Here are the 7 Kinds of Remote Work

COVID Lockdown Isn’t One of Them


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In February, I wrote about how coronavirus is a terrible thing for remote work. A few articles at the time boasted that millions of people would be trying remote work for the first time - and more than a few would realize they liked it.

Fast forward to last week, and two friends commented how they hate remote work . They said it’s lonely and feels like companies are taking advantage of them. And now there’s no opportunity to socialize.

I felt for them, but in my head I kept thinking: You’re not talking about remote work, you’re talking about attempting to get work done during a lockdown

That’s when I realized I was missing something in my previous article: Coronavirus is terrible for remote work because what you’re experiencing right now is not remote work. It’s a forced lockdown masquerading as remote work. 

However, there are 7 kinds of remote work to explore, and that’s what this newsletter is about.

Before we dive in, here are the basic criteria behind remote work:

  1. It has to be planned for in some way. 

  2. It has to be intentional.

  3. Remote work is defined as anywhere not in a company’s private office space. 

  4. Remote work does not require isolation from colleagues or working solo.

  5. Remote work does not need to be full-time to qualify.

The 7 types of remote work 

I’ll start by saying remote work is not new. However, the ways in which we work remotely have evolved over time.

1 - Work from home sick days

You know when you have the sniffles (but you’re not actually sick sick) and your manager says “Work from home. I don’t want you getting anyone else sick!”? Welcome to the first kind of remote work. It’s temporary, mind you, but it’s still focused on you being productive outside of the office.

It’s tempting to lump lockdown into this category - after all, you’re at home so you don’t get sick or get anyone else sick - but the difference is this method might be a day or two for you… and everyone else is still in the office.

2 - Remote as a work-life balance tool

For companies that don’t have planned remote or “office hours,” remote work can be offered as a work-life balance perk. In particular, it’s easy for remote work to be a way to handle emergencies (e.g. when a family member is sick or a plumber is coming) or as a way to extend vacations and staycations. 

Usually evaluated on a case-by-case basis, this option provides control for employers to be flexible - or not - depending on the situation. A company may also buffer this kind of policy with days you can’t be remote, such as a town hall day or other crucial day for the company. 

3 -  Planned work from home

Some companies will have one or two days a week when you can work from home. “Work from home Wednesdays” became a rallying alliteration for this type of remote work. The rest of the time, though, you’re expected to be in the office. 

This type of remote work provides planned flexibility, but still has the primary structure of an office. However, it’s crucial to stress that this is a choice. If you don’t want to work from home on the planned day, you don’t have to. 

4 - Flexible “Office hours”

With “office hours,” the expectation is that you’re in the office during a smaller, defined set of hours in the day - for example, 10 am to 3 pm. The rest of the 9-5 workday can be done from anywhere, whether that’s in the office, at home, at your kid’s soccer practice tethering from your phone, or from the cottage on a Friday evening.

This premise takes a “work from home Wednesdays” concept and stretches it to every day, giving employees the flexibility to deal with life’s odds, ends, and emergencies on a regular basis. 

5 - Distributed company

When you have a team that lives in different cities - and wants to keep it that way - distributed work is a great system. The idea is that everyone has a dedicated office space and you work as if you were all together. You may have webcams on throughout the day, but either way you pretend you’re all in the same room.

You work the same hours, take the same lunches, etc, but everyone is remote - there is no central office.

6 - Fully remote worker

This is what people think of most when they hear “remote work.” This type of employee is expected to be a full-time employee, working 9-5, and with some form of office set up (usually a home office).

It’s similar to a distributed company with one notable difference: a company with fully remote workers usually has an office as well. Working remote is not the only option for the company, as it is with a distributed company. 

This is also the type of remote work that can feel the loneliest, since you’re at home, alone, all day long, with coworkers in an office somewhere else. For workers in this scenario, getting out of your house and seeing other people, whether coworkers or friends and family, is crucial to keeping up mental (and physical) health.

7 - Digital nomad

A digital nomad works remotely for the sake of travelling or living in any destination they choose. They use “geographic arbitrage,” the practice of working for (or freelancing for) companies in places that pay top salaries while living in ultra-low cost areas of the world such as some US states, Portugal, Thailand, and more. 

Because of this, a digital nomad is more likely to choose a type of work where they control their working hours, instead of a job that has stated working hours. That way they are paid for delivering work product, not necessarily for their time, and can travel or plan their days how they choose.

Coronavirus lockdown isn’t real remote work

Coronavirus lockdown looks a lot like being a fully remote worker, but without the intention or preparation. It feels like you could be a digital nomad, except you can’t leave your house. All of a sudden it feels like you work for a distributed company, except none of the tools or processes were in place at the start. 

You are trying to get work done while under lockdown conditions. That’s a vastly different conversation than a choice to work remotely where you can still leave your house to get a social connection and enjoy the area you work in. 

Over time you’ll develop a routine and settle into a distributed company model for the near-term - unfortunately the rest of the options are off the table for now. However, it’s critical to remember that this time of frantically searching for tools, quickly developing processes, and, perhaps most importantly, not having a choice, is not remote work. It’s lockdown work. But the good news is that it will pass in time.

How are you doing with lockdown work? Share your experiences / questions / concerns in the comments.