Two forces have pushed the business world in a new direction over the last several years.
- The first is the increasing viability and prevalence of communications technology. Better, faster, more effective technology has enabled more options for remote work.
- The second is the pandemic. Concerns over life, health, and safety have led many businesses to invest further in those technologies to keep their workers safe and provide more flexibility for those who would otherwise quit when forced to work in an office.
Combined, these have led to increased prevalence and preference for remote work, and, as such, several different kinds of remote work have started to come to the forefront. The three main types are Remote work, Telecommuting, and Hybrid work.
The question is, what’s the difference between them?
All three are unconventional when viewed across the history of working, but they’re all pushing in the same direction. So, let’s learn more about each type.
Type 1: Telecommuting
Telecommuting is the oldest of the three. It has a history that stretches back as far as the 1970s.
“The term was used for the first time in the early ’70s by Jack Nilles, a former NASA communications system engineer who searched for ways to reduce reliance on car travel using technology. These workers had to report to satellite offices, which were located closer to their homes, reducing the need to travel long distances.” – Range.
In the past, it referred specifically to sub-offices and the workers who worked in those offices rather than in the main headquarters of the company.
In the decades since, telecommuting has taken on a different meaning. These days, rather than working in hub offices, telecommuting often refers to employees who work from home or a remote location – like while on a business trip or from a vacation destination – but spend at least part of their time in the main office.
The main office, in this case, can still refer to a satellite office. A company like General Motors, for example, has a World Headquarters located in the Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan. However, they have central offices in many locations worldwide, including at least one facility in nearly every state. Telecommuters don’t telecommute to the Detroit facility; they telecommute to whichever facility hired them.
The primary benefits of telecommuting are:
- Safety. During inclement weather, in times of sickness, when family health issues impact availability, and during other adverse events, an employee can telecommute to get work done while reducing the use of a vehicle and reducing risk to both the employee and the office.
- Flexibility. Employees who want to get work done when the main office may be closed can still telecommute into the office to work.
- Savings. Businesses save money by reducing parking needs, travel reimbursement, and other expenses. Employees save money by not spending their time commuting or money on gas or public transportation.
Telecommuting lacks some benefits of other forms of distance work, however. Additionally, these businesses still maintain central offices and do most of their work from those offices, whether it’s a singular headquarters or a range of facilities across the nation or around the world.
Type 2: Fully Remote Work
Fully remote work is a relatively new paradigm developing over the last twenty years but has only been flourishing in the last five years.
Fully remote work refers to companies that are 90-100% remote. They may have a “head office,” but that office is generally a tiny rented space used for tax purposes and not meant to be a location where actual work gets done.
Every employee works remotely, from the CEO to the newest entry-level worker in a fully remote company. They might work out of their own home, out of a home office, out of a rented space they use as office space, out of a local coffee shop, or anywhere else. All work gets done using primarily online communications methods, web services, cloud services, and other modern technologies.
Benefits of fully remote work include:
- Complete flexibility. A remote worker can live anywhere they want, as long as they can access the internet and the company services and get their work done. They can move, take vacations, and work from a different location every day if they so desire.
- Broad geographic collaboration. Remote companies can hire people anywhere in the world with an internet connection. It’s not uncommon for fully remote companies to incorporate workers from a wide range of countries, giving them the option to hire the best candidates from anywhere rather than centrally located workers near their headquarters.
- Business savings. A fully remote business saves a ton of money with the expenses they don’t need to pay. What gets eliminated? Leasing and utilities for an office, parking, travel reimbursement, and the many costs of operating a headquarters.
Fully remote might seem like an excellent option for any business, but there are notable drawbacks.
First and foremost, it takes a specific kind of person to work remotely. Some people don’t do well working from home where they’re asked to manage their own time and reduce distractions. Some people have inconsistent internet connections and struggle to work. Some need more of an in-person sense of collaboration to be effective.
Additionally, some tasks and some operations cannot get done remotely. A company operating a manufacturing operation still needs people there in person to manage machines and assembly. No matter how automated a facility becomes, it still requires human oversight to function.
One thing to note is that some people consider there to be a difference between Remote and Distributed work. In truth, this distinction is essentially meaningless. In their definitions, Remote work is still centered around a geographic location or central office, but few, if any, employees work at the office. Meanwhile, Distributed work is more like what we’ve described above.
Type 3: Hybrid Work
As you might expect, hybrid work combines remote workers and in-person workers.
It’s an extensive category that can cover a lot of different kinds of operations.
- Default Digital. The company maintains an office and allows people to come in to work but enables employees to work remotely if they desire and has no qualms about hiring fully remote workers.
- Static Hybrid. The company hires some employees as remote workers and some as in-person workers. Everyone has their default, and the company uses both. Often, the remote workers are contractors while the in-person workers are employees, though this isn’t always the case.
