Telecommuting and Teleworking – What is the Difference?


You might be wondering about the difference between telecommuting and teleworking.

In a telecommuting job, you work from home, without traveling by car, bus, or train.  In a teleworking job, you may or may not travel.

The terms telecommuting and teleworking are often used interchangeably, but they are not exactly the same.  You can learn more about the distinction between these types of work below, along some examples of each type.

Definitions

Telecommuting and teleworking both share the same prefix, tele, which means “to or at a distance”.  So, both of these terms have to do with work done over some distance.

Telecommuting

First, telecommuting is what a telecommuter does.  A telecommuter does not travel to work at a central location, such as an office building.  Instead, a telecommuter works from home, using technology to connect with coworkers and customers.

Some of the technologies a telecommuter uses include:

  • email
  • text messages
  • phone calls (one-on-one or conference)
  • productivity software
  • project management software

The distance between a telecommuter and his work is bridged by technology.  In other words, with telecommuting, we bring the work to the worker.  In an ordinary commute, we bring the worker to the work.

Some examples of work that you can do as a telecommuter include:

  • call center work (remote customer service or billing)
  • telemarketing (cold calling leads to make sales)
  • software engineering
  • web design
  • graphic design and art

In some cases, you can do all of these jobs (and more) from home, without making a physical commute to an office building or central work location.

Teleworking

Teleworking is what a teleworker does.  A teleworker works at a distance from his company’s main office.  This may involve working from home, as a telecommuter does.

It may also involve working:

  • from a branch office of the company
  • at a client’s headquarters
  • from a coffee shop, cafe, bookstore, or airport
  • in a coworking space

A coworking space is an office where a group of teleworkers share space, desks, and other resources.  They may also dine together and work together on projects.

It is possible for an entire small business to work together in a coworking space.  To learn more, check out my article on what to look for in a coworking space.

Telecommuting vs. Teleworking

Remember that all telecommuting jobs fall under the wider umbrella of teleworking jobs.

That is, all telecommuters are teleworkers, but not all teleworkers are telecommuters.

Similarly, all dogs are animals, but not all animals are dogs (since there also are cats, birds, etc.)

Examples

To give you a better sense of each type of worker, here are some more examples of work that fit into each category.

Telecommuting Jobs

  • A freelance software engineer who works from home, never driving to a physical location, such as a company headquarters or a client’s office.  He might use video conferences or phone calls to get an understanding of a client’s needs for a job.
  • A customer service agent who works from home, taking phone calls related to technical support, billing, or other customer questions.
  • An online business owner who runs the entire operation from home.  This includes writing content, creating graphic art, emailing leads, building links, and managing social media accounts.
  • A craftsman who creates art, furniture, novelties, or other items at home.  He then ships them out via UPS, FedEx, or USPS.

The business owner either does these things himself, or outsources the work to VAs (virtual assistants) or freelancers or contractors.  He may even have employees, all of whom work remotely, either as telecommuters (from home) or teleworkers (from coworking spaces, coffee shops, etc.)

Teleworking Jobs

  • A freelance software engineer who goes to client locations to consult with them about new projects.
  • A salesman who calls on potential customers at their places of business, but rarely or never “checks in” at his company’s physical location.
  • A graphic artist who works for a small, completely remote startup web design firm.  Since there is no physical location, the graphic artist works out of a coworking space in a major city nearby.  The graphic artist does not work from home, so he cannot “officially” call himself a telecommuter.

Who Allows Telecommuting?

Many government agencies, publicly traded companies, and privately held companies will allow telecommuting.

Anyone who works for the government in a research role is a candidate for telecommuting.  On the other hand, those who regularly interact with the public will not be able to telecommute.  If you are looking for telecommuting opportunities as a government employee, consider some of the following:

  • Department of the Interior
  • General Services Administration (GSA)
  • Office of Personnel Management (OPM)
  • Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA)

Many publicly traded or private companies also offer telecommuting roles, including:

  • Automattic (ever heard of WordPress?)
  • Amazon
  • United Health Group
  • Kaplan (test prep and educational materials)
  • Salesforce
  • CVS

Again, the role you play at the company is just as likely to determine whether you can telecommute or not.  Many technical roles, including software engineering and development, are well-suited to remote work.

Sales and consulting jobs are usually more high-touch, and require in-person contact, although there are exceptions.

If you create your own online business, you can work from home and do so on your own hours.  There are many ways to do this, including:

  • running an ecommerce website
  • writing a blog and monetizing with ads, affiliate links, or digital products (books and courses)
  • writing books and self-publishing on Amazon

Of course, I would not quit your day job to pursue these unless you have some savings.  Even then, it is a good idea to find a mentor who has done what you want to do.  Paying for information in the form of a book or course will be a good investment in this case.

What to Call Remote Workers

You can use the catch-all term “remote worker” to refer to someone who does not work at a company’s physical location.  This includes telecommuters, who work from home.  It also includes teleworkers who do not work from home, but instead visit clients or work from coworking spaces, cafes, and libraries.

Another term you will sometimes hear is “home based job”.  Since this term suggests that the employee is working from home, it is a synonym for a telecommuting job.

What about Freelancers?

Freelancers are usually not considered long-term, permanent employees of a particular company.  Instead, they are hired for short-term assignments with a company.  Freelancers may work for more than one company at a time.

Freelancers can work from home, making them telecommuters.  They can also work at a client location away from the company’s headquarters, making them teleworkers.  They can even work at a company’s headquarters, making them “in-person” workers.

Thus, there is some overlap between remote workers and freelancers.  However, not all freelancers are remote workers, and not all remote workers are freelancers.  To read more about this distinction, check out my article about freelance jobs and remote work.

What about Contractors?

Contractors often work only for one client at a time, although they can work for multiple clients.  A freelancer usually works directly for a company, with no middleman involved.  A contractor is often a middleman himself, hiring one or more “subcontractors” to complete the work required for a project.

To cite a real-life example, think about a general contractor in the construction industry.  He will agree to a contract with a property owner who wants to construct a building for a certain price.  The contractor will then work to find subcontractors for work involving:

  • pouring the foundation
  • framing & finish carpentry
  • electrical work
  • plumbing & gas work
  • HVAC (heating, ventilation, & air conditioning) work

The contractor manages these various subcontractors, and ensures that the work is completed on time.  If the project goes over budget, the contractor loses money.  If he finishes the project under budget, he makes a profit.

Can Contractors Work Remotely?

Remote companies can work as contractors as well.  One example is a digital agency.  This company might be completely virtual, with the company founder and employees all working out of their homes (telecommuters) or coworking spaces, libraries, or cafes (teleworkers).

The digital agency might work to improve a website for a client who wants to earn more money from the site.  The agency owner contracts to do an overhaul of the website in exchange for a fixed fee.

The agency owner hires a graphic designer to redo the logo for the website.  He also hires an artist to draw or take pictures for the site.

In addition, he hires a copywriter to improve the copy on sales pages.  Finally, he might hire an SEO expert to improve site loading speed, research keywords, and improve the quality of existing content.

What are Flexible Work Arrangements?

Flexible work arrangements include remote work.  A job that allows partial or full telecommuting options falls under the umbrella of flexible work.

However, flexible work arrangements can also include accommodations involving work hours.  For example, a flexible work schedule might allow an employee to work 4 10-hour days per week, instead of 5 8-hour days per week.

Flexible work arrangements can also involve job-sharing and alternating days or weeks of work.  For more information, check out my article about flexible work arrangements.

Conclusion

I hope this article cleared up any confusion about the difference between telecommuting and teleworking.  If the difference is still unclear, or if you have any questions about related topics, please leave a comment below.

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