There’s been a lot of hype about the ongoing remote work revolution. While it’s a trend that’s been gathering steam for a number of years, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic forced a lot of employers to shift to remote working almost overnight. Now it seems it’s here to stay as a permanent fixture, and we’re all still grappling with what exactly that means.
From the smallest startups, to call centers and the biggest business behemoths (such as Amazon), remote work opens up a lot of new possibilities. It allows employers to take their pick of the top talent from a much wider area, giving firms a much bigger pool to choose from.
It also presents new possibilities to employees and job seekers. In the new world of work, it’s possible to be a true digital nomad, pursuing exciting lifestyle and job opportunities wherever it takes your fancy. Your employer might be based in one part of the world while you’re based in another – anything goes. Work-from-home jobs have come to provide employees with a previously unprecedented degree of freedom.
It’s therefore in the interests of employers to accommodate remote working arrangements. Those that don’t will risk losing out on talented people – including customer service representatives, digital marketing and SEO professionals, and graphic design specialists – to other businesses. This could have serious and lasting impacts.
Whether you call it remote working, working from home (WFH), or working from anywhere, this is a phenomenon that’s bringing about far-reaching changes to the way we work. In this guide, we’ll provide you with a comprehensive introduction; we’ll discuss what remote work means, bust some of the myths surrounding it, and assess the pros and cons. In particular, we’ll look at why ‘working from home’ no longer reflects the full reality of remote work.
What is it called when you work from anywhere?
There are a number of different terms for the phenomenon under discussion here. A lot of people use the term ‘remote working’, while others call it ‘working from home’. Both terms are a little too limiting, however, and don’t capture the full complexity of these new working arrangements.
We’ll discuss this in more detail later on, but a lot of office-based teams already work with colleagues distributed in different locations; individual businesses and other organizations may have multiple office hubs. This may therefore be considered a kind of remote work.
Nor does ‘working from home’ give us a full flavor of how a lot of people are working when they’re not in the office. Certainly, a lot of people who do work remotely end up doing so from home, but it’s not always feasible. Some workers live in crowded houses with families and roommates, which is hardly conducive to consistent productivity. Working from anywhere, on the other hand, allows employees to use alternative locations.
Indeed, this is one of the things that makes it potentially so liberating. You can work from the coffee shop, in the local library, or even the beach as long as you can get a WiFi connection there. It is, essentially, up to you (and to some extent, your employer) where you work from.
With all that in mind, then, it seems more fitting to use the term ‘work from anywhere’, as you could potentially do exactly this—or at least, from anywhere you can find reasonably quick internet. This is the term we’ll generally use to discuss the matter at hand in this guide. There are, however, a couple of other related terms we should discuss briefly here.
Flexible work can mean a lot of things. It might mean being able to choose your own working hours for a full-time job within a set time frame; employers can allow you to decide when you come into work in the morning and when you leave, so long as you work a specific amount of hours in between.
It may also mean job sharing, where two people work part-time in the same role – possibly even in different time zones – and share the work between them. Arrangements such as these are increasingly common, as employers take account of the lifestyle needs of employees (particularly with regard to childcare).
You may have seen the term ‘flexjobs’ used to describe working arrangements like these. It’s important to distinguish flexjobs from remote work, as it might not necessarily entail the latter. Remote jobs allow you to determine where you work (within reason), while flexible work gives you greater freedom to determine when and how you work.
Telecommuting is a less common term these days, but it’s still used reasonably frequently. It’s certainly one kind of remote work, but it denotes a specific type of remote working. It’s not the same thing as working from anywhere. Specifically, telecommuting is usually used to refer to employees who work remotely, but from within easy physical reach of their workplace.
So if you live within commuting distance of your employer and they give you the option of working from home—either as a regular or an occasional thing—you could consider yourself as being a telecommuter. The main point is that you’re able to journey to your employer’s office as and when you’re called upon to do so. This is relatively easy when you’re job searching in a major city like New York, but much harder if you live in a more isolated area.
Needless to say, all this limits your options somewhat and doesn’t offer you the kind of freedom and autonomy that true work from anywhere arrangements do. However, it’s worth noting some companies that hire remote workers do use ‘telecommuting’ as a synonym, so be sure to check job postings carefully before writing any of them off.
Can you work remotely from anywhere?
Working from anywhere gives you much greater freedom in deciding where you work from. A lot of people are quite happy to do remote work from home jobs, but working in the home isn’t always feasible. If you’ve got young children running around, for instance, it can be difficult to find the peace and quiet you need to really concentrate on your work.
Employers might not be able to look over your shoulder to see how productive you are, but they will be able to tell if the quantity and standard of your work have dipped. This could mean that your freedom to work remotely is withdrawn, and your employer demands that you start coming into the office to work instead.
Alternatively, of course, it could simply mean that you lose your job – and then you’ll have to start your job search all over again. It’s essential, therefore, that if you are working remotely, you find a space where you can do so with minimal distractions. It might be a good idea to discuss this with your employer beforehand so that you can reach a suitable arrangement.
