Curious about working as a front-end developer? Wondering if this is a skillset could finally give you the freedom to work from anywhere you want?
I have good news for you:
Many front-end developers work from home. Some just work from home occasionally, while others have full-time remote roles. To position yourself as a good remote candidate, you'll need to highlight certain skills and experience to give yourself the best chance of securing a remote role.
In this article
- What kind of companies hire remote front-end developers?
- What skills do you need to work remotely?
- How do you get your first remote job?
- Resources for finding remote jobs
What kind of companies hire remote front-end developers?
One great thing about being a front-end developer is the wide range of options you have when it comes to choosing an employer. Almost everyone needs some kind of website, whether it's a simple marketing site or a full-featured web application.
And that means you can find front-end roles at all types and sizes of company, from early-stage startups to large public companies; digital agencies to government and nonprofits.
If you prefer the idea of working for yourself, there's also plenty of demand for freelance and contract front-end developers—and much of that work can also be done remotely.
Attitudes to remote work
Coding has always been a remote-friendly skill: all you need is a computer and an internet connection. Plus, collaboration software is now good enough that, with the right approach, most team interactions are also straightforward. However, attitudes to remote working in the tech industry have varied a lot from company to company.
Some companies like InVision and GitLab actually began as fully remote, meaning they have no central office and all employees work from home.
But other companies have traditionally been much more reserved about allowing remote work. They worry about productivity: can employees really be trusted to get their work done if they're not being physically monitored? Or collaboration: are teams really as effective if they don't get to bond in person?
The impact of COVID-19
While fears about remote work have slowly been easing over the past few years as more people realize that things can usually be done just fine remotely, 2020 created a turning point no one saw coming: the COVID-19 pandemic.
Every tech company was forced to embrace remote work if they wanted to continue to function at all, regardless of whether or not they were prepared for it.
And the outcome? Companies have realized that it's actually much more possible to function remotely than they previously thought. Many have already changed their policies around remote work in response to this—Twitter, Square and Shopify have all announced that employees can now choose to work from home indefinitely—and it's likely that many more will follow suit.
So what does this mean for front-end developers with a goal of working from home? Getting a remote job should be a lot easier in future than it ever has been before.
What skills do you need to work remotely?
Even in a more remote-friendly world, the core skills you need to be a successful remote developer haven't changed:
- Personal organization
- Written communication
When you're working from home, you need to be able to resist distractions while you're focusing on work.
While it's great that you can use your breaks to get useful chores done (like the laundry or going to pick up your mail), the couch and Netflix are also not far away—and you need to be able to resist their tempting calls.
Just because no one is there to see if you're not working, getting distracted will hurt your performance, and your employer will eventually notice.
My tips for staying focused are:
- Remove distractions: Separate your work space if possible—it'll be easier to get into a work mindset when you're at your desk in a space that you only use for work.
- Give yourself regular breaks: Many developers use the Pomodoro Technique, which involves 20-minute chunks of focus interspersed with short breaks. I like the Marinara: Pomodoro Assistant Chrome Extension for this.
- Work on things you enjoy: It's hard to avoid distraction if you don't actually enjoy what you're doing. This is more of a long-term career strategy tip, but think about what work you find most rewarding as a front-end developer, and figure out ways to do more of it.
This applies to office-based roles too, but I find the ability to stay organized is even more important when working remotely.
I like to make a plan for each day: what I need to work on, what order I should do it in, and how much I want to get done. Then I make a checklist (just in the Notes app on Mac, any similar app will do) and start working through it, checking each item off as I complete it.
While working from home, you can easily manage your projects using management tools to keep track of everything you are doing.
If you work freelance, you'll likely want to use project management software (I like Trello) to keep multiple projects organized.
As a remote developer, you can't rely on casual chats with the person next to you to get answers to questions, or check what your priorities are.
This kind of communication can partly be solved by chat-based tools like Slack, but they can also be a distraction, and don't work well if you have to collaborate across timezones.
So, writing becomes an important skill in a couple of areas:
- Documentation: You need to make sure projects and processes are appropriately documented. This might mean Google Docs, company wikis, project READMEs, or something else, depending on the conventions of your company. Either way, the goal is to make sure people can find information they need without having to constantly ask teammates.
- Code reviews: Assuming you don't work completely alone, reviewing other developers' code is likely something you will have to do. And when you're remote, you need to be able to convey positive and negative feedback, sensitively and appropriately, in written form.
How do you get your first remote job?
Companies often want you to already have remote experience before hiring you for a 100% remote role. This means your first remote role will likely be the hardest one to get—once you've had one successful experience, things generally get a lot easier.
So how do you get experience?
Ask your current employer
A good first option is to negotiate with your current employer. If you otherwise like your job, discuss whether you could switch to doing it remotely. Developers are expensive to replace, so you might have more leverage here than you think: they'll be more likely to trust you than a new company would because they already know you and your work.
Use other relevant experience
If you want to change jobs anyway, or your employer is not open to you going fully remote, it's time to talk up any relevant experience you do have. Maybe you've been working from home one or two days a week, or perhaps you've been active on open source projects. These are all things you can use to show potential employers that you have the necessary skills to be a successful remote employee.
COVID-19 has of course given many people remote experience that they didn't previously have, so it you've been working remotely through the pandemic, you can absolutely use this experience to prove that you are capable of working from home full time too.
What if you have no experience?
One situation that can make getting a remote role harder (although not impossible) is if you're very junior. If you have no real-world experience at all, a company may be wary of hiring you remotely for your very first developer role.
In this situation, I would recommend looking for some remote freelance front-end projects. You can search for people advertising this kind of work on Twitter, Reddit, or even platforms like Upwork. The work will likely not be very well paid as you're just starting out, but the experience it provides—real, paid remote work for actual clients—can be very valuable for your future career.
If you can do this successfully for a year or so, you'll then be much better placed to transition to a full-time remote role with a company.
Resources for finding remote jobs
There are several job boards which either exclusively list or let you filter by remote developer roles:
There are also various lists of remote-friendly companies if you'd like to learn which companies have remote-friendly policies in general.
When you're applying for a remote role, the same rules still apply: you'll need a tailored resume, a targeted approach, and thorough interview prep to give yourself the best chance of success.
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