by Adrianne Bibby, FlexJobs Staff Writer | November 17, 2017
Working from home. Remote work. Clocking in from a coworking space. A “virtual” job. Mobile work. There are lots of ways to slice it, and they all come down to a single concept: telecommuting, which means working in a nontraditional capacity, outside of a brick-and-mortar office or workplace, and using technology to stay connected and get duties done. To ask plainly, though, exactly what is telecommuting?
The history of what’s now known as telecommuting traces back, believe it or not, to the hunter-gatherers, who foraged for sustenance and brought the fruits of their labor back to the hearth.
The “tele” component of telecommuting came into play much later, in response to the energy crisis of the 1970s. Early on, the phrase “telework” often was used to describe telecommuting, although that term is less commonly used.
Today, telecommuting is a broad umbrella term, used almost generically to describe work that can be done from a remote location, i.e., outside a traditional office or workplace setting.
To tackle the broad concept of telecommuting, FlexJobs is breaking it down into bite-size pieces so job seekers can gain a deeper appreciation of just how flexible telecommuting can be.
Our goal? To help FlexJobs readers capitalize on the expanding telecommuting market, which is a driving force in the work flexibility movement.
What Is Telecommuting
As a job category, telecommuting encompasses several, often interchangeable, terms. It’s useful to go over some of the most widely used definitions of telecommuting, and to offer some related keywords if you’re searching online for telecommuting jobs.
Check out these telecommuting-related job search phrases, and their sometimes synonymous, overlapping meanings:
Remote: A pretty basic question to ask here is, what is a remote job? It might help to think of remote work as a position where the duties can be accomplished outside of a traditional office or workplace setting. Remote jobs might involve working from home, from a coworking space, or on the road (like in a sales position, for example). Some remote jobs involve a combination of home-based and office-based work.
Virtual: Working in a virtual job usually involves working 100% of the time from a home-based office, or from any other 100% virtual setting. The term “virtual” is often used as part of the job description for positions that involve telecommuting not just here and there, but 100% of the time. Companies that have no physical office location often use this term to describe themselves as well (“virtual company”). “Virtual” is an excellent search term if your goal is to work entirely from home or from another remote location.
Mobile: This is something of a hybrid term that, in many cases, involves work that can be done “on the go”—in other words, from the road. Or it can be used to describe jobs that you can take with you, even if you start out in one geographic location and end up moving to another. If you’re wondering what a mobile job is, think about jobs like writing, editing, IT-related posts, and teaching jobs that can be done from anywhere, unlike, say, some sales positions that encompass a set geographic territory.
Digital Nomad: The term “digital nomad” is, comparatively speaking, a Johnny-come-lately phrase in the telecommuting lexicon. Generally, a digital nomad is a worker without roots, whose goals is to enjoy the freedom to pull up stakes at will to experience a new location. So, what is a digital nomad? Think of it as the more free-spirited version of a telecommuter. There’s a bit of romanticism attached to being a digital nomad; the term conjures up images of workers at the beach with their laptops, or roaming far-flung lands while making a living at the same time. There’s more than a bit of truth to those images.
Work-from-Home: In some respects work-from-home jobs represent the flip side of being a digital nomad. Many employers who advertise work-from-home positions have an expectation that job candidates will have a set and established home office, and may even require workers to be available during set hours. To be sure, that’s not always the situation; increasingly, employers are offering results-only work environments, or ROWE, where the goal is meeting deadlines, regardless of what hour of the day the work is accomplished or where it’s done.
Who Is Telecommuting
The statistics about who’s telecommuting offer fantastic news for anyone considering joining the ranks of this flexible work frontier.
Numerous studies have documented the growth in telecommuting jobs, providing a growing body of evidence that telecommuting has moved far beyond the days when it was a questionable career move, and into the mainstream of the global job marketplace.
Check out these stats and studies about the burgeoning telecommuting job market:
A study conducted by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics compiled comprehensive and up-to-date statistics about the state of telecommuting in the United States. Some of the findings:
- Telecommuting has grown 115% since 2005.
- 3.9 million employees now enjoy telecommuting options at least half the time.
- The 3.9 million employees who telecommuted (half-time or more) in 2015 collectively saved employers $44 billion a year
- Forty percent more U.S. employers offer flexible workplace options than they did in 2010.
There were yet more encouraging findings in a Gallup Work and Education Poll, which found that 37% of U.S. workers were telecommuting in 2015—a four-fold increase compared to 1995. Other telecommuting stats from the Gallup report:
- The average U.S. worker telecommutes about two days per month.
- Telecommuters are just as productive outside of the workplace as they are in a traditional work setting.
- Some 46% of workers who telecommute “do so during the work day.”
