Work from Home vs. Virtual Flex: What’s the Difference?

June 18, 2020 | Flexible Workforce | Blog


man working on computer

Working from Home Vs. Virtual Work: Which Is the Better Option for You and Your Business?

Words like “work” and “home” don’t mean what they used to. Today, millions of people do their jobs in the same places they live their lives. They can measure the distance to their offices, not in miles, but steps. They can wear practically anything to work (as long as the camera’s off). Workers can meet, coordinate projects, provide goods and services, and win business all from the comfort of their own desks, sofas, or dining tables.

But let’s be real. For as much as the world has changed, many aspects of working life have remained the same. Most people are still expected to be available to complete their tasks roughly between the hours of 9am and 5pm. Employers and their employees are located in the same metropolitan areas.

Meetings are still meetings. Customers are still customers. Deadlines are still deadlines. Work is still work.

…Well, for the most part. Some people and companies are realizing that the decline of the brick-and-mortar office offers new opportunities to redefine work, life, and the balance between the two. These individuals and organizations are not simply working from home, but operating under a new, more dynamic and flexible model: virtual work.

Working from Home, Virtual Work, Remote Work, Telecommuting: What’s the Difference?

This is one of the trickier things to understand for job-seekers and employers alike. Many misconceptions stem from the conflation of terms such as “remote work,” “virtual work,” “telecommuting,” and “working from home.” 

Let’s use remote work as the umbrella term and divide things into two general categories: working from home (which encompasses telecommuting) and virtual work.

What Working from Home Means

Working from home means doing an office job at home. For example, if you worked at a physical location you shared with co-workers prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, were sent home, and got to keep your job, you were then or are now working from home. 

When people work from home, they’re expected to do their jobs a certain way, show up and be available at certain times, and use the technology and tools their employers provide. They’re still employees working for the same companies. The main difference is where they’re working—not how, when, or how much they’re working. 

This is why working from home is often called telecommuting. Rather than using a car to get to work, you’re using the internet.

What Virtual Work Means

Virtual work is a fundamentally different labor model. There’s no commute, tele- or otherwise. 

In fact, there’s no need to limit oneself to a regional employer. Virtual workers can work for anyone at any time. They have room to set their own hours and schedules. 

In many ways, virtual workers are the ones who call the shots. How, when, and how long they work depends on how much opportunity there is and how much time they’re willing to give. They can work as much or as little as they want, in the way they want to. 

That level of freedom comes with distinct responsibilities. Virtual workers may have to provide their own tools and technology. Mindset matters as well. People who work virtually need to be self-motivated and self-disciplined—able to deliver quality work at a consistent pace with little manager or supervisor oversight.

Some people also refer to this as a “flexible work arrangement” (or simply “flex work”), or with some combination of the terms “virtual,” “flex,” and “on-demand.” Uber’s staffing model is often cited as an example of flex work. However, not all flexible jobs are virtual jobs. For instance, an Uber driver needs to be working within a certain physical location. Truly virtual jobs are both flexible and remote.

TLDR: Working from home and virtual work both happen remotely, but that’s where the similarities end. Virtual work is freer, more flexible, and more entrepreneurial than work-from-home arrangements.

What Are the Advantages of Virtual Work?

Virtual work offers numerous benefits for people and organizations.

Businesses that leverage virtual work…

  • Access talent when they need it
  • Reduce labor costs
  • Can staff up quickly for unanticipated surges
  • Source high-quality, motivated workers from anywhere
  • Reduce workforce turnover and burnout

People who choose virtual work…

  • Act as their own bosses
  • Set their own hours and schedules
  • Control the direction of their careers
  • Can find meaningful work wherever they live 
  • Have the freedom to follow opportunities as they arise

That said, virtual work isn’t for everyone and every employer. To succeed as a virtual worker, a person needs to be intrinsically motivated rather than driven by short-term extrinsic rewards. In other words, building one’s own business and living life on one’s own terms needs to be more important than a pizza party at the end of the month. 

For this reason, successful virtual workers tend to be more experienced than entry-level employees. They frequently have established lives, routines, and goals outside of their jobs. In fact, many choose virtual work because it gives them the flexibility to take care of their families or follow their creative pursuits.

Most businesses can benefit from embracing the virtual work model in some form, but many—including many enterprise companies—can’t implement it immediately by themselves. Transitioning to virtual work involves myriad security, training, and management considerations. You can’t just send everyone home and expect them to become self-sufficient remote professionals overnight. A better option would be to designate certain departments or people to switch, or to use a virtual work solution to supplement brick-and-mortar or work-from-home teams.

Whether you’re looking for a better way to work or a better way to source talent, Liveops makes it easy. We provide the people, learning, and security infrastructure you need to make the virtual flex model work for you and your business.

Learn how people and organizations of all kinds are redefining work with Liveops.


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Matt Lurie

Matt Lurie is a freelance writer, editor, and designer. He has worked in industries such as retail, marketing, accounting, real estate, legal services, and technology, with a focus on helping pioneering and transformative brands tell their stories.

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