Watch out for these 5 red flags for remote jobs

May 07, 2024

Watch out for these 5 red flags for remote jobs

If you’re looking for a remote gig, here are a few things to be on the lookout for—and hacks for assessing the company from the outside.

BY Stephanie Vozza

If you’re looking for a remote job because your company issued a return-to-office mandate, you may have a lot of competition. According to Google Trends, searches for remote jobs peaked in January 2024 and continue to be strong. What’s more, a survey by flexjobs found that only 3% of working professionals prefer to be fully in the office.

To capitalize on the demand for remote jobs, some employers are taking shortcuts, says Michael Wallace, CEO of Greenback Expat Tax Services, which has a 100% remote workforce. “They’re offering roles that aren’t necessarily suited to remote work, or they’re not setting employees up for success,” he says. “They’re making promises and not delivering on them.”

Before you accept that remote job you may regret later, it’s important to do your due diligence. Wallace, who managed remote teams for 15 years, shares five remote job red flags that should cause you to rethink an offer:

1. Lack of Communication

The first red flag is a company that demonstrates a lack of communication, both during the hiring process as well as into employment.

“Communication is critical when you’re in a remote environment,” says Wallace. “There is no bumping into each other in the hallway and saying, ‘Did you see this email?’ You have to be very intentional with your communications and make sure that you keep everyone in the loop on what’s going on.”

Silos that exist in every company can become even more prominent in a remote organization, adds Wallace. “You have to be sure that things are flowing across, up, and down the org chart, as well as across the different divisions in your company,” he says. “If the company’s communication standards are low, it will make your job all the more stressful.”

2. Micromanagement

The next red flag is if a company leans toward micromanagement instead of understanding there needs to be a balance between autonomy and tracking your work. Companies that focus too much on tracking may add stress to remote working. 

“Managers want to make sure their people are working,” says Wallace. “It’s harder to see that when they’re remote. I’ve heard of companies using a tool that track if employees wiggled their mouse to show that they were online. It comes down to trust.” 

3. No Remote Onboarding

Joining a new company comes with its own challenges, including learning new tools, picking up new processes, and meeting your colleagues, says Wallace. 

“If you aren’t in-person to see your colleagues, it’s tougher to ask for help,” he says. “Onboarding is extra critical when you’re a remote organization.”

Any company that has worked well in a remote environment for some time will have a comprehensive onboarding process. It should help new hires understand the culture and working norms, like how they should be communicating.

4. Lack of Equipment Support

You can get tangible evidence of a company’s commitment to remote work through their equipment policies, such as if they provide equipment or offer stipends for additional equipment you might need to acquire. 

“Depending on the job, this can be a signal of how committed a company is to remote work,” says Wallace. “If they ask you to rely on your own equipment, this can be a major red flag. Companies should outfit their employees with everything they need to work successfully from home if they truly promote remote working.” 

Watch out for these 5 red flags for remote jobs

5. Bait and Switch

With the massive increase in interest in remote work, Wallace has seen some companies that promise remote work and say later, “Oh, by the way, we actually need you to come to the office three days a week.”

“Understanding how committed a company is to remote work,” he says. “The best would be a company that has been remote from the beginning and has no intention of having an office.”

Assessing a Company from the Outside 

It can be hard to know what’s going on inside a company when you’re a job seeker. Wallace says your investigation should start with the interview process.

“How do they go about interviewing you?” he asks. “What’s their communication style? Do they have their camera on? It can be a red flag if an employer doesn’t speak to you on video or over the phone and prefers to correspond through email or text only to screen you for a job. This can indicate that the job may be a scam.” 

Ask specific questions about the onboarding process, equipment support, and the basic tools they use, like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Slack. Also ask how progress is tracked. If they utilize tracking software as a measure of output, it can hint at micromanagement at the company.

Wallace says it’s important to read between the lines. “Ask them, ‘How do you feel about remote work?’” he suggests. “Are they excited about it? Or do you get some hesitancy or any indicators that there might be potential change coming in the future?”

Also inquire about the equipment you’ll receive as an employee. A major red flag that the opportunity could be a scam is if a company says they’ll send you a check so you can buy the equipment you need. They ask you to deposit the check and return the unused money. By the time you’ve reimbursed the difference, the check bounces due to being fraudulent or stolen.

To rule out any bait and switch tactics, Wallace recommends looking on platforms like Glassdoor, Indeed, and LinkedIn to get a sense for what current and former employees are saying about the company. The position may be advertised as remote, but it’s possible that the company is initiating a return-to-office mandate soon. 

Green Flags

Of course, there are some good signs to look for, too. Wallace says having comprehensive remote work policies in place is good indicator that the organization has a set and well-defined process in place. 

“Another positive indicator is if they hold regular check-ins and meetings that foster a sense of inclusion and community,” he says. “This can be a question you ask during an interview. Also, if a company has a plan in place for growing and developing within the company while remote, that’s another positive indicator.”

Plenty of companies will continue to embrace remote work. It’s up to you to make sure the opportunity is one that fits your working arrangement goals now and in the future.




Stephanie Vozza is a freelance writer who covers productivity, careers, and leadership. She’s written for Fast Company since 2014 and has penned nearly 1,000 articles for the site’s Work Life vertical 

Fast Company