What is Remote Work? Distributed vs. Telecommuting vs. Remote Teams

What is Remote Work?

The practice of working remotely has blown up in popularity over the past year. But what exactly is remote work?

There are varying types of remote work, and different words to describe them. For this reason, it can be difficult to differentiate what they all mean.

I’m here to clear the air and provide some clarity on what exactly remote work is (and what it isn’t).

Let’s start!

What is remote work?

Remote work is when an employee conducts his or her work from home or another location of their choosing. There are several different types of remote work, and it’s important to understand the difference between them.

For example, some companies hiring for a remote position may expect the employee to periodically commute to a main office. When applying for remote jobs, make sure to clarify with the employer if the job is fully or partially remote.

What does it mean to be “fully remote?”

what is remote work
Fully Remote teams don’t have a centralized HQ

The term “fully remote team” is synonymous with “distributed team.” (See below for distributed team definition) Essentially, this means that a company has no physical headquarters and no “home base.”

All members of the company work from a location of their choosing, anywhere in the world.

What does it mean to be “partially remote?”

what is a partially remote?
“Partially Remote” means some employees work in a centralized office

Partially remote means that some employees work remotely full time, while others report to an office every day. Partially remote can also sometimes refer to the employee.

For example, if I worked partially remote, it would mean that I sometimes work from a location of my own choosing, and sometimes commute to a centralized office.

What is a “distributed team?”

what is a distributed team?
Distributed teams do not have a centralized office. Employees may reside in any part of the world.

As I explained above, a distributed team is the same as a fully remote team. I don’t often see the phrase “distributed team” as much as I see the phrase “remote team,” however it is important to understand the difference.:

Distributed teams: No centralized office exists. All employees work in separate locations and communicate via online platforms.

Remote Teams: A centralized office may exist. Employees may be expected to periodically travel to a central location for training, team building, etc.

Define “telecommuting”

Telecommuting implies that employees are not generally expected to come into the office, but may need to reside in a certain state, region or country.

A telecommuting job may require residing in a specific location for tax reasons, travel reasons or otherwise.

Is remote work the same as working from home?

Most people you ask will say no. Generally, people who “work from home” actually report to a main office most days, with the occasional opportunity to work from home.

Don’t they all pretty much mean the same thing?

define telecommute

By definition, no, they don’t! That being said, the answer to this question will also depend on who you ask. Remote work, telecommuting and distributed teams are phrases that are relatively new to a lot of people, which means they often get misused.

Why is it so important to know the difference? Because otherwise, you might not be applying for the job you actually want. Expecting a fully remote position and finding out that you’re actually expected to travel to the office once a monthis less than ideal. 

Over to you

Now that you know the difference between remote work, telecommuting, distributed teams and fully remote companies, check out our blog to learn more. We’ve got resources on everything remote work, including the best tips, advice and how-to’s.

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