Taylor (and his colleagues) started working from home as soon as the pandemic hit. Like most of the workforce worldwide. Once he got used to it, he found out he was really enjoying this model of work. He would hang out with his dog, do the laundry during his break, or have lunch with his wife and kids—things he would never have dreamed of doing before.
Fast forward to a year later…
Taylor’s company announced that they’d adopt a flexible work model, and everyone would have to go to the office three days per week. Taylor hadn’t missed at all the hours he spent on commute. And he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of getting back to the office, even if it was for only a few days.
So, he started looking for a new job, one that would offer him the flexibility he was looking for. Browsing through job portals, he was happy to see many ads for remote positions. But, on a second look, he noticed that most of them still required employees to be located in a certain area. Despite being advertised as “remote.”
So, were they truly remote or not?
And that’s where many of us get confused: Is remote work the same as working from home? And what if you work from home only a few days per week?
Breaking down the case of remote work vs. work from home
If you have pinpointed similar situations like Taylor’s among your employees, you should definitely take a step back and evaluate if your current business model is effective. Let’s see the main differences between working remotely and working from home, so that you’re ready to choose the best fit for you and your teams.
Remote work (or work from anywhere)
Working remotely means employees are working outside their company’s office all the time. It means creating their own work environment, and setting up their workspace the way they prefer. Basically, they can work from anywhere.
They can be literally anywhere, as long as they’re online and doing their work.
There’s also no need for completely synchronous tasks. Companies give their employees the option to work asynchronously. This is especially convenient for team members who happen to be on the go or in a different time zone. Still, some tasks may need employees to be in sync, like video conferencing, meetings, or parts of employee training. Those need to be planned ahead of time, but overall, the day-to-day tasks are organized by employees themselves.
Flexibility gives employees control over their work schedule. But it requires a lot of skills like a self-starting attitude, hyperfocus, proactive and regular communication, and impecable time management skills. However, you can motivate your remote employees by offering them quality training on how to be more engaged and effective in the remote work environment.
Another challenge remote workers may face is finding a dedicated workspace. Given that they don’t work from the same place at all times, they may not always have access to a quiet, well-lit space with a comfy chair and a large desk equipped with all the necessary tools. Distractions may be more often, too. And they would need to adapt quickly when that happens.
(Full disclosure: The writing of this piece was interrupted 5 times by my cats.)
Work from home
Now, working from home is different. Even though the concept seems similar.
Let’s see what remote work vs. work from home entails.
Your employees work remotely, but the main difference is that they can only work from their home. This type of work model is not applicable only to fully remote workers. Sometimes employees prefer not to work in the office for a couple of days, because they might have an important project and want to focus better.
In fact, those who work from home spend 10 minutes less a day being unproductive, and are 47% more productive.
This model is particularly useful if your company has offices, and that’s where most of your employees work, but you also want to hire people from different locations. The difference between remote work vs. work from home, in this case, is that you don’t necessarily support the “work from anywhere” model or the asynchronous way of working. You simply want to accommodate people who can’t relocate or visit the offices on a regular basis (e.g., new parents.) Or, you want to cast a wider net and attract candidates from other locations, too.
Working from home means completing tasks in the living room, the bedroom, or even in the kitchen. However, if your employees work from home for a long period of time, it might be more helpful to create a dedicated workspace. And just like with remote work, it’s essential employees set clear boundaries between work and home life.
Overall, this type of work model is a slight change in their normal work pace and routine—something that many people value and enjoy.
Besides the distinction between remote work vs. work from home, there’s another trend that has recently emerged. The hybrid work model combines the best of both worlds: working in the office and working from home.
What used to be a benefit in some companies, has now become a common work style. For example, a company might have given employees the option to work from home 5 times per year, whenever they choose to. Or, another company might have set a rule where all employees can work from home on Mondays if they want.
This very way of working has now become more formal. It’s what we call the hybrid work model and comes with many variations.
There are the more structured ones, where employers set a specific schedule when it comes to when employees can work from home. For example, they may have to be in the office on specific days every week. Or, teams and departments work from home on rotation (e.g., this week, sales and marketing teams work from home, while developers work in the office.) And there are more flexible hybrid work models in which employees can freely choose when and if they’ll visit the office.
The level of flexibility depends on the nature of the job, what needs to be done, and when. With higher flexibility, logistics can be challenging, too. For example, you may want to move to a smaller space to reduce costs if most of your employees usually work from home. But, at the same time, you need to make sure they’ll find an available workstation if they decide to visit the office.
Distributed teams consist of employees that work from different locations around the world. This is not a new work model. It has actually been a common practice of some big companies even before the pandemic.
Truth is that many businesses acknowledge the benefits of hiring employees who can work from anywhere because of the shift to remote work as a result of COVID-19. That’s when they started opting for hiring people who fit the needs of the job and not focusing on their physical location.
What’s great is that employers can find the perfect fit for a job opening even if the employee lives on another continent. The main drawback, however, is that the difference between time zones can cause problems with workflow and communication.
Taking a peek at the big businesses
“Work isn’t somewhere you go, work is something you do,” Spotify claims. They value the freedom of working wherever they want. As they claim, what matters most is reaching high productivity levels and being effective. So, employees who wish to join Spotify can decide to choose their location and the work model that suits them best.
Looks ideal, right? But what do the numbers say?
According to Fortune magazine, Spotify saw a massive drop in turnover rates once they implemented the work from anywhere initiative. Only 6% of the company’s workforce decided to part ways after the new policy. Also, attrition at the company was 15% lower in the second quarter of 2022 in comparison to the same quarter in 2019.
As Business Insider states, after Airbnb announced their employees could live and work anywhere forever, they witnessed their careers page being viewed more than 800,000 times. This indicates that the active workforce all around the world shows a preference for remote work vs. work from home.
To better demonstrate how the ability to work remotely has shaped the modern workplace, Apple noticed that many workers were unhappy and ready to quit just weeks after when they announced their return-to-office policy. In fact, Apple Insider states that a quite impressive 56% is looking to leave Apple because of its office requirement. An employee clearly stated that “60% of my team doesn’t even live near the office. They are not returning,” and you can see why there was so much dissatisfaction.
Reddit was one of the first companies that selected the hybrid work model to offer to their workforce. In October 2020, they switched to a permanent hybrid model where employees have full flexibility to work wherever they want, with options for in-office work.
However, it’s important to note that remote work is not for everyone. There are still employees who don’t prefer working from home, or fully remotely. They can engage better in a designated office space where they share ideas with their colleagues on a daily basis.
As facts tell, remote workers still face struggles with this type of work. According to Statista, an impressive 25% claim that it’s hard for them to unplug after a day at their remote work, 21% face difficulty focusing, while 24% experience feelings of loneliness.
To work remotely or to work from home?
The choice is up to you between remote work vs. work from home. Or, you might opt for one of the hybrid work models.
In any case, you don’t want to put your employees in the position of Taylor. No matter what work model you choose, you should always stay true to your promises both to your current and future employees. If your goal is to set up a remote-first environment, for example, then you can’t expect your employees to work from a specific location or be constantly online.
Before making any big announcements, listen to what your employees need and prefer. With that in mind, put all the options on the table, identify how you can better achieve your business goals, and carefully decide which model suits you best.
There’s no one-size-fits-all work model. But there’s one that fits your unique work culture.