I'm lucky to have a job where I have the flexibility to decide how and where I work best. Even before the pandemic, Owl Labs provided an inclusive working environment where employees were allowed to work when and where they are most productive. Most days, I liked to work in an office, but other days it was more convenient for me to work from home than it was to commute into the office.
In fact, avoiding a commute is one of the main reasons why workers choose to work remotely and telecommute. Whether I have a doctor's appointment in the morning or I'm simply not interested in wrangling with Boston city traffic, the ability to work wherever I need to is a blessing.
Since the pandemic began, remote work has been on the top of everyone’s minds. Of course, not every job can be done out of the office. But for those that can, what are the benefits and drawbacks? How can we enable everyone who works from anywhere to do their best work?
Let’s dig into telecommuting—what it is, the benefits and challenges, and which types of jobs are right for hybrid workers.
Telecommuting is when an employee who works in an office environment works from home or another location to forgo commuting. They use phone and internet access to virtually attend meetings and communicate with colleagues. It's often used interchangeably with "working from home" because telecommuters usually choose to work from home when not traveling to the office.
"Telecommuting" and "remote work," are not interchangeable terms. Remote workers typically work from home consistently or on a set work schedule, but telecommuting refers to intermittent working from a location other than an office.
In 2018, nearly 4 million Americans reported working from home at least half of the time, and 52% of employees around the world worked from home at least once per week. But as we all know, the pandemic changed this. In 2021, 70% of full-time U.S. workers having worked remotely - with many still doing so.
Telecommuting offers many benefits for workers. Surveys from FlexJobs and Owl Labs offer insights into the variety of different reasons employees choose to work from home or remotely pre-pandemic including:
In both surveys, the primary reasons for working from home respondents cited were increased productivity, better focus, and fewer distractions and interruptions from colleagues. Being able to work from home allows employees to create the working conditions that are most optimal for them when they need quiet or solitude to get work done.
Another reason employees choose to telecommute is to support better work/life balance. Without the need for a lengthy commute, workers have more time in their mornings and evenings to re-dedicate to personal tasks, such as caregiving or exercise. Additionally, the ability to work from anywhere makes it easier for employees to run errands or travel to appointments during the day while minimizing commuting time in between, so they can get work and personal tasks done as efficiently as possible.
As the name suggests, telecommuting eliminates the time, stress, and money required to commute to and from the office every day. Depending on where they live, commuting can be a stressful, expensive, or dangerous task for employees day-in and day-out, so the ability to telecommute offers them a helpful break from feeling stressed or rushed.
In 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau reported an average one-way commute of 27.6 minutes nationwide. That’s nearly five hours a week spent in a car or train to the office—or 11 days each year. People who choose to work from home get those 11 days back to spend with their families, work on their own self-care, and maybe even spend a little more time on work that they’d otherwise spend commuting.
There are some telecommuting challenges to consider. These issues can also be a challenge for full-time remote workers.
Even with the best video conferencing software, it can still be a challenge to feel included in virtual meetings or in-person communication taking place in the office. Hybrid and remote workers should make an effort to over-communicate what they're working on in emails, group chats, and meetings so in-office team members are cognizant of what they're working on.
Similarly, cohesive communication can be a challenging aspect of a flexible or distributed workforce. Despite the wide range of virtual work tools like group chat and shared files, one-off communication still happens in the office. Those who aren’t working in-office can find themselves out of the loop. It's on the in-office team members to make sure they're keeping everyone updated on any decisions or debates that happened in-person that pertain to their job.
This can be done with built-in feedback loops like action item follow-ups, or more expediently, dialing in a remote team member during a one-off conversation that turns into a critical moment. It’s up to employers to set up their work environments so that no one is missing a thing, no matter where they’re working from.
Technological challenges can arise with some employees working from home and some working in the office. Telecommuters should make sure they have a stable WiFi connection and reliable cellular service, and in-office employees should have inclusive video conferencing software and hardware to make sure teammates working from home can stay involved with what's going on in the office.
We’re in the age of flexible work options in almost every industry category. If you're interested in finding a position that’s flexible for your needs, read our guide to learn how to ask to work remotely if you already have a job you love.
Easier said than done, right? Wrong. Setting up a telecommuting or remote role is a seamless process these days. With most companies offering a remote or hybrid working model, technology and policies are easy to find and adopt.
Employers who accept telecommuters need to take location into consideration. Is your company prepared to pay an out-of-state employee? Employers and employees need to register with that state’s tax agency and familiarize themselves with that state’s pay and labor laws. Then: factor time zones into work processes.
If your new telecommuter lives in California but your company is based in Ohio, you’ll have to work different hours and find an asynchronous solution that works for everyone. Maybe your west-coast employee prefers a 6am to 2pm position that will align with your east-coast time zone. While it’s common for companies to be flexible with working hours, every employer is different. Determine that before you move forward with telecommuting.
A telecommuting job should also come with company-issued equipment that is transportable so employees can work from anywhere. That means a laptop with WiFi access, a company smartphone where applicable, and video conferencing software and hardware that makes it easy to connect with anyone at any time. Some employers even offer telecommuting benefits, like a one-time stipend to set up your office space at home.
What's the best way to find a remote or hybrid job? Job search sites have sprung up to cater exclusively to telecommuting roles.
Websites like SkipTheDrive and Remote.co have job boards that exclusively list remote jobs. FlexJobs has a list of the top 100 companies with remote jobs if you want to search by company. Searching for "telecommuting jobs" in Google presents a list of roles that can be filtered by job category, job title, employer, etc.
Once you've found some roles, make sure your resume shows your ability to work from anywhere. Remote roles often have different requirements than in-office roles and you'll want your resume to highlight your remote-specific skills.
Self-motivation, organization, and focus are key. Emphasize your ability to work independently, as well as in teams. Hybrid workers should be adept in both, as you'll be working alone beside the occasional group meeting or project update.
Strong written communication skills are crucial. Most communication takes place over email or messaging services, with the occasional video call. To minimize the number of messages sent back and forth, writing clearly is essential. However, video conferencing with the right tools is even more effective.