Telecommuting is a work arrangement in which an employee (in the capacity of a contractor, freelancer, consultant, full-time, or part-time) works outside of the office space, usually from home, a café, or a co-working space. Rather than the traditional schedule of commuting to an office building, employees enjoy the flexibility of working from their desired location.
Due to leaps in communication technology, it’s simpler than ever to reach out and stay in touch with colleagues. Employees contact their coworkers and managers through pre-approved telecommunication channels like phone calls, email, or popular messaging apps. Depending on the nature of the role and the organization, the employee might be required to visit the office premises regularly (weekly, bimonthly, etc.) to take meetings and briefs with upper management.
Telecommuting, also known as teleworking, work from home, mobile or remote work, is usually performed on a laptop/ desktop computer, or a tablet device over Wi-Fi or mobile internet. Telework is quickly gaining popularity among employers and employees alike as it removes the hassle of everyday commute and saves a ton of money for both parties. Typical telecommuting jobs include full-stack developers, graphic designers, video editors, copywriters, virtual assistants, translators, video/audio captioners and transcribers, social media managers, SEO specialists, and account managers, among several others.
The History and Progression of Telecommuting
Most people tend to credit the rise of digital nomads for the boom in remote work, but telecommunication has been around for quite a while.
While the roots of telework can be traced back to the decades following World War II, organizations were largely reluctant to implement it. In response to a scarcity of non-renewable resources, traffic, and dubiously planned urban areas, Jack M. Nilles penned a formal case study called ‘The Telecommunication-Transportation Trade-Off’ in 1973. Nilles, a former NASA engineer, tried to tackle the issues facing modern-day workers. Amidst the national energy crisis surrounding the OPEC oil embargo, Nilles explored the idea of moving the work to the workers, rather than moving the workers to the work. Several impactful factors of telework were studied in depth including productivity, cost benefits, the energy conservation angle, executive decisions, and policies around remote work.
Then, the idea of redesigning job roles to be self-contained at individual locations began to gain traction in the 90s. A sudden explosion of communication technology re-sparked the debate around remote work. A huge step towards realizing the idea of telework in actuality was the invention of the transmission control protocol and internet protocol (TCP/IP.) Providing iron-clad standards of secure data transmission was crucial.
Next up, the Interagency Telecommuting Pilot Project was created in 1992. In this project, government agencies in Washington D.C attempted to turn the use of external telecenters into a mainstream activity. In an attempt to draw national attention to the importance of telework, AT&T celebrated the first ‘Employee Telecommuting Day’ in 1994. By 1996, the US government was backing and promoting the National Telecommuting Initiative (NTI.) Things began to snowball from here, with the invention of digital mobile phones, 2G, texting, and personal digital assistants (PDAs.)
With the birth of broadband service for mobiles, 3G internet, and archaic versions of social media, communication in the early 2000s reached new heights. Hand-held devices and e-readers became more affordable and accessible, while applications like Slack, Hootsuite, and Skype were being leveraged to create and maintain remote teams. As large corporations like Apple, Yahoo, and IBM began inculcating remote work into everyday operations, the market scrambled to supply the rising demand in detached, independent workplaces. Wi-Fi was implemented across libraries, cafes, and hotel rooms. Co-working spaces, like WeWork, began to spring up across the country.
As of today, reports suggest that about 4.3 million workers work from home at least half the time. Remote work has exploded by over 100% in the last decade alone, while 16% of all American companies exclusively hire remote workers.
The Perks of Telecommuting
Telecommuting clearly has several advantages, considering its growing popularity. Telecommuting has been proven to increase productivity through surveys of remote workers and management executives. Home offices or external work environments of an employee’s choosing tend to fit their needs better – in terms of comfort, noise levels, and access to resources. These factors help employees work for longer periods of time with higher levels of concentration.
Commuting to the workplace every day is stressful and induces high levels of fatigue, especially in crowded cities. Mental stress levels, body pain, health conditions caused due to pollutants are common effects of a long commute. Taking these unnecessary liabilities out of the picture can increase overall well-being and saves employees a ton of money. Employers, on the other hand, can reinvest the money on sales and R and D by slashing operating budgets like rent on large office spaces, utilities, internet, furnishing, cleaning, and food costs.
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Remote work is extremely popular across the world, and western employers have the option of leveraging foreign talent for cheaper prices instead of hiring full-time in-house employees. This lets companies access a much larger and more diverse workforce pool while cutting down on costs significantly.
The Cons of Telecommuting
While communication channels are improving every day, technology isn’t always reliable. Time zone issues, connectivity issues (like broadband or mobile internet malfunction), or other unforeseen circumstances can hinder the workflow greatly.
While telecommuters have the flexibility of choosing their workplace, they lose out on an important factor of communal work – the socializing. In an age where most people’s identity revolves around their profession, constantly working from home can get lonely. While excessive and unfocused socializing can be a waste of time, not having team members to chat with or seek guidance from is not optimal. This can hamper productivity, especially of the chosen workplace comes with distractions.
Developments in the AR/VR technology sphere are set to take telecommuting to the next level. Mobile remote-working tools, real-time virtual dashboards, virtual reality conferencing, and 5G technology aren’t just science fiction anymore, they’re here to stay. Disciplined, experienced remote workers typically tend to refuse on-site job roles as they’re confident in finding flexible, higher-paying telework. Large corporations are reaping benefits of remote work and are investing in technology that provides seamless collaboration, like Hive. Telecommuting isn’t just here to stay, it’s the future of work as we know it.
5 Great Telecommuting Jobs
Freelancers and consultants who are starting their remote work career can always browse through platforms like Upwork, Freelancer, and PeoplePerHour. This gives potential freelancers an accurate idea of the roles in demand, the skills required, and the general pay to expect. But it is important to remember that these platforms work on a bidding model, and the going prices do not reflect industry standards. While getting started and building skills is important, valuing work at the right price is also crucial for scaling growth.
If you’re in the market for remote work, here are a few types of jobs that you can look into:
- Web Developer: A background in computer science is helpful, but this isn’t always a requirement. There are several free boot camps online to start coding and learn the basics. Companies like Automattic and Toptal typically hire experienced engineers.
- Ad Rating, Content Curation: For workers with less developed skillset, companies like Lionbridge and Appen provide a range of odd jobs and projects with decent pay. While positions in the US are higher-paying, the roles are open worldwide.
- Teaching English: Native English speakers with a bachelor’s degree can work remotely by teaching English to Asian students through apps and websites like Palfish, Landi English, and Cambly.
- Travel Consultant: For organized, meticulous workers, travel consultancy is the way to go. These roles at ADTRAV Corporation and Kemp Travel Group are ideal for travel enthusiasts who can think quickly on their feet and have a knack for finding the best deal.
- Virtual Assistant: For people starting out, a virtual assistant role is great to help pay the bills while learning new skills like Excel and WordPress. Zirtual, Fancy Hands and Lifebushido are some companies to look at.
Are there any other jobs you know of that are great for teleworking? Let us know in the comments below.