The importance of staying focused
Of course, offices themselves are by no means free of distractions. We’ve all been there, struggling to maintain our concentration amid the office chit-chat and all the various comings and goings of a typical working day. For a lot of people, a remote opportunity is appealing as it allows them to spend more time concentrating solely on the tasks they’ve been set.
Working from anywhere, when compared to work-at-home arrangements, gives employees greater freedom to find a location from where they can work well and concentrate consistently. This means that both employees and their employers can benefit from greater productivity and a higher standard of work.
However, as we’ve noted, employees will need to ensure that their chosen working location has reliable WiFi. If their connection is continually dipping in and out, they won’t be able to do their job as well and their employer (as well as clients) may struggle to get in touch with them, causing confusion and frustration for all concerned.
Types of remote working arrangements
We’ve already outlined the differences between telecommuting, working from anywhere, and working from home opportunities. Now we need to take a closer look at the different types of remote working arrangements and team structures. These can vary quite substantially, but for our purposes, we’ll concentrate on three remote working structures here:
- Fully remote teams
- Flexible remote teams
- Distributed offices
Fully remote teams, as the name indicates, are composed entirely of people who are working in disparate locations. This could be as part of a fully remote company, where the employer doesn’t have a single central office. Alternatively, there could be a central office, but the particular team you’re in isn’t based there and instead works from anywhere. For instance, a marketing agency might have an in-office sales team, but an entirely remote design team.
Flexible remote teams are a kind of halfway house between fully remote working and office-based working. They may have some members who work in their employer’s workspace all or part of the time, alongside colleagues who work elsewhere (whether it be from home or some other location of their choosing). An example of this is a fashion wholesaler who has some of their sales team in-office, others on the road, and still others working from anywhere.
Indeed, relatively few office-based employers now insist on having all their employees in the same physical offices all the time. We’ll discuss this in more detail in the next section, but now that more employees are working from anywhere, employers are seeing benefits for themselves too – such as significant savings on office rents.
However, some employers continue to operate multiple offices spread across different locations. Single teams may be spread across a number of different offices. The distributed offices model remains a commonplace kind of remote working (even if we don’t always think of it as such), but it’s one that may be scaled back somewhat in the years ahead.
What working from anywhere means for employers
We’ve touched on some of the major advantages which working from anywhere might potentially have for employers, but let’s look at them in some more detail here, as they could have transformative implications for many millions of people in the United States and around the world.
- Lower costs: Office rents can be very expensive, so giving employees the option of working from anywhere can reduce these costs quite substantially.
- Higher productivity: Some employers have been reluctant to embrace remote working for fear of it having a negative impact on employee productivity. However, the evidence we have appears to suggest the opposite. According to one study, 77% of remote employees reported that they had actually been more productive.
- More talent to choose from: Previously, employers had been restricted to recruiting employees who lived within commuting distance of a physical workplace, or who were prepared to relocate. When employees can work from anywhere, however, companies hiring can choose from a much wider pool. Remote job opportunities are now keenly sought after.
- Improved staff retention: In this day and age, employees are used to switching between jobs. Work-from-anywhere jobs tend to be associated with higher rates of staff loyalty. According to Gartner, flexible, remote working arrangements can boost retention rates by over 10 percent. This could save employers a lot of money on recruiting and training new hires.
These are just some of the potential implications that working from anywhere could have for employers. It’s clear that there are huge upsides to allowing staff to work from anywhere. Those businesses which are quickest to adapt could glean a crucial early competitive advantage; those that fail to make the change may find themselves losing out on both new and existing talent.
Pros and cons of working from anywhere for employees
Now that we’ve talked about what working from anywhere might offer employers, we should look at what it offers employees. It’s fair to say that remote working can have its pros and its cons. Let’s take a closer look at them here, starting with the potential upsides:
- More autonomy: When employees are given the choice to work from anywhere, they often find they have more autonomy not just in terms of their physical location but also in terms of the work they do and how they do it, allowing them to be more creative.
- More flexibility: Working a 9 to 5 job can be difficult, as this kind of fixed, rigid routine no longer reflects the way many of us live our lives. For parents, in particular, fitting childcare around traditional office hours can be a huge challenge. Working from anywhere is proving to be a much better fit.
- Less stress: Because working from anywhere gives employees greater freedom and autonomy, they find that they’re able to do their work without worrying about micromanagement or office politics. This can be a real weight off their shoulders, contributing to better mental health and lower stress levels.
- No commuting: Another important advantage of working from anywhere is that it does away with the need to commute, whether by car or public transport. This saves money and hassle; very few people relish their morning commute, whatever they think of their job. How employees spend the time they’ve saved is up to them – they could start work earlier or, alternatively, simply spend a little more time in bed.
Having listed the pros of working from anywhere, we also need—for the sake of balance—to examine some of the possible downsides as well.
- Potential isolation: Although a lot of employees relish the prospect of working in their own space and under their own steam, there are others who prefer the more social working environment provided by an office. They may miss having colleagues around them, and in particular the absence of an after-work social life.
