Working from home or working at home: What are you doing?


The pandemic has brought working from home, working at home, and remote work into the limelight. The teams are struggling to understand what is their exact status and so are the employment contracts and in some cases, the courts as well.

Work from home? Remote team? Distributed team?

According to this article, work from home is a temporary arrangement while remote work is more permanent. Work from home is what the world did in 2020 – working from spaces in their home, without any assessment, training or organisational re-structuring.

Remote work is a more strategic approach where the leadership goes remote permanently. It means employees can work from anywhere, brings in more flexibility and may see employees being hired from different countries as well.

Distributed teams are dispersed across the globe – a subtle but important difference from remote teams that may still be in the same jurisdiction. Companies like Automattic, Gitlab, Convert, Doist, and more are some of the best examples of this.

Working from home or working at home

We presented the definitions in the simplest form above, but simple is rarely correct. There is some compliance related difference between working from home and working at home. For legal, tax, payroll, employment contract, and other compliance purposes, one needs to understand the difference between the two.

For many, there is little or no difference between the two and the major difference being how they are applied. According to Tim Burgess, Co-founder of Shield GEO,

Is the employee’s work location fixed (at home)?

Or does the employee have some flexibility over where they work (in the office but at home sometimes with permission)?

Or a medium amount of flexibility (in the office or at home whenever they want)?

Or quite a lot of flexibility (work from anywhere in the state)?

Work from home

Work from home is an arrangement that is for a longer duration. For example, 2020 made teams work from home for a year. Employees that will be seeking flexible working arrangements will be working from home and may go to the office only as and when needed.

In this context, home is not a specific location but means anywhere (within the same jurisdiction) but the office. The degree of flexibility could vary – working from home, or a co-working space, working from the same state (to maintain the same jurisdiction for legal, tax and payroll compliance), or somewhere else.

Compliance forms a major part of the difference and could help translate the real intention and meaning when the arrangement is working from home.

Work at home

Work at home is a temporary arrangement that allows an employee to complete some of their official tasks at home. For example, if an employee takes half a day off to attend to some domestic situation, and completes the official tasks at home, then that employee is working at home.

Working at home does not require compliance or a larger duty of care and protection from the employers – as it is a short term, one-off arrangement.

This also denotes that the location of work is fixed – home. The employee may not be permitted to work from a cafe, co-working space or anywhere else, even if they work in the same jurisdiction.

Compliance requirements when working from home

Based on the location and laws, compliance requirements vary. But the most common compliance needed across the globe are:

Payroll compliance

Tax compliance

Workplace assessment – now mandatory in Ireland, UK, Spain and Germany

Ergonomic assessment

Risk assessment and employer liability insurance

Certain laws may also require the employer to asses the co working space for workplace injury, ergonomics and risk if their employer is looking to work from these spaces for a longer period of time.

The lack of exact definitions has made employers and HR personnel define these terms as per their understanding and convenience. Legal definitions that will be widely accepted will be a result of the impending trials in the courts of law across the globe.

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