Remote work has been on the rise for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has finally shoved it into the limelight.
Being forced to send workers home to slow the spread of the disease throughout 2020 and into 2021 will likely cause many employers to rethink their positions on remote work and open up more work-from-home positions.
“A lot of people have been transitioning into working remotely solely because they have the option to work while traveling, or while trying to be safe from the virus,” said Carolyn Cairns, marketing manager at Dubai- and UAE-based business setup firm Creation Business Consultants.
Employers across all industries, whether they’re new to managing remote workforces or have long been remote operations, want to know how employees will handle working from home.
So if you’re applying for a work-from-home position, be prepared to answer these remote job interview questions.
9 Questions You Might Have to Answer About Working Remotely
From eight company leaders and hiring managers who hire and work with remote teams, here are some common remote job interview questions.
1. Have You Ever Worked Remotely?
The first question is obvious, but nearly every hiring manager I heard from mentioned it: What’s your remote work experience?
“The number one question we always ask potential candidates is their comfort level and effectiveness working remotely,” said Amine Rahal, founder and CEO at Little Dragon Media, a digital marketing agency.
Showcasing your experience lets a prospective employer know you can handle working remotely.
Show them you’ve got this by not just listing jobs where you’ve worked remotely but also explaining how remote work for you differs from in-office work. That’ll show you understand the skills necessary to work from home.
“It would be nice to know if the applicant already has prior experience,” said Cairns, “as this will come in handy, because they already know how things will go and wouldn’t require extra training.”
If you’ve never had a remote job before, consider any opportunities you’ve had to work outside the office, like:
- Any time you traveled for a conference or training and had to stay in touch with your team back home.
- Work-from-home days, even if they were rare.
- Days you worked from home while caring for someone who was sick.
- Vacation days when you had to pop online to handle something urgent at work (hope this wasn’t the norm!).
2. Why Do You Want to Work From Home?
“It’s important to know why a person opts to work remotely,” said Cairns. “Their reason would affect the hours and the amount of focus they would be able to give to the job.”
Most managers suggested something similar. They seem to be searching for red flags — are you motivated to work from home because you want to avoid oversight and slack off?
If that’s your motivation, you’re probably looking for the wrong job, so best to duck out and find a more fitting career. At the very least, don’t mention your slacker aspirations in the interview. Instead, focus on how a remote job lets you be your best self and — therefore — the best employee you can be.
You don’t have to disclose if you want to work from home for flexibility around things like child care, housework, a disability or anything else that isn’t related to the job.
3. What Is Your Home Office Set-Up?
Nearly every person responded with this question. They want to know you’ve got the space, equipment and internet connection to work from home effectively.
“Do they have a compatible and workable home office already set up?… I’d think twice about anyone who says they do not,” said David Walter, CEO of electrician training site Electrician Mentor.
A few managers told me they ask for a Zoom tour or photos of an interviewee’s home office space. That’s pretty invasive. Politely decline, reminding an interviewer this is your private home.
You might be incredible at your job, but an outdated computer and poor internet connection will make you annoying to work with remotely. You’ll be slow to get work done and hard to communicate with.
If you’re serious about a remote position, be prepared with:
- An up-to-date computer. Desktop is fine, but have a fully functioning laptop, too, if you’ll ever work from anywhere other than your home office.
- High-speed internet. If you don’t have a perfect connection, get ahead of it, and explain how you work effectively with slow internet.
- A way to focus. Interviewers might ask whether you have a dedicated office space. You don’t need one, but you might need to explain how you shut out at-home distractions while you work.
Some companies contribute to your home office set-up by sending you equipment, offering a stipend to help you buy stuff yourself or paying a monthly stipend to cover your internet and phone bills.
4. When Do You Work Most Effectively?
Some, but not all, remote jobs come with some or total flexibility over your work schedule.
Hiring managers want to know when you work most effectively or how you structure your work day to understand how you’ll mesh with the team.
“Working from home is pretty much a blank slate compared to going into an office,” said Quincy Smith, co-founder of college prep site Test Prep Nerds, which has a fully remote team of employees and contractors. “The only structure is what you make for yourself, and we like to see people who have set routines, dedicated work spaces and consistency with their availability.”
Not every company requires a consistent routine for remote workers, but how you answer this question also gives them a glimpse at your time-management skills.
Knowing your most effective working hours is a quick way to communicate your ability to manage your time and be productive.
If your best hours are unconventional — like early mornings or late nights — explain how you structure your day to make yourself available to coworkers during typical office hours without being online nonstop.
