It’s that time of year – time for predictions of what’s to come. Assuming the Mayans are not correct and we will not lose our internet connection later this year, my prediction for 2012 is that we are going to talk more and more about mobility. In fact, I actually believe we will start changing our terminology from telecommuting, telework and teleworkers to mobility, mobile work and mobile workers.
Jack Niles first coined the term “telecommuting” in 1973 while at the University of Southern California. That was long before the dawn of email, VoIP, instant messaging, desktop sharing applications, or telerpesence. Consider that digital fax machines didn’t appear in offices until about 1976 (developed by Exxon of all companies!) . Niles’s early research focused on workers at an insurance company using a satellite office and connecting to the head office mainframe using terminals (if you have memories of this, then you are obviously not part of Generation Y). It’s interesting that over the years telecommuting has become synonymous with working from home. That capability didn’t really exist when Niles first came up with the term.
Since the 1990s, telework has become en vogue, replacing the term telecommute. In Making Telework Work, I tried to define telework as the ability “to perform your job without the limits or boundaries of geography… or the need for physical presence.” I thought of it as the umbrella term that would include telecommuting, working from home, remote office workers, etc. Unfortunately, the term telework in many organizations has also become synonymous with employees working from home on a fulltime basis. There are an estimated 20 -30 million teleworkers in the United States depending on which research study you read. However, when we try to capture numbers around teleworkers, traditional workers that are working from home after hours or working while they are traveling are often left out of the equation. And let’s face it, the term telework still has a lot of baggage associated with it.
As we kick off the new year, I encourage you to think about mobility. Mobility may finally be the concept that gets us over the hurdle and beyond all the historical misperceptions of telecommuting and teleworking. There are approximately 1 billion mobile workers worldwide and 1/3 of the workforce is expected to be mobile by 2013 according to IDC. The issue of mobility is further amplified by the growing use of mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, in the workplace. With smart phone adoption growing over 50% annually, there will be an influx of consumer devices whether or not they are supported by their local IT group.
All of this is a good thing, I believe. Organizational leaders and those advocating telework can continue to drive their telework agendas by thinking in terms of mobility. By developing a mobility strategy and creating a more mobile workforce they will by default create a work-anywhere environment, whether from a home office or remote location.