Telecommuting: What Is It? (With Examples)

By Kristin Kizer - Dec. 4, 2020
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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The world of telecommuting was a little niche at one point. A handful of the population “commuted” to their jobs virtually. Which really meant that they could do their work anywhere and didn’t have to sit in an office.

Along came a pandemic, and suddenly the business world was asking themselves, “what can we do virtually?” And very quickly, a large percentage of people began working from home. But what is telecommuting and working from home. Are they the same? Will those jobs stick around? And, for those who now never want to go back, what other telecommuting jobs are there?

Definition of Telecommuting

Telecommuting goes by a lot of different names. It can be called working from home, remote work, telework, electronic commuting, work from anywhere, etc. In more normal times, a flexible workplace means that there is an element of telecommuting. You might even telecommute occasionally or when you’re on the road.

Basically, telecommuting means that you’re doing work but not from a centralized office. And you’re using some sort of technology to do that work.

This is where it can be a little confusing. Telecommuting does not refer to a job that traditionally was out of the office, but one that would, under normal circumstances, be done in an office. Telecommuting also doesn’t have to happen from inside your home. If you’re doing work on a computer, you could be doing it in a shared office space, library, coffee shop, hotel, or other location.

In the ’90s, slogans along the lines of “work is what we do, not where we go” were used to describe telecommuting. At the time, everyone who could now do their job from anywhere using a computer thought they’d be telecommuting in the future. It didn’t quite work that way. Not until the pandemic hit.

Many employers weren’t so quick to get on the telecommuting bandwagon. They liked having their office staff in-house, where they’d always been. Change can be hard.

With the pandemic, telecommuting became a necessity. People had to stay home for their health and to protect others. But without telecommuting, many businesses would fail. It was time to change – and quickly.

Examples of Telecommuting

What jobs can be done remotely, and what can’t? It’s interesting how necessity changed the answer to that question. The following are some telecommuting or work from home jobs. Some have often been done that way, and some are more recently accepted as remote jobs.

  • Software developer. The tech field has long been open to the idea of telecommuting. They understand the power of technology more than most and see how software developer jobs can be done by the best people if they open up their employment to telecommuting.

  • Writer. There have always been remote writing jobs out there. Even before computers entered the arena, newspapers had foreign correspondents who didn’t work in the office. Today, that’s opened up, and all sorts of writers can work from the comfort of their home.

  • Customer service/call center operator. Working in a call center became a remote job when companies realized they could save money by hiring people in other countries. Then they realized they didn’t even need to pay for a brick and mortar call center building. Now a lot of this work is done by computer from someone’s home.

  • Teachers. Sure, almost since computers became a household-must there have been online universities. But when Covid-19 hit, just about every school was tossed into the telecommuting bucket without a paddle. Public school teachers suddenly had to learn how to effectively reach their students remotely. In the future, these skills will likely be rolled into their educational training.

  • Telehealth specialist. Telehealth is on the rise as medical offices are looking for ways to treat patients who don’t necessarily need to be seen in person. This is a field that was unimaginable for many in the past but will continue to grow in the future.

How Telecommuting Works

So how does telecommuting work? Rather than working together in person, people use computers and technology to connect with their co-workers, customers, bosses, etc. Some people are realizing that they don’t need much connection with others at all. Other people are taking advantage of the telephone, video chats, instant messaging or direct messaging, video meeting platforms like Zoom, and email.

Most jobs find having a good internet connection is vital to telecommuting. Once that is established, you can basically “phone” into a meeting anywhere in the world. Secure work channels can be opened up to your work computer at home, and work goes on as usual. Except now you’re in the comfort of your home and probably wearing cozier clothing.

When there isn’t a pandemic, telecommuting is still done by many people. Some do it one day a week; others do it every single day. There are also those people who travel for work. They telecommute when they’re on the road and may have a physical office when they’re back at base.

Most people only need a reliable computer, some security software, and an internet connection to telecommute. A few jobs require a bit more technology, specific to their industry.

Pros and Cons of Telecommuting for Employees

There are pros and cons of telecommuting for employees. Obviously, not every person is the same, so what is a pro to some, like being at home, could be a con to someone who has lousy internet connectivity and lots of kids at home. We’re going to generalize here with the pros and cons, with the understanding that you may feel differently.

