What is Remote Work Anyway?


What is remote work?

So maybe you’ve heard some things about remote work- and you’re wondering what the big deal is. Maybe though you’re not even sure what remote work is. What does it entail? Does everybody have to work at home? Nobody? Just certain people? How do you have meetings?

Do you even have meetings?

So it’s fair to say there’s a little uncertainty and murkiness for anyone who’s interested in riding the remote wave- or somebody who just wants to learn a little more about it, and so we should begin our introduction to remote work by explaining just what it is!

Remote Work Is Different From Telecommuting

Remote work (or teleworking, as it’s often referred to as well) is a pretty simple concept at its core. At the end of the day, remote work is just a group of employees who do not work out of a traditional office for a company. They may work from home, from a coffee shop, or from a co-working space: they may work in the same city, or a different one- or they may live in a different state or country entirely. Whether it’s one employee or the whole company, remote work is just that: employees who are not working from an office.

You may notice that this isn’t exactly a new concept. In fact, you’re probably wondering why we’ve come up for a new word you probably already knew: Telecommuting. Telecommuting has been around for decades, after all. However, it’s only within the past decade that internet and collaborative technologies have become robust enough that almost every employee can work remotely, not just those with specialized internet and communications technology. Tools like email, Slack, Zoom, and others have commodified the remote working space, and now an employee who can’t be fully effective from home is a rarity.

You’ve probably thought this too sometimes: the vast majority of work done by many white collar workers in this day and age is work that can be done anywhere, on any PC. Email works wherever there’s a web browser: Google Docs, Office 365, and Adobe Cloud can run anywhere there’s a good internet connection. Even domains that are strictly regulated are starting to open up to remote work: Doctors and lawyers can now use telemedicine and teleworking software that complies with strict HIPAA and confidentiality laws, and as a result more and more of them are also working remotely.

Telecommuting, however, is, at its core, different from remote work in many ways. You can even spot the difference in the name itself: “telecommuting”. Telecommuting implies that the office is still the focal point, the gathering place where the actual work and production happens: employees who are telecommuting are using new software and hardware at their disposal to get to the office, where everyone else already is: in this conceptual framework, an employee’s tools are simply a way to get them to have a presence in an existing office, presumably with other employees already there physically.

This is a stark contrast to what remote work is, and what remote work offers to employers and employees alike. Remote work isn’t just having the tools to do your work remotely: it’s also a fundamental paradigm shift, a movement away from the office being a necessary component of an organization’s beating heart. Software and hardware alone don’t enable a remote office: it’s also a cultural shift, a complete reworking of what a corporate culture is and how that culture can be transmitted across the world. Remote work isn’t just the enabling of your employees to work from places other than an office: it’s rethinking what it means to be a company in the 21st century, and establishing processes and workflows that reduce- and eventually eliminate- the need for a centralized office at all. 

So the idea of “working from home” is not exactly new: the rise of a constellation of complementary software and hardware means that telecommuting is now no longer the provenance of a select few who can make it work, like freelancers or consultants who didn’t have an office. It also, means, however, that we are moving beyond that simple definition: we’re moving into an era of remote work, work that completely, radically changes what it even means to have an “office”.

Telework Is Here To Stay- And Growing

As a result of just how easy it is to do all of your work from anywhere with a stable internet connection, remote work has taken off in the past decade and gone mainstream: in just ten years, remote work has grown 400% and shows no sign of stopping. A full 98% of workers, when surveyed, said they would prefer to work from home at least some of the time. 400% growth is an incredible number! You’ll hear about the remote worker trend, but that doesn’t truly give this phenomenon justice. It’s a sea change in how employees and business are operating, a paradigm shift that is changing the American white collar work landscape and shows no sign of stopping as it rolls across all sorts of different regions, industries, and people.

 It’s not just a trend: it’s a wave. 

And it’s not hard to see why: workers are increasingly aware of the vast benefits that come with being able to work remotely. Working remotely lets them live wherever they want: they can be close to their family upstate, or work out of the vast country home they’ve always wanted hours away from any city. Without a long commute, they have more time to get personal things done in the mornings before work and the afternoons after work, and they can shift their schedules to accommodate letting the kids in after school, take care of a loved one, or take the continuing education course they’ve always wanted to do.

This flexibility enables remote workers to be happier and healthier: recent studies have shown that remote worker morale and mental health is considerably higher on average than on-site workers, and both remote workers and on-site workers are noticing. Remote work has entered the consciousness of the average American worker, and it’s not likely to leave any time soon!

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