- Scam job ads: It’s also important to note here that some ads for remote jobs and home positions are scams, particularly those advertising for freelancers. It can be difficult to tell the legitimate work from home job ads apart from the misleading ones. You don’t want your job searching to be marred by your data and personal information at being put at risk. When looking at companies for remote work, be sure to stick to reliable job boards and social networking sites like LinkedIn.
- Poor communication: Sometimes, employees find it difficult to contact their colleagues when they’re working remotely. In an office, it’s usually easy to catch up with a co-worker – all you have to do is pay them a visit at their desk. But without adequate team messaging and communications tools, it can be difficult to maintain teamwork and productivity among remote teams.
Busting myths about working from anywhere
There’s no shortage of myths about remote working. It’s legitimate to ask questions and weigh up the pros and cons, but it’s important not to be suckered by the various misconceptions about working from anywhere which are in circulation. Let’s address a few of them here.
Myth 1: Remote workers are less productive
Although working from anywhere is pretty well-established, there are still some employers that are very reluctant to grant their own employees that freedom. They worry about the old cliche: ‘give ‘em an inch, and they’ll take a mile’. Fundamentally, they don’t trust their employees to work hard unless they’re personally in the office, where they can be monitored.
There’s a worry that remote workers are inevitably bound to lose focus and start slacking off if they’re allowed to choose where they work. But, as we’ve been discussing, there’s no reason why this should have to be the case. A motivated and happy workforce should work well wherever it is; the freedom to choose where to work can boost morale and thereby productivity as well.
In any case, this kind of micromanagement—with employers demanding that employees turn up to the office so they can be closely surveilled—can be counterproductive. Employees don’t generally respond well to having managers looming over them all the time; if they feel they aren’t trusted, they’re quite likely to seek out other job postings elsewhere.
Myth 2: Remote workers are demoralized
It’s also commonly assumed that remote workers must be demoralized and unhappy, cooped up in some cramped room at home, away from all their friends and colleagues at work. It’s certainly true that not everybody relishes remote working. But just as we shouldn’t assume that everyone favors it, we also shouldn’t assume the reverse.
Remote workers can be just as happy and just as focused when working from anywhere as they would be in the office—maybe more so, depending on their personal situation and family life. In fact, now that working from anywhere is a commonplace thing, a lot of workers will resent it if their employer doesn’t give them the option of working at least part of the time from a location of their choosing.
In addition, working from anywhere makes it easier for employees to strike the right work-life balance. This can be a big morale booster, and it’s something they’re sure to appreciate. This is just one of the reasons why there’s so much interest among employees in remote positions.
Myth 3: Remote teams are poorly organized
Maintaining close teamwork and fostering a close team spirit are undeniably big challenges at the best of times, wherever your team happens to be located. A lot of employers fear that these challenges will be exacerbated if they grant employees the choice to work from anywhere, but this isn’t necessarily the case.
If employees have access to the right business communication tools, they should have few problems keeping in close contact with one another and working productively together. Employers must therefore make sure that everyone has these tools, and that they’re properly trained to use them.
Teams should also set time aside to chat socially with one another, leaving their work concerns to one side. This can be an effective way of maintaining team morale and ensuring that colleagues feel they’re part of a common effort alongside their co-workers.
What jobs can you work from anywhere?
Obviously, it’s not possible to do all jobs remotely. Sectors such as brick-and-mortar retail, warehousing and logistics, transport, and construction still require their workers to be there in person in order to do their respective jobs. Office-based work, however, can largely be done remotely, without the need for employees to be physically present at a particular location.
Job types that can be done effectively from essentially anywhere include the following:
- Call center and customer support
- Digital and social media marketing
- Data entry
- Web design
- Content writing (e.g. via WordPress)
- Human resources and career advice
Some project managers, depending on the nature of the work, should also be able to do their job remotely. Likewise, even in the real estate sector, more and more of the work is being done online – including virtual house tours, for example.
What are the best jobs to work remotely?
The previous section provides only a smattering of examples of online jobs that can be done remotely with the minimum of disruption. Evidently, some jobs are much better suited to working from anywhere than others; this should be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Customer service, entry-level computer programming, graphic design, web design, and sales jobs are among those which are a natural fit for remote working. So too are freelance writing jobs and even certain types of teaching jobs, such as online tutorials.
If you’re looking for a remote position, be sure to set up relevant job alerts. That way, you’ll be informed when new opportunities become available – and you might be able to get ahead of other applicants.
How to stay productive when working from anywhere
We’ve noted some of the potential challenges with regard to maintaining team spirit and close co-operation when working from anywhere. In particular, we’ve emphasized the importance of providing colleagues with the right tools to help them keep in touch both with clients and with one another.
RingCentral Office helps your team stay connected, wherever they are. It’s a cloud-based, integrated communications solution that brings video meetings, messaging, and phone calls together in the same place. This allows for easier and closer team collaboration, as well as more organized workflows.
With RingCentral Office, you can keep in touch with colleagues via team messaging, share files and allocate tasks. Altogether, this can help to ensure that your co-workers stay in close contact with one another, thereby boosting productivity – wherever in the world they are. Ultimately, your clients and customers will be the ones to reap the real rewards.
Originally published Feb 15, 2021, updated Feb 16, 2021