- Dynamic Hybrid. The company hires people based on their skills and allows them to choose how to work. They are also allowed to change their mind and transition between remote and in-person as their needs change.
- Synchronized Hybrid. This hybrid form is often a version of remote work where everyone works remotely but still must maintain “business hours” rather than a task-focused work format where they can work whenever they like.
- Partial Hybrid. In this format, the company is primarily an in-person business but allows employees 2-3 “flex days” per week where they are allowed to telecommute instead. Most, or all, employees are expected to spend at least some of their time in the office.
There’s a lot of variation between these kinds of hybrid models, as well. For example, some companies take a partial hybrid approach; but rather than allow employees to choose which days to work remotely, they specify which days the employees must come into the office.
Hybrid work has many benefits. First and foremost, it allows the company to choose the options that work best for them, and the flexibility allows for adjustment on an annual basis. If your company experiments with a hybrid model and determines that it raises employee morale and productivity, further adjustment towards remote work can be effective. It allows every company to strike the balance that is most effective for their operations.
Which Choice is Best for Your Company?
With all of these variations available, the next question is, which one is best for your company?
Unfortunately, there’s no correct answer to this. Instead, you have to ask yourself questions about your situation and the benefits you might gain from a transition to a hybrid or remote plan.
Would your company benefit from hiring workers in remote locations?
The answer to this one is almost always yes. From geographic diversity to thought diversity, diversity in the workforce is extremely important and beneficial to virtually every company. Numerous statistics back up this conclusion.
However, a transition from a primarily in-person workforce to a remote and distributed workforce can take a lot of adjustment. Some people might not be able to get used to it right away, and others may not be able to handle it at all. There will almost always be growing pains.
That’s why many companies that operate traditionally in the office begin by adding hybrid and remote workers; to establish the technology and collaboration habits necessary to function. Then they proceed by allowing existing employees to transition to hybrid or remote positions. Eventually, they find the sweet spot in a hybrid model that works for them.
Does your company have the infrastructure necessary to handle remote work?
Remote work requires investment in technology. From cloud services to VPNs to an always-up connection, it can be a significant expense to set up and keep operational. This is doubly true if you’re hiring remote workers from around the world, with the variance in internet service in far-off locations.
Most companies do not have the infrastructure, collaborative tools, cloud services, or IT staff necessary to handle a hybrid or remote workforce. Some may think they do, only to find that the infrastructure collapses under the weight of a majority remote workforce as opposed to a majority in-office workforce. The pandemic brought this to the forefront and spurred a nearly unprecedented investment in remote work technology for many companies.
Does your company have operations that require in-person work or collaboration?
Some companies can never operate fully remote. Whether they have in-person services, hands-on collaboration, physical machines, and tools, or just a need to work in personal teams, digital services can only replace so much.
Maybe, in another few decades, virtualization and robotics will allow for “in-person” work controlled by remote workers. While some of this exists in the form of drones and robots, it’s unlikely to ever fully come about. Machines break down, and sooner or later, someone will need to review and repair the mechanisms involved.
On the other hand, many companies – such as those providing web services or software products – do not need to operate in the same office. As more and more of the older generation retire and are replaced by digital natives, remote work will grow in prominence.
Would you need to downsize certain departments or employees when transitioning to remote work?
One of the biggest shifts when transitioning a company to remote work is discovering that your company employs more team leaders and middle managers than is perhaps necessary. Often, managers justify their jobs by micromanaging in a way that actually reduces productivity. The transition to remote work makes it more evident that these employees have no fundamental role within the company, and their positions are eventually eliminated.
Some companies find this distasteful. At best, it will require restructuring and retraining those employees to perform other duties. At worst, it involves downsizing and layoffs, which is always a significant shift and receives pushback. You’ll need to make sure your company can handle this situation should it occur.
So, is remote work or a hybrid work model suitable for your company? The answer is probably yes, at least in terms of hybrid work. Almost every company can benefit from hiring at least a handful of remote workers, so long as the appropriate steps are taken to ensure they’re treated as full employees, and they can contribute to the company’s operations fully.
Have any additional questions or concerns regarding remote, telecommute, or hybrid work? Please feel free to leave a comment down below, and we’ll get a conversation started! Understanding which type of work is best for your company can be challenging, so we’d be more than happy to answer any questions you may have!
Andrew Greenberg’s roots in recruiting date back to 1996. He has experience both on the agency-side and corporate-side of the staffing business, with a focus in the financial services space at companies like Bloomberg and UBS. He also has core experience with information technology staffing, and has worked for major software companies such as SAP Business Objects and IBM/Informix Software. To get in touch with Andrew, you can reach him by email or by phone at (800) 797-6160.