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Remote Work vs. Telecommuting – Differences, Benefits and Drawbacks

In today’s working world, many employers are learning to adapt to pandemic-safe work environments, which often include transitioning employees to remote and telecommuting positions. One common misconception is that ‘remote’ and ‘telecommuting’ are interchangeable terms and that the positions are exactly the same when there are actually a few distinct differences between the two. Read on to learn more about remote work vs. telecommuting and how this rapidly growing practice may affect your business. 


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What is a remote position?

The definition of working remotely is essentially performing work-related tasks outside of a traditional office environment. In many cases, people who work remotely do so out of home-based offices with setups that generally include a designated area for a desk, computer, and other tools needed to complete the tasks at hand. 


When employees are working in remote positions exclusively, they typically communicate with their supervisors and co-workers via email, group text, and video chat platforms such as Zoom and Skype. These platforms and messaging options allow colleagues to share files, attend meetings, and connect with one another almost instantly, just as they would in an office setting. Remote workers can also submit their time cards and invoices to payroll virtually. 


What is a telecommuting position?

Telecommuting positions have a lot of the same aspects as remote positions, such as working at a home office, communicating with supervisors and colleagues online, and handling day-to-day tasks outside of the office. However, when a job is posted as a telecommuting position, this often means that employees are required to commute to a brick and mortar office part of the time. 


For example, a telecommuter may be given an assignment or project to complete from home or a remote location. However, instead of submitting the assignment virtually, the employee is required to travel to the office to turn in the work. Other examples of telecommuting include working from home throughout the week and attending in-person staff meetings, working three days at home and two days at the office, and visiting the office once a week to turn in time cards or payroll invoices. 


Jobs that are referred to as ‘partial telecommuting’ are essential in today’s modern workforce. They enable employers to lower overhead costs, including IT, utilities, and other expenses due to supporting full-time office employees. Telecommuting positions also help keep communication more open between employers and employees when in-person check-ins and working a few days in the office are required. 


Main difference between remote work vs. telecommuting

There are many similarities between remote working and telecommuting. The main difference between the two is that while remote workers generally work exclusively from home or remote locations, telecommuters are often required to work at least one day or more per week at an office, and in-person check-ins are commonplace. 


Types of remote and telecommuting positions

Telecommuting and remote job duties often include administrative tasks such as typing, creation of documents, data entry, and many others. Here are some common jobs that are performed partially (telecommuting) and fully remote:


  • Virtual assistant: A virtual assistant assists businesses with a wide range of tasks that include scheduling appointments, taking phone calls, creating spreadsheets and presentations, and sending and answering emails. Virtual assistants work for large corporations as well as sole proprietors, schools, and non-profit organizations. Typically, they can perform most duties from home or anywhere with internet access, and they may also be responsible for errands such as mailing documents or packages from the post office.
  • Medical coders: Medical coders assist healthcare professionals with entering data for medical billing and insurance purposes. Coders transform specific healthcare data into alphanumeric codes, which are then entered into databases and utilized to create insurance claims. Medical coders can access files and databases and submit forms via home computers when working remotely.
  • Transcribers/Typists: Transcribers, also referred to as typists, work for a wide range of industries that include the medical field, legal field, and entertainment industry. Transcribers can easily work remotely, as they can access video and audio files through virtual servers and over email. A transcriber is responsible for listening to provided files and creating a typed document of the audio in each file. While specific instructions can vary per client, files are generally typed out verbatim into a virtual document, then proofread and edited.
  • Online Order/Customer Service Representative: Online order representatives work for various companies and assist with taking orders for products such as clothing, electronics, furniture, and groceries. They process payments, enter shipping and billing information into databases, process returns and refunds, and handle customer service inquiries. Online customer service reps can access company databases and servers via home computers which allows them to work in a fully remote fashion. 

Benefits of hiring remote employees and telecommuters

Multiple benefits come with utilizing remote employees, from offering more flexible working schedules to overall cost-effectiveness. Additionally, the growing popularity of remote work opens up a wider talent pool for employers, as they can hire employees from anywhere in the world. 


Peace of mind during the Covid-19 pandemic

While remote and telecommute jobs have been a common aspect of the workforce for some time, the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed the practice to the forefront for many employers. Many brick-and-mortar businesses had to quickly reassess their working environments and transition their workers into remote positions. Utilizing remote workers during the pandemic is beneficial because it allows employees to keep their jobs during uncertain times and helps ensure the health and safety of both staff and management. 


Financial benefits

When looking at remote and telecommuting workers from a financial standpoint, employers benefit from utilizing this type of workforce in several ways: For example, if a business switches to a remote model where all employees, upper management, and owners work from home, it can eliminate the need for computer equipment in the office, and in many cases, eliminate the need for a physical office entirely. This helps to significantly reduce the overhead costs of running a business. 


Happy employees

When employers provide the option of working remotely, it allows for more flexibility for workers, which often helps to heighten morale and promote teamwork. In addition, working from home helps alleviate the stress some employees may experience due to long commutes, high-paced office environments, and even personal matters. Working in a more relaxed environment such as a home office can actually increase productivity, as studies have shown. Remote workers tend to sleep better and avoid workplace exhaustion. 


Potential drawbacks of remote workers and telecommuters

While the benefits of utilizing remote workers and telecommuters are plenty, a few drawbacks can accompany this type of work model. Fortunately, employers can often avoid issues by implementing remote work policies that specifically outline overall expectations and rules pertaining to confidentiality and security. Once the policies are implemented, employers should do their best to ensure that all guidelines are followed. 


Here are some common issues that may arise with remote businesses:


Low productivity

While a relaxed working environment encourages productivity in certain employees, others tend to be more productive in office settings when supervisors are on-site, and a more formal attitude is expected. If an employee’s productivity has started to slip since transitioning to remote work, this can often be remedied by assigning specific tasks that must be completed within certain time frames. 


IT issues

Since remote employees generally connect with employers and colleagues online, issues such as database glitches, video and camera playback issues, and other IT matters can lead to significant delays in production. While certain computer catastrophes cannot be predicted, it’s always a good idea for employers to have a designated IT person on standby. 


Communication problems

One of the most common drawbacks to remote work and telecommuting is the potential for miscommunication. Emailing, group chats and other forms of virtual communication can sometimes become ‘lost in translation,’ which can lead to missed deadlines, mistakes, and general confusion among employees. One way to help ensure that everyone is on the same page is by scheduling meetings via Zoom, Skype, or other online platforms at the start of each workday, so all remote employees have the chance to communicate face-to-face before proceeding with the day’s tasks. 

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