Few people are as knee-deep in our work-related anxieties and sticky office politics as Alison Green, who has been fielding workplace questions for a decade now on her website Ask a Manager. In Direct Report, she spotlights themes from her inbox that help explain the modern workplace and how we could be navigating it better.
Amid the boom in remote working spurred by pandemic closures two years ago, job seekers are encountering a frustrating phenomenon: jobs advertised as “remote” when they really aren’t.
To the extreme and understandable frustration of job seekers, it’s become quite common for candidates to see a job posting for a role that claims to be remote, apply, confirm in the first contact that they’re looking for 100 percent remote work, and go through several rounds of interviews, only to find out late in the process that the employer actually wants them to come in one or two days a week or even more. Here are some typical accounts from job seekers who have written to me:
• “I’m now in talks with an exciting company that sells a service that is entirely up my street. The role seems very exciting. When the internal recruiter contacted me, the first thing I said was, ‘It sounds great, but is it remote? Otherwise it’s not what I’m looking for.’ She checked internally and told me that it was possible to work entirely remotely. Now I’m about to have my third interview with them (tomorrow) and the company has hinted that I’d need to be in the office twice a week. I can’t see why they would have gone ahead with my application knowing this, as it’s wasting both their time and mine!”
• “When I was job hunting this happened so many times. I’d tell a recruiter I was looking for remote and find out at interview that they’re actually planning to go back to the office full-time. I’d be told in the first and second interview that remote was fine then be rejected in the third because I wasn’t willing to travel to the office three days a week (90-minute journey each way in one case). I’d open a remote vacancy and they’d admit in the fine print that it was actually hybrid. One careers website, *80%* of the remote vacancies were actually hybrid. Please, companies, just stop wasting everybody’s time.”
• “When I was job searching I noticed a lot of jobs would have the remote filter on them, but if you read down the job description it would include things like sorting mail and filing and whatever that is generally an in-office type of thing. And then you read a little more and it turns out the 100% remote job that is showing up for me several thousand miles away is actually for someone they want in a hybrid role in the city their office is located in. I read one where they listed in-office duties but neglected to list what city the office was—on a job that was listed as 100% remote! I think it’s one of the new buzzwords people have been putting on their job listings to attract attention when what they really mean is we want you in the office at least part of the time but you’ll have a laptop so you can theoretically work from home. Ugh.”
Some of this is caused by employers who really mean “you can partially work from home” but for some reason list those jobs as fully remote (possibly because of the limitations of electronic application systems). But other times the job isn’t even partly remote. Other employers will consider remote work for candidates who aren’t located near their office—but if you are, you’ll be expected to come in every day.
Why aren’t employers being more transparent in their job ads? Part of the reason may be that they think they’ll attract more applicants if they frame jobs as remote even when they have a hybrid work schedule (at best):
A few weeks ago, I applied for a job that was advertised as remote and open to people from a vast but specific geographic area that includes several large states. I happen to live close to the company’s HQ, but am not interested in jobs that require me to commute to an office. During my interview, I asked a logistical question, and in response the employer told me they would expect me to work from the office two to three days a week and that they posted the job as remote so they could have a bigger pool of applicants. I was flabbergasted and was unsure how to respond, though the situation ultimately resolved itself as I did not get an offer.
Often employers just don’t think through what they’ll truly require from a job until later in the hiring process, or they would allow an absolutely perfect candidate to work remotely but not anyone else. Other times, employers are OK with the job being remote temporarily because of COVID, but they expect the person they hire to eventually work from the office when it’s safer to do so—which can be an unpleasant surprise to a candidate located many states away who has no plans of moving.
It’s bizarre that employers aren’t being clearer upfront, since the misleading communications mean they end up wasting time interviewing candidates who won’t be willing to accept the terms they’re offering. And even when candidates try to save everyone time by clarifying in their first contact, too often the real story doesn’t come out until later.
Ultimately, it’s likely that employers simply underestimate how important fully remote work is to many of the people who seek it and wrongly assume that candidates will compromise and be willing to split their time between home and the office. Some will! That’s the ideal arrangement for some people. But the job should be advertised that way so it doesn’t mislead the people who won’t.