Teleworking vs. Remote Working Trends

Many articles have been written on this blog about the concept of remote working, including what is driving its popularity, the challenges and how to best engage with a remote sales team to drive improved performance. This post will look at trends tied to teleworking or telecommuting – which is different than remote working – although many use the terms interchangeably.

We’ll define the terms here, and then explore how this trend is impacting work environments and employment packages while presenting unique challenges on how best to manage this type of workforce that can literally work at any time, in any place.


Defining Remote Working

First, let’s define these terms, at least how I will use them in this article to avoid ambiguity. When I refer to “remote working” this is a more permanent situation. An employee that works remotely has a home office. And, more importantly, they don’t come into the office.

Remote workers likely don’t have an office or cubicle assigned to them, as it is expected they will either work from home, or work from the road while travelling. This is very typical with sales professionals, especially those working for companies that sell across regions or the world.

Under these types of scenarios, the company will likely pay for a computer, cell phone and supplies for that employee to use at home. This cost is an offset to the fact that the company won’t be paying the costs traditionally part of the cost of hiring an employee to work in an office.


Remote Working vs. Teleworking

Teleworking is less permanent, in so far as a teleworker likely has a corporate office they also work from. For example, this might be an employee that works a day or two from home, to avoid driving into the office to save time and cost. Other benefits might be to arrange for services at one’s home, to watch a sick child or elderly parent, or to perhaps work on an intense project that could benefit from a quieter work environment.

I fall into this bucket, working one day a week from home. I find that my productivity is at or better than when I go into the office. It also affords me a different perspective when doing creative tasks such as writing or other marketing-related activities.

According to Global Workplace Analytics, about 2.9 percent of U.S. workers (3.9 million people) consider the home a primary place of work – the remote workforce – compared to 20 to 25 percent of U.S. workers that telecommute at least once each year (source). Clearly, teleworking has gone mainstream.


Who Teleworks?

To start, teleworkers are more educated than non-telecommuters – 53 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher and 72 percent have some college or higher. Teleworkers tend to be older. A greater proportion of older employees telecommute relative to total population – 50.3 percent of people over age 45, compared to 41.3 percent of the total workforce (source).

Teleworking is not just happening in the U.S. It is alive and well across Europe and the Asia Pacific regions. One thing is consistent across regions. Most teleworkers work one day or less a week from home. Asia Pacific teleworkers are most committed, with 68 percent working one day or less a week; North America workers are next at 58 percent, followed by Europeans and 51 percent (source).

Benefits of Teleworking are numerous. According to the latest PGi Global Telework Survey published on April 24, 2017, the following advantages (at an aggregate level) of teleworking are possible:

  • 35 billion fewer miles driven in the U.S.
  • 73 percent of employees surveyed said they eat healthier when working from home
  • 43 percent of remote workers produce more business volume than in-office counterparts

Not all teleworkers are created equal. Jobs with the highest telecommuting rate (half time or more) include computer and mathematical occupations (8.2 percent), military-specific occupations (7.2 percent) and arts, design, entertainment, sports and media occupations (5.9 percent) (source).

Global Workplace Analytics also calculated that 56 percent of all jobs are telework-compatible. If 85 percent of people in those jobs wished to telecommute at least some of the time, the collective savings would total over $750 billion a year nationally.


What is Better – Remote Working or Teleworking?

Of course, the answer to this question lies more in what is the desired objective, and from what perspective you have. We all read about IBM’s recent announcement to stop all remote working, a proclamation that began with their marketing department and has spread to other departments. This announcement has been billed as the end of Remote Working. Employees must now work from a corporate office, reporting into the office each day. The question that has gone unanswered is if Teleworking will be allowed?

I would suggest that the likely answer is “no,” however, the blurring lines between what work is done at home and what is done in the office might reveal a different “truth” about what will result as the new norm at IBM.

One thing is for certain. Technology has enabled a new norm with regards to what work can be done where – it is unlikely this trend will just go away. Rather, it will likely continue to accelerate. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article titled “Why Remote Work Can’t Be Stopped.” In this article, the author explained that the proportion of Americans who only worked remotely rose to 20% in 2016 from 15% in 2012, according to a recent Gallup survey. This is a higher figure than reported in other surveys – I suspect that both teleworking and remote working were blurred in the results.

The article also mentioned that when Dell recently surveyed its 110,000 employees about their work habits, it discovered something surprising: While only 17% of Dell’s employees were formally authorized to work wherever they prefer, 58% were already working remotely at least one day a week.  Fortunately, the company is fine with it, citing that this was a company policy to encourage this choice. This is either a good public relations commentary or, Dell considers the benefits outweigh the costs.

Taking a clear company line and cultural outlook is essential. Dominic Price, Work Futurist at Atlassian shared the importance of company values on deciding the importance of remote work for your organization. Adding remote working options to the wrong team can potentially create new dysfunctions, but if you focus on remote working as an efficient way for your company to grow then it can become a pillar of company culture.

My conclusion is that the best option is what works for you and your company. A balanced approach is likely a good strategy. Only working from one’s home might be good for some positions, where travel is so frequent, that it really doesn’t matter where you are. As long as some of that travel involves going into the corporate office, this strategy should work just fine.

Alternatively, if you can strike a balance to telework one or two days a week, and can still find the time to stay connected with your co-workers, be present for all hands meetings and contribute to those collaborative projects, then that sounds like a win-win scenario to me.