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Author: Julie Jarvis

Published date: 2020/09

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Our Managing Director, Julie Jarvis, looks at the chief differences between working from home and remote working, and questions whether an either/or approach is really the right answer for today’s businesses and employees. 

When businesses were forced to close their doors in March, employees were sent away, laptops in hand, to continue working from the comfort of their home. Since then, many think-pieces have been written about the knock-on effect the global pandemic will have on our workforce.  

With technology bigwigs Twitter, Facebook and Google making public declarations of their moves to a remote working model, it would appear that we need to get used to finding the most appropriate wall in the house for our Zoom background.  

However, there’s one crucial question that arises around this topic: Are we actually working remotely or just working from home? There’s a substantial difference between the two, with one considered a temporary benefit and the other an established way of working that requires a marked difference in approach.

For businesses to make a permanent decision about their workforce, they must first acknowledge whether they’re adequately set-up to offer a legitimate remote working option. If not, it’s a case of merely sending staff home aimlessly and hoping for the best. 

Working from Home

Put simply, working from home is a temporary situation. A worker will have a desk or workspace in an office but can spend days at home if it’s more convenient for them, either personally or professionally. There’s no assessment or attention paid to the employee’s home working environment, which could be anywhere, whether that’s the kitchen counter, the sofa or even in bed.  

Such a change from the usual office routine can be highly effective and motivating for employees now and again. They can keep in touch and retain the structure of the office, with colleagues able to adjust work in their absence given it’s not a permanent fixture. Additionally, management structures and a clear chain-of-command are already established when employees work from home and are, therefore, unlikely to be disrupted. 

Remote Working 

On the other hand, remote working requires a different set of abilities, resources and skills. Employees must be self-starters, possess excellent time management skills, and be proactive communicators when it comes to interacting with both managers and the wider team.  

Truly effective remote working also requires an appropriate work environment that’s both ergonomic and conducive to maintaining productivity day-after-day. 

Companies must adopt and implement an official remote strategy and infrastructure that encompasses:  

  • The right software to enable open communication between team members.

  • Meeting etiquette to ensure the loudest voices on video conference calls aren’t the only ones heard.

  • Regular check-ins with managers to ensure workers are aware of expectations and deadlines. 

  • Rules around work environments, i.e. they must have access to a private room with a door (especially if they’re dealing with sensitive data), are not a primary caregiver and always adhere to the set working hours. 

Look Before You Leap

Before you get to work drawing up remote strategies for your workforce, take a step back. Of course, there’s a requirement for many workers to remain at home during the pandemic but should this be a permanent move? And do your employees actually want it?

“We may be physically at home, but many of us are working harder than we did when we were, physically, on corporate premises,” wrote John Naughton for The Guardian on how home working has negatively impacted work-life balance. The article also references a recent study by the National Bureau for Economic Research in the US, which found that lockdown has increased the number of meetings per person by 12.9 per cent and the average workday by 8.2 per cent. 

Additionally, Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Report found that 20 per cent of the 3,500 remote workers it surveyed named loneliness as their biggest struggle. A further 20 per cent stated collaboration and communication as a significant roadblock, and, backing up Naughton’s comments on work-life balance, 18 per cent were worried about not being able to switch off. 

A Different Approach

Rather than implementing a blanket office or remote work policy, could a hybrid of the two make more sense once we emerge on the other side of the pandemic? For example, alternating groups of employees working in the office and at home on different days or weeks. While it sounds like a ‘best of both worlds’ situation, a hybrid approach creates two fundamentally different employee experiences to manage, which is undoubtedly a tall order for many businesses. 

It could be worth it, though. A 2020 Salesforce survey of 3,500 workers confirmed an appetite for a hybrid approach, with 74 per cent of Gen-Z preferring to split their time between home and work, and 64 per cent stating they would like to spend ‘some time’ working from an office or location outside of their homes. 

While we know some global tech brands have already declared remote working as a permanent fixture, recent reports hint that video app TikTok is eyeing London for its new global headquarters. Big moves like this, coupled with more and more businesses reopening their doors every week, indicates that office life is far from over. The question is, what’s the best way forward for your business and workforce?