Is it provided by the organization? How reliable is it?

Questions for independent contractor roles:

      • What does the average hourly pay come out to? Is it at least equal to minimum wage?

      • Do management/supervisors more frequently side with the contractor or the client?

      • Do you have to buy any product or starter kits in order to begin working for the organization? If so, see the information in the next section on multi-level marketing.

      • If it is a teaching/tutoring job, are you compensated for client/class cancellations?

      • If it is a teaching/tutoring job and you have set availability (but are a contractor), are you at least partially compensated when you have no clients/classes?

Types of Remote Work To Avoid

      • “Click farm” work: you may be tempted to take an independent contractor role that entails filling out surveys for payment. Most past employees describe this as “click farm” work that comes out to pay in pennies—and you don’t get to utilize or gain any useful skills in the process.

      • Work that collects your personal data without compensating you: this may arise in the previously-mentioned “click farm” work, but also in more legitimate looking companies, such as those that have you test websites for user feedback. If you find yourself having to volunteer personal or demographic data in order to “qualify” for a survey-taking or user-testing role, be wary: it’s likely these organizations are using the information you’ve volunteered to make their real profit.

      • Online tutoring services that lack a two-way rating system: a two-way rating system—in which the student rates the tutor and the tutor rates the student—helps ensure that tutors are protected from abusive clients. Tutoring services that don’t have a two-way rating system have been described by former tutors as “homework farms:” when tutors’ jobs are dependent on student ratings, students hound and harass tutors to do the assignment for them. In these types of companies, the management more often sides with the client rather than the tutor, meaning the tutors have no support system to deal with these students.

      • Transcription companies: even if you are an experienced transcriber (and it is an acquired skill!), many of the projects assigned by transcription companies feature speakers for whom English is not a first language and/or who have strong accents; these same projects are often recorded with low audio quality. All of this combined makes the transcription service very work-intensive, and as a result, the hourly pay comes out to be very low. Some also have inconsistent stylistic standards for transcribers to follow, making it difficult to do one’s job.

      • Certain English-language instruction companies: one popular type of remote work is virtually teaching English to young students in east Asia. Many companies that facilitate this type of instruction exist, but they are not all created equal. Because of the time difference between the U.S. and east Asia, all of these opportunities will require you to work at odd hours (very early in the morning or very late at night). The questions listed above will help you determine if these companies will be worth an altered sleep schedule. Be attentive to reports of mismanagement, class cancellations, and delayed pay.

      • Marketing platforms for freelance services: these platforms (or “mills,” as they’re more derisively called) will connect two different types of users—contractors and clients—with the idea being that building your own client base as a freelancer is too time-consuming and work intensive. While it’s true that building a client base without the help of a marketing platform can take a great deal of time, strategy, and skill, most freelancers agree that building your own client base beats using a “mill” every time, citing mill experiences such as working at an abysmal pay just to get your reputation established on the platform, endless client requests for unpaid revisions, and management that sides with the client—not to mention that many of these platforms take a large percentage of each freelancer’s pay as a service fee for connecting the freelancer with the client.

      • Multi-level marketing (MLM): these opportunities are designed to be especially lucrative and appealing, advertising remote work, flexible hours, and the ability to “be your own boss” and “work from home” or “work from your phone.” Many of these brands have also become familiar to many, either through longevity or high-powered social media campaigns, making them seem trustworthy to potential new employees. MLMs primarily involve buying products that are then sold at a mark-up to family and friends, all while recruiting others to sell the same product in one’s “downline” to increase one’s earnings. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission states that very few people who join MLMs actually make money: some that do join make very little, and most make nothing at all or lose money. As noted on the Detecting Fraudulent Opportunities page, you should never have to give money to get a job—and in the case of MLM, buying product for one’s own inventory constitutes “giving money.” You can check here to see if a prospective employer is an MLM on this simple search engine created by a Reddit user, which uses crowd-sourced information to keep track of old, new, and rebranded MLMs. There are many well-documented accounts of financial troubles arising from MLMs, but this investigative journalism piece from Quartz provides a good introductory overview. The video below illustrates the problematic structure of pyramid schemes/multi-level marketing and provides suggestions of things to watch out for.