When I was in high school, I moved from my hometown of Nanjing, China, to Seattle, where I lived with a host family. I went to university for early-childhood education and teaching and later moved to Canada, where I did my master’s in curriculum studies at the University of Toronto. I graduated in May 2020, and by September, I’d found a job at a tutoring company training teachers and developing learning materials. The company implemented a hybrid schedule in 2021, so I was in the office three days a week. It was a 30-minute drive from my house in Markham, and since I hate taking public transit, my husband would drive me.
During the pandemic, I became interested in instructional design, which is self-directed e-learning. I asked my tutoring company if I could try developing new e-learning materials, but they weren’t interested.
I started job searching in March 2022. Instructional-design jobs are hard to find. It’s not a big market, and as a newbie, I didn’t have a lot of experience. I only applied to three jobs. Two were with Canadian companies—one in HR and the other in health care. The third was with a project-management software company called Teamwork, which is based out of Cork, Ireland. They were looking for someone to develop instructional materials for their software.
I had four interviews at Teamwork between April and May. The HR talent head was based in England and my prospective manager was in Sacramento, Calif. The job was a permanent, fully remote position. I didn’t really care where the company was located. What I valued more was the company’s philosophy and the ability to work remotely. At the end of May, Teamwork offered me a job with 10 per cent more pay than my salary expectation. The company has a Canadian entity, so my salary is paid in Canadian dollars. We have 10 public holidays a year in addition to six weeks of paid vacation.
“Teamwork offered me a job with 10 per cent more pay than my salary expectation”
The onboarding process was smooth. I was sent a laptop, a mouse, a keyboard and AirPods. I also had a one-time work-from-home allowance of €400, which I spent on a desk chair. I expected to have a lot of one-on-one training, but it was mostly self-directed learning—watching videos, doing readings and working through courses. I work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. eastern time, and so does my manager. I have about four hours of overlap with our European teammates, so we have most of our meetings in my morning, their afternoon.
The one thing I miss about working in-person is getting to know people outside of my team through office interactions, but I have developed a strong connection with my direct peers. There are five of us working in customer education—my manager in the U.S., me in Canada and three people in Ireland. We do weekly video calls, use a project-management platform and use our own form of Slack called Teamwork Chat.
We have a chat channel for all the Canadian employees—there are five of us now based in the Toronto area—and we plan to meet up soon. We also have access to a WeWork space through the company in case we want to work in a shared office. Every year in July, the whole company gets together at the headquarters in Cork. Since I have a Chinese passport, I need a visa to go to Ireland, but it didn’t come through in time in 2022. I’ll be going this year though.
Working for an international company has given me the chance to learn from people around the world. I’ve learned how to schedule my time better, taking time zones into consideration, and become more organized. I also love the comfort and convenience of working from home—and my husband is thrilled that he doesn’t have to drive me to the office anymore.
I was living in a Toronto condo with my fiancé when we both started working from home. We’d always wanted to move away from downtown—our dream was to live on a lake no further than 90 minutes from the city—and the pandemic was the push we needed.
In January 2021, we bought a place in Little Britain, on Lake Scugog, which is an hour and a half from Toronto. We each got our employer’s okay to continue working remotely. But I still worried that there would be a mandate to return to the office, at least part-time. I decided to look for a remote job to remove that risk.
In February 2021, a former client referred me to Jennifer Tramontana, founder of the Fletcher Group, a PR and content-marketing agency based in Austin, Tex. The firm has been remote since Jennifer started it in 2005.
In my interview, I learned that I’d be a freelance contractor. I’d need to start my own freelance company and bill the Fletcher Group every month for the equivalent of 40 hours of work a week. I’d be responsible for paying taxes and remitting my own CPP and EI contributions. It was a change from what I was used to, but I’d be earning about 30 per cent more than my previous salary. The firm also has a bonus structure. Jennifer offered me the job in March, but I needed time, both to give my employer adequate notice and figure out how to register my business and set up my home office. I started my new role in May.
