Remote vs. telecommute vs. hybrid work: What it all means

Understanding the different types of remote work, so you can decide which one is best for your company.

Remote work has evolved significantly in the last decade. Many companies are beginning to realize the advantages and capabilities of introducing remote work into their organizations, particularly in the past couple of years.

Today's workforce is able to perform work in unconventional ways thanks to advances in technology. Remote work has become the first choice for numerous companies over traditional in-office work. Remote working options are becoming more and more appealing to employees, and employers are also experiencing the beneficial aspects of remote working. There are different types of remote work options a company can implement, and there's definitely not a one-size-fits-all solution. Plus, remote teams often use different ways of communicating than colocated teams.

But what exactly do we mean by the phrase “remote work”? Remote work is an umbrella term under which we find many different types of work models. Terms like "work from home," "telecommuting," "hybrid work," etc. are used interchangeably to describe fully or partially remote work models.

Remote work has become the first choice for many companies—even over traditional in-office work.

In this article, we'll find out what these types of remote work are and their strengths and weaknesses so that you can decide which style is most suitable for your business. We'll also cover some of the common remote communication styles, so you can understand what to use for your team.

What are the different types of remote work?

Working remotely can happen from any location with the right tools and resources. These days, you can accomplish it using software, tools, or apps accessed over the internet. So let's dive right in and find out more about the ins and outs of remote working types.

What is remote work?

Remote work is the most used term to refer to work that can take place outside of a traditional office environment. It’s more general, and it can be used to refer to all kinds of working arrangements, all types of workers (employees, freelancers, contractors, etc.), and all types of working places (home, coworking spaces, code shops, etc.).

In fully remote work, there are no headquarters, and all employees work from their preferred location, no matter where that is. Effective communication is key for fully remote teams. Therefore, each company should carefully select proper tools and create best practices to keep all members productive. Many remote teams, however, use hybrid models, discussed below.

What is telecommuting?

Telecommuting is an older term that referred to employees who worked away from the main office. The term was used for the first time in the early '70s by Jack Nilles, a former NASA communications system engineer who searched for ways to reduce reliance on car travel using technology. These workers had to report to satellite offices, which were located closer to their homes, reducing the need to travel long distances. Years later, we still use this term sometimes, but it has evolved. Today, it refers to employees who combine traditional in-person work with part-time work from an alternate location, which specifically reduces commuting time.

There are no headquarters in fully remote work, and all employees work from their preferred location, no matter where that is. Effective communication is key for fully remote teams. Therefore, each company should carefully select proper tools and create best practices to keep all members productive.

What is hybrid work?

There's a lot of talk around hybrid work, but there can be disagreement on the definition. Typically for the hybrid model, there are some elements of working both remotely and in an office, but every organization follows a different approach. In general, hybrid work has five main types.

  • Fully distributed: Not truly a hybrid model, fully distributed is another term for fully remote.
  • Default digital: Teammates can work from wherever—there is no expectation for their work location. Sometimes this is referred to as remote-first.
  • Static hybrid: Each teammate has a consistent work location, but it can be in an office or at home.
  • Dynamic hybrid: Teammates can work from home or the office, and they decide their own schedule.
  • Synchronized hybrid: Teams work from home and in the office, but they come to the office on the same schedule.

Learn more about the different models for hybrid work.

What is office-first?

In this situation, the office is the primary workplace, but the company also offers employees remote options. Oftentimes, this isn't an intentionally chosen model, but rather something that emerges over time as teammates move or hiring is difficult. For example, the main development team works from the company's San Francisco offices, and a few teammates remotely permanently or occasionally. (Prior the pandemic, many companies had a form of this model.)

The downside is that as the bulk of the workload happens in-office, and only some people work remotely, it creates "two-speed" employees. As a result, not everyone has the same communication with each other and with the administrative staff. Thus, on the one hand, remote employees don't develop strong ties with their colleagues who work on the spot and, on the other hand, are often deprived of career development opportunities.

What are the different types of remote communication?

Remote working teams can communicate synchronously, asynchronously, or by combining the two forms.

Synchronous communication

Synchronous communication happens in real time, meaning that responses are immediate. Phone calls, videoconferences, and virtual meetings are the most usual ways of communicating synchronously. These are excellent for constant back-and-forth situations, like a virtual meeting or a brainstorming session. Synchronous communication is really fast, dynamic, and an ideal solution for active participation. It shares many similarities with the traditional in-person way of communication.

Due to the real-time nature, though, all members have to be virtually in the same place at the same time regardless of whether it's a convenient time for them. A team that has employees in different time zones may be adversely affected by this. To be effective requires discipline because, especially in cases with larger teams, it can lead to frequent interruptions and distractions. Also, in cases of technology failures, synchronous communication can prove to be time-consuming and frustrating.

There are many options for teams that want to communicate synchronously. Some of the most popular tools are Zoom meetings, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and FaceTime.

Asynchronous communication

In an asynchronous communication environment, all participants don't need to be present at the same time to be effective. There are several ways of communicating asynchronously, like emails, business communication platforms, project management apps, etc. Asynchronous communication is a great option when an immediate response isn't necessary. It allows all team members to communicate when they can without having to alter their own schedule. Also, you have more flexibility with your answers because you don't have the pressure of time.

Asynchronous communication isn't as vulnerable to technology failures as synchronous communication. If something malfunctions, or if you decide to make changes, you can take your time, make your edits, and then move forward. Lastly, it doesn't depend on the size of the team. Unlike synchronous communication, it can still be effective even if a team is large.

On the other hand, asynchronous communication lacks in cases of emergencies where there's a need for an immediate answer. Also, at times, it might seem impersonal and less engaging, but if done correctly, you can avoid these situations. There are many tools for asynchronous communication. Here are a few of the most popular:

  • Range: Range is an asynchronous communication tool based on status updates called check-ins. Range is perfect for building team culture and trust, even if teams are spread across multiple time zones.
  • Slack: Slack is a cloud-based chat tool that can be used async but is often used real-time.
  • Email
  • SMS text

So synchronous or asynchronous?

Communication while working remotely can never be perfect. Both communication forms have advantages and disadvantages, and it really depends on your business needs. Many organizations choose a combination of both forms to cover them. Having the right tools and understanding where each form suits best will allow you to communicate more effectively.

According to some people, synchronous communication is better at building team culture and trust. While this point of view is true in some cases, it does not necessarily apply to all situations.

Finding the right balance of asynchronous and synchronous communication is the key to successful remote and hybrid work.

The online environment offers us several opportunities for effective communication without the necessity of communicating synchronously. It's often possible to accomplish more with asynchronous communication.

Deciding what's right for your team

Which remote work and communication model to select and implement differs from company to company, and it’s based on your type of business and your needs. In any case, the work landscape is becoming more flexible, it’s constantly changing, and having the right tools is more important than ever, as they can augment the crucial roles of collaboration and communication within your team.

Range helps teams build a foundation of async communication through Check-ins while improving synchronous communication in meetings too.

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Remote vs. telecommute vs. hybrid work: What it all means
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