  • Pros of Telecommuting

    • Comfort. Sitting in an office or cuddled up in your favorite chair at home. Which is more comfortable for you?

    • Flexibility. If you’re a morning person, telecommuting gives you the flexibility to start as soon as you wake up and take breaks when needed.

    • No commute. This is a huge benefit for a lot of workers. Skip the stress and wasted time of traffic.

    • Satisfaction. Studies show that people are much happier when they can work from home.

    • Saves money. Employees no longer have to have work wardrobes, no gas spent on commuting, no expensive lunches, etc. Lots of cost savings to be had.

    • No office distractions. For some, this is a significant benefit. They can focus without constant meetings and idle chatter from coworkers.

    • Better work-life balance. When you’re home, even working from home, you feel more connected to your life and less tied down by work.

  • Cons of Telecommuting

    • More distractions. It depends on the person, but some people simply cannot focus when they’re at home.

    • Tech troubles. In an office, you have those fantastic people in IT there to help with tech issues. When you’re at home, it’s nothing short of frustrating.

    • When is it quitting time? Many people find it hard to step away from work when it’s always right there.

    • Loneliness. Having that interaction with coworkers can be vital. You feel part of a community and connected to other humans.

    • Home office expenses. Your boss is no longer footing the bill for an office. Can you afford a home setup that works for you?

    • Drop in productivity. How can you get work done when there’s no one to tell you what to do or how to do it? You thrive on that friendly competition in the office.

    • Meetings. Constant meetings or emails, or instant messages can zap your productivity and make it hard to focus. What used to be accomplished quickly in the office is more of a challenge remotely.

Pros and Cons of Telecommuting for Employers

Again, these pros and cons are generalized. Some employers have unique situations where these pros and cons might not line up with their environment.

  • Pros of Telecommuting

    • Savings. Companies are realizing enormous cost savings now that they’ve opened their eyes to telecommuting. Suddenly, they don’t need as much office space and all of those added expenses.

    • Productivity. Some industries are surprised to see huge jumps in productivity as their staff works remotely.

    • Improved morale. If your employees are happier working from home, they’re happier working for you. This can result in less turnover and multiple associated benefits down the road.

    • Improved retention. As alluded to above, if your employees stick around, you save money and time training new people. It can also create continuity for customers that’s beneficial.

    • More operating hours. When your staff isn’t tied to 9-5 hours, you find you can offer expanded work hours to customers, and your employees love the flexible schedules.

    • Fewer employees. If your staff is working from home, and you let go of your building, then you don’t need as many people to keep it running.

    • Wide talent pool. Why just hire the best people in your region when you now have access to the most talented people in the world. If they can telecommute, they can live anywhere.

  • Cons of Telecommuting

    • Wasted time. Are you paying for your employees to work or to watch TV? You are never sure when they’re working remotely. Maybe it’s time to consider project-based pay rather than hourly.

    • Out of the loop. When your employees aren’t there, how do you know exactly what they’re working on? And how do you supervise them effectively?

    • Technology problems. It’s harder to manage all of the technical problems that your company has when people are far-flung.

    • Security concerns. Cutting edge technology and security when people work remotely are crucial.

    • Disconnections. Teams and connections can be vital in some businesses, and they might suffer if people never have face-to-face interactions.

    • Tracked hours. How do your employees track their hours and their overtime?

    • Less creativity. Creativity and brainstorming go hand-in-hand with people being together and fueling each other with their energy. This is very difficult to recreate in a virtual environment.

Kinds of Telecommuting Jobs

Researchers and job specialists are seeing that more and more employers and employees are interested in working from home. This appears to be a trend that will stick around after the pandemic. Most likely not at the same level it is now, but there will be more telecommuting jobs.

If you’re interested in a long-term telecommuting work environment, the following jobs might be a good place to start your job search.

The best thing is that the jobs available for e-commuters is much longer than this list. In fact, if you can find a way to turn your current job into a telework situation, your employers might be happy to let you begin working remotely.

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Kristin Kizer

Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.

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