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.
When the pandemic began, remote work was at 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 telecommuting, what are the benefits and challenges, and which types of jobs are right for hybrid and remote 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 attend meetings and communicate with colleagues virtually. It's often used interchangeably with "working from home" or because telecommuters usually choose to work from home when not traveling to the office.
Telecommuters are people who work at home or from another location outside of a traditional office setting using telecommunications technology to stay connected with colleagues and clients. Our recent Global State of Hybrid Work Report found that in 2023, 43% of employees reported working hybrid - meaning they telecommute at least some of the time.
Telework refers to a flexible work arrangement that allows employees to work from an approved location other than their company's office. Teleworking arrangements can be found in many structured and unstructured hybrid work policies that have become more popular since the rise of remote work during the pandemic.
Now that you know the basics of telecommuting, let’s talk about the different types.
Remote work and telecommuting are often used interchangeably, but there are some subtle differences between the two terms. Telecommuting specifically refers to working from home or another location outside of a traditional office setting using telecommunications technology - as we described above. This implies that the employee is still working for a specific company and is subject to their policies and procedures.
Remote work, on the other hand, is a broader term that encompasses any work arrangement where the employee is not required to be in a traditional office setting. This could include working from home, from a co-working space, or from another location entirely. Remote workers may be employed by a company, but they may also be freelancers, contractors, or consultants.
In other words, all telecommuters are remote workers, but not all remote workers are telecommuters.
Virtual jobs emphasize the nature of the work itself being remote and independent. A virtual job is typically one that can be performed entirely from anywhere with an internet connection, and the workers typically have a high degree of autonomy over their work schedule and tasks. Virtual jobs typically require a higher level of self-discipline and organization, as employees are not working under the direct supervision of a manager.
‘Work from anywhere’ is a work arrangement that allows employees to work from any location with an internet connection rather than being required to commute to a traditional office setting. This flexibility can provide numerous benefits for both employees and employers, including:
Digital nomads are location-independent individuals who utilize technology to perform their jobs while traveling the world. They typically possess a minimal amount of material possessions and opt to work remotely from temporary lodgings, hotels, cafes, public libraries, coworking spaces, or recreational vehicles, relying on Wi-Fi, smartphones, or mobile hotspots for internet access.
Digital nomadism has gained popularity in recent years due to advancements in technology, the rise of the gig economy, and an increasing desire for flexibility and freedom in the workplace.
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 telecommute 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 telecommuters 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.
Did you know that in 2023, in-office workers spend, on average, 30-45 minutes commuting - and that’s just one way! 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.
There are many potential advantages to telecommuting - increased productivity, better work/life balance, and no commute are just a few of the major benefits.
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. Telecommuters 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 pertains 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.
Some employers - who aren’t traditionally open to telecommuting - are open to employees ‘reliably telecommuting.’ Reliably telecommuting means that an employee has the ability to consistently and effectively work from home or another remote location using technology and telecommunications tools. This requires a combination of factors, including:
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. Just remember, no matter where you are located physically, a private and secure virtual location may be preferred by the employer. In order to achieve this, be sure you have a reliable internet connection and a VPN.
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 - with experience already telecommuting being seen as a major plus. Emphasize your ability to work independently as well as in teams. Hybrid workers should be adept in both, as you'll be working alone besides 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.