What is Remote Work?

Remote work is a working style that lets you work outside the traditional office environment based on the idea that work doesn't need to be done from a specific place.

Abi Tyas Tunggal

05 Oct 2021 • 17 min read

What is Remote Work?

In this article

There isn't a one-size-fits-all definition of remote work. It takes on a variety of different forms depending on the size, stage, and philosophy of a company and will change as the company matures.

In general, remote work is a working style that lets you work outside the traditional office environment based on the idea that work doesn't need to be done from a specific place.

Under this definition, remote employees skip the daily commute to the office and work from wherever they please which gives them better work-life balance.

Remote work can also mean working from home a few days a week and working in the office the rest of the time. Even if a company doesn't support remote work, if it has multiple offices it deals with similar challenges to a remote company despite not falling into the above definition of remote work. Even a co-located office with multiple floors will adopt some remote work practices.

Woman working with two small children

How do people work remotely?

There are a number of ways to work remotely but to be successful requires the right mix of culture, processes, and technology.

There is no single best way to work remotely, teams and people can choose to work in the way that suits their needs and desires. That's one of the key benefits of remote work.

For example, you may choose to work from home most of the week to reduce commuting time but go into the office on Friday to catch up with your co-workers. Generally, you work from your home office or nearby cafe and work from the company's office as needed.

Other remote employees who aren't co-located in the same city as an office may choose to work from a co-working space as it offers a better work environment than their home while allowing them to network and connect with other people throughout their workday.

Some remote workers take full advantage of the flexibility that remote working proves and choose to be digital nomads, setting their own schedule and working from wherever they want. Whether that is a remote location halfway across the world or the next town over.

The common characteristics that are needed to work remotely are:

  • Reliable Internet: Remote work depends heavily on fast and reliable Internet for video conferencing, real-time collaboration, and access to SaaS products.
  • Communication and collaboration tools: Remote workers need to collaborate with each other via team chat, video conferencing, file sharing, and project management software. Read our guide on remote collaboration tools and best practices to learn more.
  • Strong culture: High-performing remote teams have cultures built on trust and teamwork, and are typically focused more on results than hours worked. This culture is built on the back of supportive management that understands the benefits that remote workers provide to their business.
Two people working in a home office

What jobs can be done remotely?

Remote work has never been more popular, forcing companies to adapt their jobs to fit into a remote-first world. Any job where the bulk of work can be done online is fair game but below are popular remote jobs and industries.

Popular remote jobs: Developers, software engineering, sales, customer success, product management, user research, marketing, design, product designers, and finance.

Popular industries for remote companies: SaaS, marketplaces, enterprise software, ecommerce, software, blockchain, cryptocurrency, web3, fintech, financial services, and education

Man working at desk

The different types of remote workers

Remote workers fall into one of the following categories:

  • Working from home (or work from home or WFH): Working from home allows employees to avoid commuting into the office daily and instead to work from home offices.
  • Remote employees: Remote employees don't commute to the office and instead choose to work from wherever they want, typically their home office, a co-working space, or coffee shop. Depending on the company they work for, they may be allowed to work from anywhere or only particular countries or time zones.
  • Freelancers: Freelancers aren't full-time employees of a company. Instead they contract themselves out for a specific rate for a length of time or project to multiple companies. They are typically self-employed but may also work through an employment agency or marketplace.
  • Contractors: Similar to freelancers, but typically work full-time for a single company for a set period of time. Unlike full-time remote workers, contractors generally do not receive benefits like healthcare, parental leave, etc. That said, many fully remote companies employ their international colleagues as contractors to avoid the complexities of overseas tax and payroll requirements but still offer benefits.
  • Digital nomads: People who earn their living online while traveling full-time, working whenever and wherever they like. Digital nomads can be remote employees, freelancers, contractors, or entrepreneurs.
  • Entrepreneurs: If you run your own business, remote work could be a great option for you. While still a relatively new concept, it's increasingly easy to manage a remote workforce due to modern technology. It's also a great way to attract and retain talent. Many employees have experienced remote work due to the coronavirus pandemic and do not plan to return to the office. Remote employees are a great way to improve your company culture as it often increases the diversity of your employer base. Read our guide on attracting remote talent for more.
  • Teleworking (or telecommuting or telecommuters): This is an older term that describes the practice of working from somewhere other than the main company office. This is generally synonyms with working from home.
Woman with small family

Why do people work remotely?

People work remotely because it offers a multitude of benefits to employees and employers. It's also gained a great deal of traction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many organizations to shift from an in-office work environment to a fully remote workforce.

