Business dynamics have changed tremendously in recent years. One of the biggest developments has been a shift from people working in offices to working remotely. Employees and companies are weighing the pros and cons, as well as the differences of telework vs remote work.
Some employees have found that they prefer working from home and they like being a remote worker. Others have learned how much they appreciate interacting with colleagues in the main office environment. Management and workers sometimes decide that a combination is best—working in-office some days and off-site the rest of the week.
Certain positions have always required, or allowed, the flexibility to work from an off-site location due to business travel or even the need to stay in touch with the office while vacationing. Additionally, numerous state governments offer tax incentives to businesses encouraging staff to work remotely or to telecommute, motivated by a focus on environmental stewardship and reducing auto traffic.
Telework vs remote work – There is a difference
Remote working and telecommuting are often used interchangeably, but there are differences. Remote work suggests that the employee is just that—remotely located. It’s not a technical definition, but it does imply that the employee is too far away from the company to come into the office. They may “work remotely” on a temporary basis, such as while traveling, or they might be a permanent remote worker.
Telecommuting, also called telework, can mean that the employee might regularly work on-site some of the time. However, they also might never come into the office. Most positions considered “telecommuting” are usually filled by candidates who work closely, geographically, to the business. So, the key difference is proximity, with frequency being an important, but secondary, factor
Managing these two types of workers can be challenging, but that skill is in great demand as more firms accept remote work and telework. After all, both setups can drastically lower a company’s overhead while improving employee engagement.
When an employee works from a remote location, in some cases not even in the same city, state, or country, managers must try different approaches. New strategies might need to be adopted. One of the biggest challenges is avoiding miscommunication when you’re not working closely face to face. Fortunately, this can be largely addressed with the latest video conferencing technologies.
It can often be even more challenging to manage a remote position that is temporary as opposed to full-time. In a temporary arrangement, both the remote worker and the manager may initially struggle with time differences, stable internet connectivity, or lack of in-person communication, leading to miscommunication.
A challenge many businesses fear is how they’ll know if a remote worker is really working. A manager might fear that the employee has some other commitment that takes away from their job performance. It helps everyone when a position has easily defined daily goals and benchmarks. Perhaps the remote worker is expected to complete a certain number of reports or other quantifiable tasks each day. Establishing benchmarks that might not exist with an in-office worker can put management and employees on solid footing.
Managers should avoid attempts to micromanage remotely, such as setting high demands of being available to chat during “working hours.” Such “glued to the desk” tactics would not sit well with in-office workers—and probably would not even be attempted. Trust from the employer and personal responsibility by the remote worker are the keys for remote work.
It’s not uncommon for businesses to ask a telecommuting worker who lives in the area to come into the official workplace for regular meetings or to simply be present in the office one or two days a week. That is a major difference between remote work and telework. It helps employees and managers stay in touch, allows for in-person check-ins, and can help the telecommuting worker feel like they’re truly part of the team. Telecommuting is also a highly desirable perk for many job seekers and can help a business recruit the best candidates.
Remember that the goals of telecommuting include ensuring that employees are happier and more productive (which is bred from happiness), and that overhead is lowered. If employees are expected to come into the office too much, cost savings on that lower overhead can suffer.
Remote work vs. telework – The office of tomorrow is here
It’s no surprise that the digital era has also ushered in a new wave of remote workers. Technology has made it possible for many responsibilities to be completed remotely, which can benefit businesses who want a large pool of job applicants.
Besides actual company employees, subcontractors and freelance workers can include some level of telework and remote work. Many companies depend on outsourcing segments of their businesses to people who are self-employed or considered a 1099 worker. Subcontracted individuals might work in a coffee shop, a coworking space, home office, or just about anywhere in the world.
Today, data analysis, animation services, graphic design, computer programming and other products and services can involve working with people from across the globe. A manager might never meet the supplier in person other than through tele or video conferencing.
Whatever your company benefits the most from teleworkers or remote workers—or a combination of the two—managers will need to learn new skills to operate. It's worth the effort. The benefits of these new modes of employment can flow throughout a company. TriNet can help small businesses recruit, onboard and manage all types of employees, including teleworkers and remote workers.
This article was originally published in July of 2018 and has since been updated.