What does working remotely mean? And other definitions

If you’ve ever wondered “What does working remotely mean?”, you’re not alone.

The terms relating to ways of working flexibly has evolved rapidly in the last 2 years.

What does working remotely mean?

Remote work is a method of working that permits people to work outside of a traditional office environment. It comes from the idea that work does not need to be done in a specified place in order for it to be done successfully.

For many of us, remote work or subsets like hybrid work and distributed work, are now a much cherished reality.

Why has remote work become mainstream? It boils down to two main reasons.

The first is that advances in hardware and software technology helped us become mobile and highly connected.

A 1.2kg laptop? 5G networks that can download a movie in 4 seconds or less? No one could have imagined that just a decade ago!

But more than that, connectivity and collaboration software like Zoom and Slack have become so ubiquitous that they are now verbs.

All you need to work these days are a good laptop and a strong WiFi. And you can get that even from the beaches of Bali!

The second reason remote work has taken off is that the recent pandemic has forced employers to implement flexible work – whether they liked it or not.

While the technology has been in place for years, many employers were insecure when employees were not under their watchful eyes in the office.

But when the pandemic forced most of us to work from home, employers found that employees’ productivity actually increased, and they performed just as well.

This meant that employers from Google to The Coca Cola Company are now much more open to offering employees flexible work as a retention and talent attraction tool.

What are the differences between the types of flexible work?

You have probably heard these terms bandied around – remote work, hybrid work, work-from-home, flexible work and distributed work.

If you’re confused, it is understandable – shouldn’t they all mean the same thing? You are essentially not stepping into the office, after all!

There is a more detailed definition in the glossary below. But for now, it suffices to say that there is a gradient of flexibility in remote work.

Remote work ranges all the way from fully remote where the company does not have a physical office and their employees are literally free to work from anywhere, to partial remote, where some (but not all) employees are free to work from anywhere and the rest are working from office.

Hybrid work is a more structured concept. It combines both remote work and time in the office.

And flexible work is the umbrella term that includes both remote and hybrid work, plus the variations in between.

Distributed work refers to companies that have employees who work in different physical locations. This can include remote employees who work mostly from home, or co-working spaces, and teams in different countries.

Why do people like working remotely?

We are obviously biased towards remote work. It’s indisputable that there are many benefits.

There are benefits of working remotely for employees, employers, and yes, even society!

Benefits of working remotely for employees

Flexible Lifestyle

One of the most attractive advantage of working remotely is the flexible lifestyle.

You essentially have the freedom to plan your work around your personal life. Instead of trying to contort your personal life around your work demands!

So if you are a parent, you can start your work earlier in the day, so that you can be present when your children get home from school.

If you are an avid traveller, you can take a month off to go traveling, and bring your laptop along so that you can still work part of the time.

Better Work-Life Balance

Remote employees are notably less stressed and have higher morale than their in-office counterparts. And the lack of a commute plays a big part in that.

In a report by the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK, 55% of participants felt stressed as a result of their commute. By eliminating that commute and letting remote employees work in a comfortable environment, employers help to reduce their employees’ stress.

Benefits of remote work for employers

Higher Productivity

Remote employees tend to put in extra effort in their job as compared to non-remote workers.

According to the State and Work Productivity Report, 65% of full-time employees believe that working remotely increases productivity – and their bosses agree. In fact, two-thirds of managers surveyed reported an increase in overall productivity from their remote employees.

Cost Savings

Rent and office furniture costs can be significantly reduced when employees work remotely.

Even if part of a team is still required to be onsite, a typical company can still save tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary rent. These funds can be put to better use making the working conditions of their remote workers more comfortable and productive.

Engaged Employees

69% of remote workers reported lower absenteeism than non-remote employees according to a 2014 study by PGi.

Workers didn’t feel the need to skip out on work without good reason because they felt engaged and focused within their role.

Healthier and more engaged employees produce better work and are more committed to their companies. From this perspective, remote work is just good business.

Benefits of remote work for society

Less Commuting, Less Pollution

Greenhouse gas is produced by cars, buses and public transport. Working from home avoids this commute to work, which saves both time and transport cost. It also results in lesser greenhouse emissions, helping the environment.

Encourages Diversity and Inclusion

Remote work means that a company is able to hire anyone and everyone from around the globe.

This means that no matter the nationality, skin color, gender or ethnicity, employers are forced to look at experience and skill as the first point of judgment.

Companies start to quickly appreciate the real value of collaborating with people from varied backgrounds and cultures. Diversity doesn’t just benefit the business itself, but also national economies.

