The term “remote work” has become very popular in recent years — and so have its many “synonyms”. According to Global Workplace Analytics, close to 5 million Americans currently work from home part of the time — or more. Plus, the Owl Labs’ 2019 State of Remote Work report concludes that over 80% of employees do want to complete at least part of their work assignments from home.
When we talk about remote work, we use the terms “working from home,” “telecommuting,” and “digital nomads” interchangeably. There are also a lot of posts online that explore the pros and cons of working from home vs. working in an office. Most of the time, the terms above are used to refer to the same work arrangement.
However, while all these notions are definitely similar — they are not exactly the same.
In today’s article, we explore the differences between remote work and telecommuting jobs.
What Is Telecommuting?
The term “telecommuting” first appeared back in the early 70s and was introduced by a former NASA communications system engineer Jack Nilles. He was one of the first people to extensively explore the possibility of using modern technology to work away from the office. His discoveries were later published in a book titled “The Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff: Options for Tomorrow.”
When Jack Nilles researched telecommuting options, his primary intention was to reduce our reliance on car travel. The motivation behind this were issues that we continue to experience to this day: air pollution, gridlock, gas shortage, and more.
In its first usage, telecommuting meant that workers would be reporting to satellite offices located closer to their homes than the company’s headquarters. Today, the term has somewhat evolved. It is mostly used to refer to the idea of maintaining a traditional office schedule while working part-time at an alternative worksite. This “alternative worksite” may be a satellite office — or, which is most likely these days, an employee’s home.
In his research, Nilles also mentioned the term “teleworking.” He described it as “any form of substitution of information technologies for work-related travel; moving the work to the workers instead of moving the workers to work”.
Telecommuting and teleworking are still used quite often these days. However, they are giving way to the more general term — “remote work”. This is what we will look into next.
What Is Remote Work?
While the term “telecommuting” has an interesting backstory, the origin of “remote work” is not exactly clear. According to some data, it was originally used to refer to those who used broadband technologies to work from any location. The idea presupposed that they were located too far from the company and commuting to the office was simply out of the question.
Remote work seems to be a much broader term than telecommuting. Freelancers, independent contractors, telecommuters can all refer to themselves as “remote workers”.
Currently, the idea of remote work encompasses a wide range of arrangements. What most of them do have in common is that these working arrangements are facilitated with the help of modern technology. These days, remote work is not solely reliant on a stable internet connection. You’ll need a wide range of tools to make it work.
Today’s remote workers have lots of instruments at their disposal. They can use messengers to stay in touch with colleagues and get immediate work updates. Project management software can help them organize and delegate even the most complicated workflow. Plus, time management solutions can be of great assistance to each worker individually when it comes to staying productive in an out-of-office environment.
Employers also have lots of digital help for managing remote employees. In addition to project management software meant to improve efficiency, there are also time tracking solutions that let employers analyze how work time is being used. Time trackers like Traqq work quietly in the background capturing screen activity and delivering accurate stats and timesheets on employee productivity. They don’t only make it easy to keep a record of working hours but also make important contributions to optimizing performance and profitability.
So, what is the actual difference between remote work and telecommuting? The truth is, these days, the terms are often used to describe the same thing. Both terms refer to the concept of working out of the office using modern technology.
When it comes to pinpointing what makes the two notions different, it probably comes down to whether a particular work arrangement involves no commute at all or a possibility of commuting. The term “remote work” presupposes that a worker is free to work from any place of their choosing: be that from home, a coffee shop, another continent, etc. Telecommuting, on the other hand, may involve both in and out of office work and is more focused on describing the relationship between the employer and the employee.