5. How Do You Manage Work-Life Balance?
Balancing home life and work life is a huge concern for anyone working from home — and for their employers.
Alex Azoury, founder and CEO of Home Grounds, a site for coffee connoisseurs, asks prospective employees: “What is your daily routine?”
“I don’t only want to hear about how they structure their work day,” said Azoury. “I also want to know about how they incorporate eating and exercising, as well as daily personal tasks. This tells me how structured they are in their approach to time management.”
Yes, interviewers want to hear about how you stay focused on work when you’re at home. But they also want to know how you draw the line and switch off from work when the day is done.
Some work-life balance questions mask potential Title VII violations. You don’t have to share your marital status, child care arrangements or any other non-job-related details.
“Burnout is real when it comes to remote work, so it’s super important for us to understand how you reset when you feel your productivity slipping,” said Smith. “What we like to see is that you take 30 minutes to read, walk your dog or go to the gym.”
Those brain breaks are unique perks of working from home. They might sound like indulgences or distractions on the surface, but they demonstrate to an interviewer that you can recognize creeping burnout and know how to combat it.
6. How Do You Stay Productive and Focused?
The biggest argument against remote work for years has been its potential impact on productivity.
Despite several studies over the years — and employees themselves — asserting the contrary, some employers still worry we can’t get work done without direct supervision.
“[One] aspect that cannot be overlooked is level of maturity and work ethic,” said Rahal.
Be prepared for questions that help interviewers assess these qualities, and respond with examples to show that you:
- Take initiative.
- Stay on top of work with minimal supervision.
- Self-assess your productivity levels.
- Make adjustments when your productivity slips.
Sonya Schwartz, founder of dating and relationship site Her Norm, said supervision isn’t a concern for her.
“When I hire my staff, I really put my trust in them,” she said. “Whether they get supervised or not, I am more after the quality of their deliverables.”
Inspire that kind of trust in your interviewer by sharing specific tactics you use to work efficiently and effectively in any environment.
7. Do You Know How to Use [Insert Tool Here]?
Remote work means most of your communication and collaboration happens online, so you need to be savvy with the programs that facilitate remote work.
If you’re seeking remote jobs, get comfortable with these popular tools for:
- Collaboration and file sharing: Google Drive and Docs, Office 365, Dropbox.
- Video chat: Google Meet, Zoom.
- Project management: Asana, Trello.
- Communication: Gmail, Slack, Skype.
8. How Do You Communicate With a Remote Team?
Every interviewer should ask you this question for a remote position. If they don’t, consider it a sign you might be left to fend for yourself working at home.
The best way to communicate remotely depends on the team and individuals — no method is universally correct. The writerly folks I work with tend to slide into my DMs, for example. When I talk to CEOs or sales people, we get on the phone.
Consider how you prefer to communicate — it’s OK if it varies with the circumstances. Do you like to:
- Get all your thoughts laid out carefully in an email?
- Chat casually via text or direct messages?
- Hop on an impromptu phone or video call?
- Schedule a phone or video meeting?
- Save everything for the weekly team conference call?
“How they answer gives insight into whether they prefer to work alone or in a group and how effectively they’re able to communicate via text, video and other remote means,” said Matt Erhard, managing partner at the recruitment firm Summit Search Group.
9. How Do You Resolve Problems Independently?
Working from home could mean working at hours when no one else on your team is on the clock — especially if you have flexible hours or work with a staff that’s distributed across time zones.
To see how candidates handle problems that arise when they’re on their own, Taylor McCarthy Hansen, co-founder of ecommerce industry blog The Ecomm Manager, asks: “Name a tech issue you faced when working remotely; how were you able to troubleshoot it?”
Several interviewers suggested similar questions that assess your ability to tackle problems when no one is available to help you.
This is a good opportunity to share a specific example of a time you’ve been in this situation.
How you might handle the situation at a prospective company depends on a lot of factors — type of problem, company protocol, your position and responsibilities — but a past example demonstrates how you think on your feet.
Get Ready for Your Next Remote Job
Employers may still have reservations about letting employees work from home, but cultural shifts and worker expectations are slowly forcing their hand.
“Increasingly,” said Rahal, “hiring for remote positions will become the new normal, as the paradigm of the old workplace has been completely altered from the pandemic.”
Keep an eye out for more remote positions as the trend continues — or make your own by asking your employer if you can work from home.
Nail your remote job interview by preparing responses to the concerns many employers still have about remote work — and show them you’ll be a star employee, no matter where you clock in.
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) has been writing and editing since 2011, covering personal finance, careers and digital media.