Teleworker or Telecommuter? Terms for Today’s Workforce

video conference

There are many terms used to describe workers nowadays. ‘Telecommuters’ made their way into the virtual office as early as the mid-1970s. ‘Teleworkers’ followed just over a decade later. Now we have ‘remote’ employees and ‘distributed’ teams. Is there a difference? (Admittedly, I tend to use some of these terms interchangeably.) More importantly, does it really matter? For some organizations, especially large organizations, it can be important to define how employees work if there are different requirements, policies, provisions, or benefits for these different types of work arrangements. From research and speaking with a number of organizations, here are the most commonly used terms and their definitions:

Flextime/Flexwork: 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.

Telework: Working a full or part-time schedule from a location other than an employer’s designated workplace. Telework includes working from a home site office, co-working/telework center, or anywhere else that is outside a traditional corporate or government office.

Telecommute: Often used synonymously with the word ‘telework.’ Historically, telecommuting was defined as using technology to work anywhere that reduces commuting time. In many organizations, telecommuting refers to part-time work-from-home while telework is fulltime work-from-home status.

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.

Workplace Flexibility: Defining how, when and where work gets done that is mutually synergistic for both employers and employees. It is a commitment from employers to build a more flexible organization culture to meet employee needs for work-life integration (in a more seamless way).

Mobility: 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. In some organizations, “mobile” workers are those that have access to the employer’s office locations but travel frequently are expected to work regardless of location.

Distributed Work Teams (a.ka. Virtual Teams): Teams in which at least one team member is not geographically located with the rest of the team. Teams may work together permanently or on a temporary basis and may cut across organizational/functional groups.

Organizations may tailor or define terminology to meet their needs; however, it is always a good practice to ensure work arrangements are clearly defined to all employees.

Good luck,


**The list above was taken from the book Workshift.


4 Responses to Teleworker or Telecommuter? Terms for Today’s Workforce

  1. Reblogged this on Skip Your Commute and commented:
    A great post to help you learn the terms of the new workforce!

  2. John says:

    Reblogged this on The 14 Step Commute: Making it Work from Home and commented:
    Here’s a good list of definitions for telecommuting and remote working. For the record, I am a Remote Worker by this definition as there is no office for me to go to.

  3. jcravens says:

    Same for virtual volunteering – people volunteering from home or work computers or smart phones. Back in the 1990s, people were calling online volunteers “cyber volunteers.” Now, 20 years later, I’m seeing “digital volunteers” more and more. Microvolunteering is a subset of virtual volunteering, but no one can agree if micro tasks are 5 minutes or a few days or somewhere in between. And then there’s people who are confused by people who provide some volunteering onsite and some online. What to call them? Me, I call them all VOLUNTEERS. I’m looking forward to the day when these virtual/cyber/micro/digital descriptors are no longer needed, just automatically accepted.

    • Great point. The fact that we are still using these terms highlights the fact that we haven’t made it over the mental hurdle of being able to work outside an office. Eventually working (or volunteering) from anywhere will become the norm.

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