Finding a Job

Q&A: What is Telecommuting?

Jun 30, 2020

What is telecommuting?

Put simply, telecommuting is when someone does their job outside their company’s office. Also known as teleworking, telecommuting differs from freelancing. As a freelancer, you’re an independent worker and can pick your own hours. A teleworker, on the other hand, is employed by one company, but does the actual work elsewhere. These part- or full workers swap their daily commute for phone calls, email and tools such as Slack or Skype.

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Types of Telecommuting

As all manner of global companies are now finding out, many jobs can be done away from the office. Often, all you need is Wi-Fi. In the main, telecommuting jobs fall into three categories - based on where and how the work is done. These are:

  • Remote work: A remote worker does their job in a place separate to the firm’s physical office. This might be from home, a coworking space, coffee shop or even the park. These employees may occasionally nip to the office for a meeting or appraisal. People who travel as part of their job - salespeople, for example - are also considered remote workers.
  • Virtual job: A position that provides 100% geographic independence, a virtual job has no need for employees to work in an office. Indeed, some companies offering these roles don’t have an office at all, and largely employ contractors. Though you’ll have a job title and fixed responsibilities (for the company’s tax and regulatory needs, if nothing else), virtual jobs offer a lot of flexibility.
  • Work-from-home job: Depending on the job, working from home may require you to have a home office. More often - as many self-isolating homeworkers are currently learning - you can do your job at the kitchen table, sofa or, for ultimate comfort, in bed. Many are expected to work during standard business hours, although there’s a growing trend of companies embracing flexibility, focusing instead on results. As such, some workers are encouraged to choose the working hours that suit them.

What kinds of telecommuting jobs are there?

You might be surprised to know that telecommuting jobs are everywhere. They exist in nearly every industry - you just can’t see the staff, by nature.

Here are several industries that typically have telecommuting positions available:

Customer service

Sales and marketing

Information technology and computing

Education, training and coaching

Health care

Administration

While some employers don’t usually offer telecommuting, the COVID-19 crisis has forced many firms to reconsider what can be achieved remotely. Aside from key worker roles, most new jobs will include some form of telecommuting and, once normal life has resumed, this could yet become the new normal. In particular, roles that don’t include frequent in-person interaction will be done remotely more and more.

Why might telecommuting have a location requirement?

Usually, the beauty of telecommuting is that you’re able to work anywhere. But it’s not always this way - some roles do have location requirements. For example, you might be able to work remotely but, occasionally, are needed at the office for a meeting or event. If the company you work for is based nearby, it might not be an issue. Yet, if the firm is in a different city, country, or even continent, this in-person requirement causes the very problem telecommuting promises to solve.

Another reason some organisations have location rules is tax and legal requirements. For example, if you hold a certain qualification or licence, you may only be eligible for positions in the country you got it from.

Pros and cons of telecommuting

Teleworking offers benefits for employers and employees alike, but it can also present challenges. Employers love telecommuting as it costs them less, can increase job satisfaction and, despite stereotypes on the contrary, productivity rarely dips. For employees, they’re spared the time and effort of commuting. And, for those who are able to manage the pitfalls, there’s a better work-life balance to be had.

Admittedly, some telecommuters do experience a loss of direction when out of the office. Others struggle for focus, and miss working around other people. To maximise the benefits - and limit the drawbacks - careful planning, scheduling and a well-defined workspace are key.

Related: Everything You Should Know About Working From Home

Factors to consider when applying for teleworking opportunities

Before, the flexibility of telework jobs made them a good fit for anyone who can’t stomach the standard work hours. Now, at a time that all non-essential jobs should be done from home, remote working is more attractive than ever. Here are a few factors to consider before taking a telecommuting role.

  • Qualifications. Does the company require previous telecommuting experience?
  • Flexibility. Does the employer allow 100% telecommuting, or only partial? Will you be working with supervisors, or will you dictate your own schedule? Do you need to log into an office portal during work hours, or use a time-tracking app?
  • Location. What options do you have in terms of workspace? Does the firm’s insurance cover you while working off-site?
  • Security and equipment. What supplies does the company provide? This may or may not include a computer, printer, phone, internet modem and cybersecurity. Will the kit fit in your home? Can you use public Wi-Fi, if needed?
  • Communication. What tools do you need to communicate with the rest of the company? Does the role require frequent meetings? Are you familiar with technology the company uses?
  • Distractions. When telecommuting, it’s vital to maintain the same discipline and motivation you’d have in a physical office. Consider whether a virtual work environment would be productive for you, and if you can stay motivated amid the daily distractions.

Done right, remote work is great for all parties. But it’s not a perfect science, and is often unstructured. While many people enjoy the flexibility it provides, others prefer a fixed schedule or routine. Before you accept a telecommuting job, do your research, weigh up the options and think about what’s right for you.