I suddenly had U.S. clients that wanted coverage in the American market. I had to learn a new media landscape. In Canada, I would pitch a story to 10 people. In the U.S., the industry is 10 times bigger. I made extra effort to learn what was happening in U.S. news and did things like change my location and search settings to ensure relevant items popped up on my feeds.
I do independent work in the mornings and reserve afternoons for meetings, since most of my teammates and clients are on mountain or central time. There are times when I have to take a call in the evening, but I’ll start work a bit later to offset it. Jennifer made the agency remote so that people can have challenging, fast-paced careers while maintaining work-life balance.
The company wants to grow its business in Canada, and we’ve hired two new Toronto team members. Most of the others are located in Denver, Austin and Chicago. We all met in October 2021 at the company’s annual retreat in Denver. There were team-building and social activities, like a visit to a spa.
Remote work opened up a new world for me. I don’t have to sacrifice personal aspirations, like living outside of Toronto and focusing on my home life, just to climb the corporate ladder.
When the pandemic hit, I was working as an HR business partner for a non-profit in Toronto. Non-profits often have lower pay rates and higher attrition, and a lot of people left the organization during the pandemic. I was feeling burned out. So, in 2021, I decided to try something new. I had always been interested in tech companies: They attract a younger workforce, plus they have higher budgets, more options for remote work, better benefits and room for growth. While I looked for a new job, I found part-time work as an HR specialist for a different non-profit organization in Toronto. Then I found part-time remote work as a people and culture manager for a Vancouver-based software company.
Around the end of 2021, I felt like I had gained enough experience to enter a full-time HR role at a tech company. I have a young daughter and didn’t want to miss out on the time I could spend with her, so I purposely looked for remote roles. (At my previous job, my commute from Brampton to downtown Toronto would take nearly two hours on public transit.)
I interviewed with three companies at the same time—two Canadian start-ups and one American company, Zenfolio, which helps photographers create portfolio websites. It had just acquired a Canadian competitor called Format. Zenfolio was an established company, which I appreciated, and it was offering salaries that were about 60 per cent higher than what some of their competitors were offering. I would be paid in Canadian dollars, and the benefits were good. Aside from the usual dental and optical, there was a wellness spending account to cover expenses like fertility treatments, a fund to help set up an at-home workspace and extra pay for parental leave on top of the normal EI subsidies.
“I don’t think I would want to ever commute two hours each way again in my life”
I was hired as the director of people operations and culture. Zenfolio still had a Canadian entity, so I was technically hired by the Canadian LLC. The company has about 25 staff in Canada (some of whom are former employees of Format) and 50 people, including most of my team members, in the U.S. I spent the first three months setting up calls with every employee. I can’t be an HR person and not know how to speak to people.
It’s been great having exposure to the U.S. market. I see the differences in the way Canadians and Americans communicate: Americans are more direct. At the same time, they tend to avoid topics like politics and current events at work. Canadians discuss these issues more openly. I see teammates trying to work around this difference.
The company has hired nine more people in Canada since I started. The executive team meets in person one or two times a year. In October 2022, I flew down to California to meet up with them. We booked a co-working space, and afterward, a dozen local team members joined us for happy hour nearby.
Working remotely has allowed me to explore more career options, but I don’t know if I’ll do it forever. Once my kid grows up I might start feeling like I should be out meeting people in person. But I don’t think I would want to ever commute two hours each way again in my life.
I grew up in India, and after visiting Montreal on a work trip in 2016, I decided I wanted to move to Canada. I emigrated from Mumbai to Toronto in 2017. I have a master’s degree in journalism and communications, but it was difficult for me to find a job in my industry. I worked a few contracts, then I rebranded as an SEO expert and landed a role at a Toronto software-as-a-service—or SaaS—company.
I wanted a more senior role, so I started job hunting in the summer of 2020. I noticed a lot of companies were posting permanent remote positions. In August I was hired for a remote role at another Toronto SaaS company, then in April 2021, I started a new remote job at an affiliate marketing company in Halifax. In January 2022, a former client connected me with the VP of product management and marketing at a SaaS company based in Palo Alto, Calif. They were open to hiring remote workers in Canada, including a lead SEO position. I interviewed with the VP, then had a phone call with the CEO. He conducted our interview while walking his dog.