But its long-term popularity is driven by the benefits it provides ranging from increased productivity to happier, and healthier workers.

Team on video call

Benefits of remote work for employees

Remote work offers a number of benefits to employees that you are likely aware of but a few may surprise you:

  1. Better work-life balance: A more flexible schedule is the most obvious reason people work remotely. While remote workers may miss out on interacting with their co-workers in person, they can choose to start and finish work earlier to pick up their kids from school or take time off during the day to do the washing.
  2. Control over their commute: Office employees have no choice but to commute which eats away at free time. The average commute time for the U.S. workforce is 26.1 minutes each way or nearly ten days lost to commuting per year.
  3. Work from anywhere: While this is reserved for fully remote workers, it's a huge benefit. Even if you're bound to a specific time zone or country, remote work means you can move to a cheaper city or prioritize lifestyle rather than proximity to the office.
  4. Access to more and better job opportunities: This is one of the best benefits of working remotely. Remote work opportunities aren't bound by geographic location and the COVID pandemic has only accelerated how many there are.
  5. Improved inclusivity, diversity, and exposure to different cultures: Remote companies tend to have a great deal of diversity. Particularly those that aren't constrained by a specific country. A great example of this is GitLab who have remote employees in over 68 countries!
  6. Lower cost of living: Remote work is a great way to avoid paying expensive rent or having a large mortgage. Rent isn’t the only place you’ll save money. The average American commuters can spend as much as $5,000 per year on their daily commute - including the cost of gas, maintenance costs, public transport, etc.
  7. Better pay: Don't believe the myth that remote workers are underpaid. Contrary to popular belief, research from PayScale that analyzed thousands of salaries determined that remote workers make 8.3% more than non-remote workers with the same job and 7.5% more in general.
  8. Lower environmental impact and improved sustainability: KPMG estimates that 13 to 27 million people will continue working from home reducing commuting by 70 to 140 billion miles each year. This reduces air pollution which has adverse effects on numerous health outcomes and general morality that are widely documented not to mention its significant cognitive costs.
  9. Control over your office and work environment: Working from home means you’re able to create an environment designed for your needs and desires. Whether you want a more ergonomic chair, music playing at a particular volume, or to heat up or cool down the room, it’s in your control.
  10. Higher productivity and improved performance: Conventional wisdom is that open office plans are needed to promote collaboration but they are penny-wise and pound-foolish. There is overwhelming scientific consensus that open plan offices reduce productivity by at least 15%. The deep work that remote and flex work enable offer far more over the long-term.
  11. Happier and healthier life: Working remotely gives employees the time and control over their environment they need to make healthy choices. With no commute, no lunch rush, and no long hours in the office away from family, remote workers are generally happier and healthier.
  12. Self sufficiency and improved writing: Video conferencing is higher friction than tapping a colleague on the shoulder, so remote workers tend to develop the skill of looking for answers and being proactive before asking for help. In fact, it's one of the most important remote work skills. They also tend to be better writers, a valuable skill in any work environment.
  13. Strong bonds with co-workers around the world: One common misconception is that remote workers are lonely. If you’ve ever played video games, you know you don’t need to be physically around someone to become good friends.
  14. Less office politics: Completely avoiding office politics is impossible but it's less prevalent at well-run remote companies. Remote teams rely heavily on effective communication so remote workers tend to be great communicators which reduces the risk of misunderstandings and politicking.
Zoom call with team

Benefits of remote work for employers

Employers have found the benefits they receive from supporting remote workers are substantial. From decreased costs and lower environmental impacts to increased employee productivity and retention, it’s safe to say employers can embrace teleworking without sacrificing performance:

  1. High levels of employee productivity: According to a two-year study conducted by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom in conjunction with C-Trip found telecommuters had a productivity boost equivalent to a full day’s work each week compared to in-office colleagues. This increased productivity was attributed to a multitude of things such as happier, healthier, and more rested employees to less day-to-day interruptions which freed up employees to focus on deep work and problem-solving.
  2. Lower costs: Remote employers can save money on real estate, transit subsidies, in-office perks, and other overheads that come with a physical office. As an extreme example, Google will likely save over a billion dollars this year because employees are working from home. The savings stem from reduced costs related to promotions, travel, entertainment, and in-office perks.
  3. Access to a larger talent pool: If you don't support remote work, you are relegating yourself to employees who live or are willing to relocate to your office. Removing geographic requirements means you can hire the best person for the job, regardless of geography. If you’re looking to hire remote talent, post your jobs on Himalayas.
  4. Increased employee satisfaction and improved employee retention: Retaining employees is one of the hardest problems to solve and the war for talent has never been fiercer. The average millennial only spends about two years at a company. Work-life flexibility is a major contributor to employee happiness and retention. Retaining employees also makes financial sense as the average cost of onboarding a new employee is between 6 and 9 months’ salary.
  5. Improved disaster preparedness: A remote workforce means business can continue during a natural disaster, local or national emergency, or a global pandemic.
  6. Better networked employees: Having remote employees means they can attend events in their own locale which can lead to new connections, clients, or employees for your business.
  7. Lower carbon footprint: Allowing your employees to skip the commute lowers greenhouse gas emissions. If all employees in the U.S. who held remote-compatible jobs (about 50% of the workforce) and wanted to work remotely (about 79% of the workforce) did, greenhouse gases could reduced by 54 million tons.