To be sure, telecommuting is a nationwide, and global, phenomenon. However, in the U.S., telecommuting is more prevalent in some states than others. FlexJobs identified the top 15 states with the most telecommuting jobs. Here are the states and some recently available telecommuting jobs:
- California: Anthem, Inc., Dell, and Volkswagen Group
- Texas: Humana, Toyota, and Wells Fargo
- New York: Adobe, Salesforce, and Xerox
- Florida: American Heart Association, Colgate-Palmolive, and Hilton
- Illinois: Blue Cross Blue Shield, Ernst & Young, and Nestle
- Pennsylvania: Oracle, Philips, and Voya Financial
- Virginia: Biogen, CenturyLink, and Nielsen
- North Carolina: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Lenovo, and SAP
- Georgia: Chobani, Office Depot, and Worldpay
- Arizona: Progressive, Verizon, and Walgreens
- Minnesota: Boston Scientific, Citizens Bank, and UnitedHealth Group
- Massachusetts: Liberty Mutual, Mitsubishi Electric, and The Hartford
- Colorado: JPMorgan Chase, OpenTable, and Unilever
- New Jersey: DeVry University, General Electric – GE, and Robert Half International
- Ohio: Capella University, Cars.com, and 3M
Since we’re addressing the question of “what is telecommuting,” it may be helpful to examine the levels of telecommuting options that job seekers need to understand in order to make the best choices for their career goals.
- 100% Telecommunicating: This category includes “virtual” jobs and other positions that are 100% telecommuting. These jobs may involve being part of a distributed team, working for a completely virtual company, or working for a more traditional company that offers 100% virtual work options.
- Mostly Telecommuting: Jobs that are “mostly telecommuting” may require workers to spend at least part of their work schedule in a traditional office. Depending on the job, you could be free to telecommute for most of your work schedule, but required to come into a traditional workplace setting at least some of the time.
- Some Telecommuting: Jobs that offer “some telecommuting” may mean working anywhere from a day or two a week to several days monthly in an office or other non-virtual work setting.
- Option for Telecommuting: The term “optional” sums up this category. A job with an option for telecommuting may lay out the terms of the telecommuting option upfront, or it could mean it’s up to you to negotiate with the employer to reach a mutual agreement about how often you can telecommute and the conditions for completing your work assignments.
Why Most Telecommuting Jobs Require a Location
Digital nomads aside, the vast majority of employers in FlexJobs’ telecommuting job listings—some 95%—require employees to have a fixed location. There are a number of reasons at-home jobs require locations, and here are a few:
- Taxes: If an employer’s business is required to be performed in specific locations because of taxes paid or collected on goods or services, the employer in turn may be constrained geographically when it comes to a pool of potential job candidates.
- Professional Licensing: Some professions—teaching and nursing among them—require certifications that are specific to a certain area or region. In those cases, employers work within geographic restrictions when hiring for some telecommuting positions.
- Legal Considerations: In some instances, employers may be legally required to hire employees who live within a specific geographic region close to the employer’s base operations.
- In-Office Meetings: Some telecommuting positions offer employees great latitude to work from home, but require them to come into a local or regional office on a regular basis for staff meetings. If the meeting requirements are once or twice a year, it may be less of an issue, versus requirements to be in the office weekly or monthly.
Available Telecommuting Jobs
Don’t restrict your thinking when it comes to the kinds of jobs that can be done from home. In fact, telecommuting jobs are available across a diverse range of industry sectors for jobs that might seem obviously telecommute-friendly in come cases—and maybe not so much in others.
If you’re looking for telecommuting work, here are a few work-from-home job titles you might consider, as well as jobs you can do from home—depending, of course, on your background, experience, and career goals:
Common Work-From-Home Job Titles: software developer, systems analyst, travel counselor, customer service representative, program manager, IT analyst, grant writer, SEO professional, clinical trial manager, healthcare consultant, editor, therapist, account executive, grant writer, clinical trial manager, site manager, territory sales manager
Common Jobs You Can Do From Home: medical coder, writer, engineer, graphic designer, language interpreter, adjunct professor, UX/UI designer, marketing professional
Companies Hiring for Telecommuting Jobs
FlexJobs’ annual ranking of 100 top companies with remote jobs is an amazing place to start if you’re looking to see the tremendous range of companies that hire for telecommuting jobs.
Industries that hire for telecommuting jobs include tech giants like Amazon; Humana, a global healthcare leader; cloud contact center Liveops; Kaplan, a for-profit educational institution; U.K.-based marketing and advertising company Hibu; and the American Heart Association, one of the most well-known and successful nonprofit organizations in the country.
That’s just a small sampling of the kinds of companies that hire workers across the U.S., and around the globe, for telecommuting jobs that offer great, and healthy, work-life integration.
Best Sources for Telecommuting Jobs and Information
Where to from here? Having fully explored a range of answers to the question, “what is telecommuting?,” we hope you’re fully briefed on just how wide-ranging the options are for job seekers looking for telecommuting opportunities.
If you’re feeling fully prepped to launch your search for telecommuting positions, we can offer a few premier sources for job seekers. Of course, FlexJobs tops our list for job seekers looking for a fully vetted database of thousands of flexible jobs, including remote, part-time, freelance, and flexible schedule positions.
Our sister site, Remote.co, provides tremendous resources for employers who are branching out and seeking to offer more flexible work options, including telecommuting.
For an even deeper dive into flexible work, check out the FlexJobs blog for great tips and job search strategies pertaining to telecommuting, insight for remote workers, and tips on working from home.