I was hired as the lead of organic growth, and I would work as a full-time freelancer. A digital marketing manager job in Canada pays about $100,000 to $120,000, whereas a similar role in the U.S. pays US$170,000 to $180,000. I was able to double my salary and was given stock options. (My last Canadian employer only gave those to senior staff.) The bonuses are also about 30 per cent higher.
I incorporated as a freelance business, and I now bill the company for my monthly hours. I don’t get benefits, and tax time is a bit more complicated. I’m paid in U.S. dollars, so I opened a USD bank account. I’ve had to shift my mindset to become a freelancer, but it was a worthwhile decision. It’s fairly common for U.S.-based tech companies to hire international employees for contract work. It’s advantageous: They don’t have to worry about benefits or deducting taxes.
Most staff are on west coast hours, so I log on from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. eastern time. Occasionally, I hop on calls at 8:30 p.m. because that’s when senior leadership has time to catch up. But I don’t mind; I can run errands between meetings.
I have the best of both worlds living in Toronto and earning a higher salary at a U.S. company. I’ve been able to purchase a condo and an investment property. I want to be financially independent by age 40 so I can do consulting or write books and movie scripts.
If not for the pandemic, I might not have had exposure to a Silicon Valley start-up. As long as I see growth for myself and create value for the organization, geography doesn’t matter.
A layoff sparked my job hunt. I was working as a marketing manager for a Canadian vacation-rental company that was bought out in 2019. Then, in August 2020, I lost my job due to restructuring. I started applying for jobs while most organizations were still fully remote. I wasn’t focused solely on remote jobs, but if a posting said there would be a return to the office, I thought twice about it. I had a 90-minute commute at my previous job. I also got a dog during the pandemic, so working from home would be easier than hiring a walker.
I hadn’t posted on my LinkedIn that I was looking—it was a fluke that someone from Vista reached out to me in October 2020. Vista offers design, digital and print services for small businesses. Cimpress, its parent company, is based in Ireland, but there’s a North American team headquartered in Boston. Vista wanted to increase its presence in the Canadian market and were hiring a senior marketing manager to do that.
I’d report to a director based in Boston and would collaborate with other teams based in places like Barcelona and Paris. The role would be permanently remote, which was a big selling point. I’d also make a lot more money than I had at my previous job. They offered RRSP matching, pension contributions and better health and dental coverage. Vista even had a printing plant in Windsor, so they could hire me as a Canadian employee and pay me in Canadian dollars. I started in December.
“I’m getting experience that I wouldn’t have had at a Canadian company”
Onboarding remotely was an adjustment. I was given a lot of tools and information to review. I had to be proactive about reaching out to people on Slack and asking questions. The company set up about 20 meet-and-greets with different team members who I would be working with, from PR to product. That was a helpful exercise.
I started work around 10 a.m. at my old job, but now I have meetings with people in Europe at around 8 or 8:30 a.m. I’m slowly becoming a morning person. My schedule is pretty flexible, so I might pop out for a dentist appointment and catch up on work in the evening.
I like that I can work from anywhere for periods of time. In the spring of 2022, all of Vista’s global remote-first team members received company-paid access to any WeWork location around the globe so we could get out of the house or go meet co-workers. I go into a Toronto WeWork a few times a month, and I worked from Vancouver, which is where I’m from, for a few weeks around the holidays.
My team has grown from four to 10 people since I was hired, including an additional Canadian employee. I met these colleagues at a three-day on-site in Boston in May 2022. It was amazing. The energy was through the roof. We all couldn’t stop talking to one another.
International companies became much more open to working with remote employees during the pandemic. There are now opportunities to join teams that you couldn’t before because you were based in Canada. The scope of my role has been great for my professional growth. I’m getting experience that I wouldn’t have had at a Canadian company, like working on global marketing campaigns. I’m happy with where I am today.
This article appears in print in the winter 2023 issue of Canadian Business magazine. Buy the issue for $7.99 or better yet, subscribe to the quarterly print magazine for just $40.