Remote work and telecommuting rely on similar technologies. The choice between telecommuting vs remote work depends on the job itself and the preferences of the management.
Telecommuting has been around for a long time, and telecommuting employees are still essentially based out of the home office. Fully remote work is a newer development; remote workers could be based anywhere in the world.
If telecommuting workers only need to check in at the office occasionally, they can free up space and resources in the office. Remote workers can also help cut costs, but they require a different management style than regular or telecommuting employees.
Telecommuting can be a good option for employees who still need to be present at the office occasionally but seek greater flexibility.
Before the information technologies that enabled remote work, telecommuting was already well established. Even before computers, telecommuting allowed company representatives to travel in search of new markets both domestically and as part of an international expansion, checking in by phone while on the road and updating the team in person upon their return.
Today, telecommuting can take on a much broader definition. Many telecommuting employees work primarily from home, attend meetings via video call, collaborate via cloud-based software, and return to the office only once per week to check on production or report to management.
Modern businesses may contain a combination of telecommuting employees and fully remote workers, but what is the difference between telecommuting vs remote work, and which option is best for your organization? Here we will look at some of the key differences and similarities between telecommuting vs remote work, and delve into when one should be chosen instead of the other.
What is remote work?
Remote employees and employers could, in theory, be located anywhere. In general, remote workers are not expected to be in the same physical location as their employees or team members. An entire business could be composed of remote workers, with no physical office at all. More often, though, companies allow a mix of remote and in-person work (‘hybrid work’), or only some jobs within the organization are classified as a remote job.
Remote teams generally work asynchronously, meaning that tasks could be completed at any time within a given 24-hour period. For this reason, remote work comes with its own set of management challenges; the management will want to be sure that remote workers are actually working, however, it is undesirable and often impossible for them to constantly check in on employees in real-time. Remote workers require clearly defined tasks and benchmarks, they need to operate within an environment of mutual trust and personal responsibility.
What does telecommuting mean?
Workers that telecommute are based out of the office either temporarily or full-time. A telecommuting worker may be working independently while on a week-long business trip, or they may be based at home and drive into the office for weekly meetings. Generally, a teleworker is treated like an employee at the physical office, though they regularly work outside the office.
Management may prefer telecommuting employees to remote workers because they are still required to be physically present at times. They also work synchronously, that is, during the same hours as all other employees. Like remote workers, however, telecommuting employees can help reduce office overhead; they may not require their own desk or office and can use shared office space instead.
There is some research to suggest that telecommuting has a negative impact on the social element of work and associated worker job satisfaction, however the research also shows that this can be readily mitigated with the right tech tools.
Telecommuting vs remote work: What’s the difference?
Telecommuting and remote workers use similar technology in order to stay in touch with the rest of the office; videoconferencing, group messages, and cloud-based team productivity software. However, there are some key differences between telecommuting vs remote work.
- Telecommuting workers are based near the home office, while remote workers can be based anywhere in the world.
- Synchronous telecommuting vs remote work that is asynchronous — telecommuters complete their tasks at the same time as workers in the office. Remote workers, however, may be based halfway around the world and complete tasks while home office workers are asleep.
- Telecommuting could be temporary, while remote work is more often a part of the job description. Many remote workers never meet their managers or teammates in person, while telecommuting workers are often in the office for meetings and events.
Which is better for you or your business, telecommuting or remote work?
Telecommuting may be a good option for employers if; they want an employee that can be physically present when needed, the job entails many hours on the road or outside the office anyway, the job can be accomplished primarily from home but the employer still wants to maintain in-person contact, and if by moving the job to a telecommuting position the company can free up physical resources (i.e. office space) for other uses.
Remote work may be a better option if; the position cannot be satisfied locally, the job consists primarily of independent projects, the job requires the employee to represent the company in another state or company where there is no physical office, and if the employer does not see any negative consequences regarding company culture or cohesiveness if the employee is not physically present.
In both cases, there is research suggesting that if care is not taken, remote workers or telecommuters can take a back seat in career progression compared to in-office workers. For this reason, it is essential that any business implementing telecommuting or remote work have remote onboarding policies in place to support those workers from the very beginning.
If you need support in configuring your remote work setup both nationally and internationally, take a look at our list of leading Employers of Record (EOR). An EOR is a professional HR company that specializes in hiring and onboarding remote and international professionals.
On a given day, a telecommuting employee and a remote worker may work in exactly the same way. For instance, a telecommuting regional sales representative and a remote working country representative may communicate with the home office through the same messaging system, fill out new client information on the same database, and attend the same sales team meeting via video call. The telecommuting worker, however, will be based in the same time zone as the home office and will be physically present in the office occasionally, while the remote work will not.
Telecommuting, telework, and hybrid work could all refer to similar jobs. In general, though, jobs described as telecommuting may only take place outside the office part-time or when conditions require it. A telework position, however, may be primarily outside the office and only require occasional check-ins. Hybrid jobs generally require half of the work hours to be in the physical office, with the other half outside.