Also called telecommuting, telework refers to the rising workforce trend that allows employees to join meetings and perform other work-related tasks from outside a traditional office. The practice of working from home eliminates the need to commute to an office by making use of the internet, email, or phone to communicate with management, co-workers, and clients. Telecommuting is a move away from to traditional working culture, where employees are required to come to a central location during normal working hours to perform their tasks.
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Telework vs. remote work
Telework is sometimes used interchangeably with remote work, but telework/telecommuting usually indicates that the employee is physically located in proximity to the company’s office and chooses to work in another location. Remote work, on the other hand, suggests that the employee is located further away from the office and works from home (or another external location) full time.
Although the terms teleworking and telecommuting are used interchangeably, there are some significant differences between them. Telecommuting is a term that comes under the wider concept of teleworking. All telecommuters are also called teleworkers, whereas not all teleworkers are called telecommuters.
For example, software engineers do not need to visit a client’s office or any other worksites, and they are known as telecommuters, whereas marketing professionals need to visit their clients regularly; however, they don’t need to come to the office daily, and they may come under the category of teleworkers.
How does it work?
Teleworking is a border term that encompasses telecommuting and also the practice of working from any place such as hotels, coffee shops, parks, etc., where an employee is comfortable and available with reliable telecommunication and internet facilities.
Initially, teleworking was common among employees when only landline-telephones and fax machines were available to communicate. And steadily growing technology, particularly the internet-based technology and telecommunication facilities, enables employees to move forward with teleworking.
Devices like a personal computer such as a desktop or laptop, smartphone, and printer along with a Wi-Fi connection and essential software applications make teleworking more practical these days. Teleworkers can be available with a wide range of chat and meeting platforms like Google Meet, Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and more to discuss day-to-day duties and responsibilities.
Benefits and challenges of teleworking
Benefits of teleworking include reduced real estate footprint, reduced environmental destruction, and improved employee satisfaction/retention. When an employer allows employees to work outside the office, they effectively shrink the square footage they need to maintain day-to-day business operations. This saves money that can be repurposed for other initiatives. It also means companies are able to neutralize their carbon emissions. Plus, fewer commuters mean less traffic pollution. Numerous studies have also shown that most employees enjoy teleworking because of the flexibility and work-life balance it offers a sentiment that usually indicates higher employee retention.
Many employers and employees can take advantage of the following benefits of teleworking:
- Improved employee satisfaction: Teleworking may provide employees more control over their work. Since no one is distracted to get their job done, they would be more satisfied.
- Reduced expenditure: Teleworking helps employees to save on travel expenses and clothing. On the other hand, employers need not worry about expanding the office space.
- Improved productivity: While working from home, employees can have flexible working hours and meet all their specific needs on time, which helps employees to increase their productivity.
- Enhanced work-life balance: Teleworking offers employees extra time that helps them to keep a perfect work-life balance.
- Increased flexibility: Flexible working hours provide employees the choice to work at their convenience.
- Skilled workers: Teleworking enables employers to hire skilled workers from anywhere across the world.
Challenges of teleworking include security challenges, increased efforts needed in communication/collaboration, and maintaining employee engagement. However, technology can help address these challenges. A company-wide virtual private network (VPN) and mandatory backups will help with security and data recovery. Video conferencing tools like Zoom or Webex and instant messaging apps like Slack or Teams help ensure employees are able to communicate in real time and stay connected despite physical distance. Many employers are also using technology to extend company culture beyond the walls of the office. Continuous learning programs, frequent check-ins, virtual team outings, and project management tools like Asana or Wrike will help make sure no employee feels isolated or uninformed.
Whatever may be the advantages and disadvantages of teleworking, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased its relevance. According to Pew Research Center, over the course of the pandemic, the percentage of U.S. teleworkers increased from 20% to 71%. After the pandemic, 54% of U.S. workers would like to continue teleworking.