How do you work remotely?

The first step to working remotely is to get a job with a company that encourages flexible work!

We have created a list of top employers in Asia (both multinationals and startups) that actively encourage remote or hybrid work.

Once you have secured a remote work job, your next step is to think through where you would want to work – your home or a nearby co-working space?

If you have a home that is conducive for work, you would want to make sure that you have a designated space set up. This home office should be large enough for a desk and an ergonomic chair, and in a location that has minimal distractions during the day.

We recommend you invest in ergonomic home office furniture. In the long run, this helps you reduce backaches and other potential ailments.

Other important points are to ensure that you have a strong WiFi connection in your house to minimise any potential disruptions. And invest in essential tools like monitors and an external keyboard and mouse to help you be at peak productivity while working from home.

If your home environment is not conducive or if you prefer having people around you while you work, getting a membership at a co-working space is another good option.

Such spaces can essentially form an office environment for you. If you prefer to have the routine and stability of a commute, co-working spaces can also serve that purpose.

If you do decide to subscribe to a co-working space, check if your employer has a policy to reimburse you for the cost of membership.

A big part of working remotely successfully, is knowing the softer skills required for remote working. In particular, knowing how to deal with the inevitable loneliness and risk of burnout, will stand you in good stead for working remotely for the long term.

Glossary of remote work terms

To help, we’ve come up with a glossary of the key terms associated with remote work:

  1. Remote work refers to a way of working that allows you to work outside a traditional office environment. It is based on the belief that you do not have to work in a specific location in order to do your work well. 
  1. All Remote / 100% Remote / Fully Remote / Fully Distributed / Remote-First companies do not have a head office. Instead, they have employees working remotely from different locations.
  1. Remote-friendly refers to a company with flexible policies regarding where and when people can do their work. For instance, they may allow people to work in satellite offices or work some days of the week from home. 
  1. Telecommuting / Teleworking  is used interchangeably with remote work and refers to a work style where employees can work outside a company’s brick and mortar office. This could be from the home, co-working space or even cafe. 
  1. Flexible working / Agile Working refers to a way of working which disregards the traditional nine to five day structure and takes into account the worker’s personal needs. It can be broadly classified under 3 categories: flexi-time (flexible working hours e.g. staggered work hours), flexi-load (e.g. part-time, job sharing, weekend work) and flexi-place (e.g. work from home, hot desking).
  1. Work from home means your workplace is at your home instead of at the office.
  1. Permanent work from home refers to a long-term work from home arrangement where employees are not required to work at the office. This also means that employers can reduce their office footprint or let go corporate real estate space altogether.
  1. Work remotely means working outside your office. This could mean anywhere from home to cafes, hotels or co-working places.
  1. Work from anywhere means a company giving its employees the choice to work wherever and however they wish. It could mean working part of the time from the office, the employee’s home, cafes or co-working space. It could even mean from a different country.
  1. Digital nomads are people who travel to different locations and often work while they travel the world in a nomadic fashion. They can often be spotted working at coffee shops, co-working spaces or from their RV vehicles. They can either be working for themselves or for remote-friendly companies. 
  1. Distributed Team / Dispersed Team refers to teams who carry out their work from different locations. This can include collaboration between remote team members and those who work at the office. 
  1. Hybrid Model refers to a way of working which combines both remote work and time at the office. The proportion of time split between the two methods of working depends on the company’s policy.
  1. Co-working refers to working with other people in a shared office space. The difference between co-working spaces and traditional office settings is that co-working spaces offer flexible renting options and provide for everything from the furniture to the amenities. 
  1. Satellite office refers to a branch office location that is physically separate from the organisation’s main office. 
  1. Collaborative tools refers to different types of software tools and online services that allow people to work together on common projects, regardless of their physical location. It can be something as simple as email and to complex software like a project management software.
  1. Project management tools refer to aids that can assist an individual or team to organize work and manage projects and tasks effectively. There are many free and paid project management software such as, Trello or Asana
  1. Remote work policy refers to a company policy that describe the requirements and expectations of employees who work remotely. This includes eligibility for remote work, the approval process, scope of work and more. Here is an example of a remote work policy template here.
  1. Work-life balance refers to the ability to separate work life from personal life in a balanced way.
  2. Employer’s Duty of Care refers to an employer’s legal responsibility to ensure that their employees work in a safe and healthy workplace. The “workplace” does not necessarily just refer to the office but it covers any premise where employees carry out their work, including their homes.

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