Call it the Yahoo halo effect, but other companies are starting to become a bit more explicit on their working arrangements. Unless you’ve completely disconnected yourself from the internet over the past month, you’ve seen the buzz created by Yahoo when they pulled the plug on all of their telecommuters and required everyone to work in the office.
Friends at one large Silicon Valley company told me last week their company was not eliminating telecommuting but was clamping down on remote workers. In many organizations we use the terms telecommute, telework, remote working, mobile working, and flexible work arrangements synonymously. However, there are some key differences. Here are my quick, over-simplified definitions:
Telecommuting: First coined by Jack Nilles in 1973, it has historically referred to replacing the physical commute to the office with telecommunications.
Teleworking: Often used interchangeably with telecommuting. In some organizations it refers to fulltime telecommuters. As one friend put it, “You can telecommute 1 day a week and come to the office 4 days or telecommute 4 days a week and come into the office once, but as soon as you telecommute 5 days a week you’re a teleworker.” Not sure if I agree with that definition, but that’s how some see it. In my opinion, telework is just the updated version of telecommute.
Mobile working: The ability of employees, with appropriate tools, technology and flexible workplace policies, to perform work either inside or outside an organization in a way that accommodates multiple modes of working.
Flexible Work Arrangements: Working a full or part-time schedule, but adjusting start and end times to accommodate personal needs or commitments which allow employees more choices in managing their work schedule.
Remote Working: Working in a location where the employee will have no physical interaction with customers/clients or other employees. Usually refers to arrangements where employees have no access to an employer’s workplace.
In the terms used above, the first 4 imply that the employee has access to the physical office place where other employees are located. The last one, remote working, does not. Because of this, some remote workers feel like they have a target on their back. The ones I spoke with claim that they suffer from a sort of virtual bias. In their view, mobile workers, telecommuters, and teleworkers can at least make an appearance in the office and meet in person to prevent others from forgetting them.
Without any data to back these claims, I’m not sure if I want to give into this fear. I think it is important to remember why an organization would want a remote worker. Here are some basic reasons:
- Talent/skill set. An organization may be looking for a specific set of skills or talent that is unavailable near the company location. Bringing work to the employee, versus bring the employee to work is the only option.
- Cost. Many companies are looking to reduce costs and it may be cheaper to have an employee in a low cost area versus near a company or client location.
- Time. It’s possible that having employees in different time zones may benefit the company. Either having a remote employee in the same time zone as clients/customers (think customer service functions) or employees in far away time zones that can work during the company’s normal off hours. The latter, known as a “follow the sun” approach is designed to increase productivity.
- Experience. Although I haven’t seen this used it’s possible that tech companies with products or services that serve the virtual workplace may intentionally have remote workers to use as proof of concept or show customers that the company practices what it preaches.
Given these reasons, I don’t believe remote working is going away. In fact, I would expect to see the number of remote workers increase over time, just as the number of teleworkers and other virtual workers continue to climb.
What do you think?