If you're looking to hire remote talent, be sure to check out our guides on how to attract, hire, and onboard remote employees.

Common remote working challenges

There are challenges that come with remote working:

  • Risk of feeling isolated: If you're used to working alongside your colleagues in an office, the transition to remote work can be jarring. That said, many remote companies offer co-working space stipends or other programs to help you break up the monotony of your home office. You can also work from a local cafe. Many remote companies even have in-person retreats in different countries to get the team together.
  • More responsibility for your own productivity: Remote work requires a self-starter attitude. No one is there to keep you on task, you just need to get your work done. If you have trouble with this, remote work might not be for you.
  • Your team isn't always online when you are: This is particularly acute if you work in a truly distributed company. Your manager or the person you work closely with might be on the other side of the world and be signing off just as you sign on.
  • Productivity can drop: Without clear guidelines and goals, your motivation can drop which leads to lower productivity. That said, this can also happen in an office so it's not like it's unique to remote working.
  • Mistrust and micromanagement: If your company is new to working remotely, they might not trust you to work productively which can cause your manager to micromanage you.
  • Unreliable technology: Inadequate tools and technology can be a productivity and morale destroyer. Slow or unreliable Internet can make running meetings hard and lead to lower output.
Zoom call with team

The different types of remote companies

If you're looking to work remotely, it's a good idea to understand the different types of remote companies. It's tempting to categorize companies as remote or not remote but most companies will exist somewhere between the two extremes.

For example, one company may allow you to work from home whenever you want but require you to live in the same city as your office in case you need to come in. Another company may allow you to work from any U.S. time zone, and a different company may be fully distributed with remote employees across the globe.

Common types of remote companies:

  • Single office (or co-located) companies: Companies with a central office space where team members work from regularly. While not traditionally seen as a remote company, if the company supports telecommuting or working from home it can be classified as a type of remote company.
  • Multi-office companies: Companies with more than one office that isn't necessarily in the same location with employees regularly commuting to their local office. Offices that aren't near other offices are known as satellite offices. Again, if the company supports telecommuting or working from home it's a remote company. Even if it doesn't, it faces similar challenges to truly remote companies because of its distributed nature.
  • Hybrid companies: Companies with at least one physical location that employees work from regularly while also widely supporting work from home. Hybrid companies may support truly remote work too.
  • Fully remote companies (or fully distributed or all-remote companies): Companies with no physical office and a fully remote employee base including their executive team but previously worked as a single office, multi-office, or hybrid company. Check out our post on 100+ fully remote companies.
  • Remote-first companies: Companies that are remote from day one, increasingly common as remote work becomes more popular.
  • Remote-friendly company: A hybrid company that allows and supports remote work but tends to maintain core working hours and requires time zone overlap with one of their physical offices.

If you'd like to learn more about remote-first and remote-friendly companies read this post.

Woman thinking at computer

How to work out if remote work is right for you

Not every remote role is the same, so you'll need to assess remote job opportunities individually to understand what company and role is right for you. If you're starting your search:

  • Think about when you want to work: In-person jobs tend to have standard expectations around when and where you're going to work, generally 9-to-5 in the office 5 days a week. Remote work is more flexible. For example, you could work at a company in your time zone that works the traditional 9-to-5 or you could find a company that works asynchronously and doesn't care what hours you work. Another option is to look for companies that match your ideal schedule. Maybe you live in Australia but you're a night owl so a company operating in U.S. timezones is a good fit.
  • Think about what kind of company you want to work for: You want to get along with the people you work with and be excited about the company's mission and values. Remote work can make this harder to work out as every company does remote work differently. One company might have a majority in-person team with a few remote employees, while another may be 100% remote and time zone agnostic. There's a huge difference between working a job where you're not far from the office and are expected to come in a few times a month, and a job where your thousands of miles away and may never visit the office. Then there are companies with no office at all!
  • Consider what management style you enjoy: Some remote managers schedule regular video calls with their remote team to keep in touch while others prefer to work asynchronously and communicate primarily through text. Before taking the job consider what management style works well for you. No one style is inherently better, but it's important to figure out what you're looking for.
  • Research the company before applying: Not only will this help you during the interview process, it's also help you filter out which remote companies aren't a good fit. Himalayas has thousands of remote company profiles that you can use to learn remote companies, their culture and benefits, and even their tech stack.
Zoom call with two people

Common misconceptions about remote work

Despite remote work becoming more common, there are a number of common misconceptions:

  • Remote work makes communication difficult: Modern technology has made it easy to communicate virtually. Remote employees tend to be excellent communicators who put in the effort to communicate project statuses, obstacles, and progress. Whether it's through video conferencing software, mobile phones, or annual in-person retreats, it's never been easier to communicate and build relationships with remote co-workers.
  • Remote workers are always working: This is a common fear for newly remote employees and employers and for good reason. When you don't separate work from life, it can be hard to know when to stop. But remember, one of the main reasons employees choose to work remotely is for more control over their schedule. If you're an employer, you don't want employees to burn out so work with your remote employees to set clear expectations and communicate them to the team.
  • Remote workers are never working: Somehow, there is also a stereotype that remote workers aren't as committed as in-office employees. This isn't true. Long-term studies conducted by Gallup Research, The University of Melbourne, Harvard Business School, and Stanford University all point to the same thing: remote employees are more productive.
  • Remote workers are unhappy: While employers worry that working remotely inhibits employee happiness, the opposite is often true. Employees who tend to work outside the office have better work-life balance and tend to reach out proactively to build relationships with their co-workers.
  • Remote work is expensive: Yes, it's true that remote workers get paid more than their in-office counterparts. But it's also true that having remote employees can save company money. 36% of employees would choose the ability to telecommute over a pay raise.
  • Our company isn't set up to work remotely: Even though remote work is growing in popularity, there are a large number of companies that don't believe it can work. This might be true for some companies but it isn't for most, it might just take a bit of adjustment.
  • Remote aren't contributing to company culture: Your company culture shouldn't be based on ideal chat over the water cooler. Remote employees can introduce new cultures to your organization and can improve your diversity.
Man on computer in woodworking shop
No matter your job, chances are you can set up a remote lifestyle

How to work remotely

If you've made it this far, you're probably thinking, how can I work remotely? Here are a few ways you can start living a remote work lifestyle:

The best remote job boards

If you're looking to find a remote job, we've done an exhaustive search for the best remote job boards and compiled them for you in one place, you can see our full list here.

If you want a teaser, here are our top five remote job boards:

1. Himalayas

Himalayas remote jobs search

Himalayas is the best place for remote job seekers to find new jobs. We’re focused on providing a job search experience that has great UX, focused on speed and efficiency. There are no third-party recruiters, so you’ll speak directly to the companies.

Himalayas remote job listing

We’ve got 1,000+ remote jobs and over a thousand remote companies, you can learn about. Whether you work in software development, sales, product, marketing, design, finance, operations, or anything in between we’ve got you covered.

Find a remote job on Himalayas today.

2. FlexJobs

Flexjobs website

FlexJobs is a popular job site to find remote, work from home, and flexible job opportunities that have been around since 2007. It has more than 50 job categories to choose from including freelance projects, part-time jobs, and full-time work. The best part is their team vet the jobs and companies so you’ll only see real remote and flexible job listings.

3. WeWorkRemotely

We Work Remotely website

We Work Remotely is one of the largest remote work job boards in the world. With over 3 million visitors per month, it’s a great place to find remote jobs. You might even find a role from large companies like Google or Amazon on the site as they’ve been known to use it in the past.

4. Remote OK

Remote OK website

Remote OK is one of the best sites to find remote jobs. The site tags all of its jobs with convenient labels to make it easier to find remote positions relevant to you. You can also use them as filters to hone your search and even has a handy “only worldwide jobs” filter that shows jobs that will hire you from anywhere.

5. JustRemote

JustRemote website

JustRemote has a simple search page that lets you quickly filter its remote job listings by category, job type, and job origin. This makes it easy to find a remote position that is hiring in the country you live in! To get started, choose the role you’re looking for, whether you want to be a permanent employee or a contractor, and where you want to work from.

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