Teleworker or Telecommuter? Terms for Today’s Workforce

April 29, 2014

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.


Home Office Safety

September 3, 2013

safety first

(Note: Special thanks this month goes to my friend Chuck Wilsker, President of the Telework Coalition.  Chuck provided the good info below about home office safety.  You can learn more about the TelCoa at

Last month I wrote about how you could use the 5S methodology to organize your home office.  It’s a good idea to add an extra “S” and think about safety.  Home office safety is often overlooked but is important for obvious reasons.  Many of the employers I’ve spoken with leave it up to their teleworkers to ensure home offices are safe places to work.  Only a few offer advice, tips, or checklists to ensure employees can work in a productive and safe environment while working from home.

As you set up or review you home office, think about the items below.  To help you remember this, think of the acronym SELF to keep yourSELF safe (get it?  Oh, whatever…).

Security – Ensuring your home office is secure is important because theft of financial or confidential business information can be devastating to your business.  Replacing lost equipment is expensive and time consuming; and invasion of personal safety can leave physical and psychological scars.  Consider the following tips:

  • Don’t meet clients or vendors, or conduct  meetings with co-workers, in your home
  • Ensure you inventory any expensive home office equipment (it’s a good idea to make a video inventory) and make sure its insured if it belongs to you and not your employer
  • Buy a shredder or see if your employer will provide one
  • If possible, don’t store hard copies of sensitive documents in your home office
  • Don’t leave portable data storage devices in plain sight
  • Leverage cloud technologies for data storage versus leaving it on your hard drive
  • If you have to store confidential or sensitive documents in your home office, make sure you have a desk drawer or file cabinet that can be locked

Electrical Hazards – According to the U.S. Fire Administration, electrical wiring/equipment is the leading cause of home office fires.  Think about the following:

  • Consider having a qualified electrician inspect your home office, especially if you have added a substantial new electrical load to your home or you have an older home
  • Don’t overload electrical outlets – avoid using power strips plugged into other power strips or creating an outlet “octopus” by plugging in too many adapters into a single outlet
  • Use correct size and current rating for breakers and fuses
  • Do not unplug an appliance by pulling on the cord as you can damage the outlet and the cord
  • Be sure plugs fit securely into outlets – if a
    plug is loose, either the cord or the outlet needs to be replaced
  • Don’t run cords under rugs, carpets, or furniture
  • Never staple cords or hang them over nails or sharp objects
  • Never coil or band cords tightly – coiling or banding cords can damage the cord, as well as cause overheating
  • Be careful of appliances you may use in your home office, i.e. space heaters or coffee makers
Looks like I'm growing an electrical octopus in my home office.

Looks like I’m growing an electrical octopus in my home office.

Lighting –  Poorly designed lighting in the home office is also a hazard.  Lighting problems can result from too much light, which can cause glare, or from insufficient light.  According to the Center for Disease Control, poor lighting in the workplace is associated with an increase in accidents.  As people age, they require more light to see properly. For example, someone in their 50’s will require about three times more light for reading than someone in their 20’s.  A couple of tips:

  • Make sure you have enough lighting to clearly see stairs or areas around your home office to avoid tripping or falling
  • If you experience headaches or eyestrain, check your lighting
  • Position your monitor so no glare reflects from windows or other light sources (glare can lead to eye strain)
  • Adjust your lighting if you experience neck or back pain resulting from straining to see small or detailed items

Fall and Trip Hazards – Probably the most common injuries in the home office result from trips or falls.  (Did you know that each year approximately 2,000 people are treated in emergency rooms for fractures, lacerations, contusions, or sprains after tripping over extension cords?)  To prevent a fall, beware of:

  • Clutter on the floor
  • Loose cords under your desk or across the floor
  • Unstable office furniture
  • Lack of a handrail on stairs
  • Items placed on stairs
  • Slippery surfaces
  • Open drawers, which can cause you to trip
  • Unbalanced filing cabinets that can tip over on you
  • Substituting a chair for a stepstool
My makeshift dog barrier and left over trash may lead to my demise...

My makeshift dog barrier and left over trash may lead to my demise…

This is not intended to be an al encompassing list, but should help you as you look over your home office.  Do you have a tip or even a home office horror story?  Drop me a line and let me know.

Work safe,


The New Definition of Presenteeism

May 14, 2013

Car keys


I used to work in a traditional office setting in a large office building.  It was your standard cubicle farm.  Directors and Vice Presidents had their offices at the end of a series of office cubes where their employees worked.  The boss only had to step outside her office door to see the tops of the heads of employees as they worked behind their computer monitors.  Everyone was visible, and everyone was working.  At least, that’s what management thought.

  One of my coworkers liked to carry around two sets of car keys.  Why?  He would throw one set of keys on top of his desk next to his keyboard and then take off for an extended two hour lunch in the middle of the afternoon.  When people came around to look for him, they would see the car keys on top of his desk and immediately assume he was still in the office building somewhere, most likely in a meeting in one of the numerous conference rooms.

The moral of the story is obvious: just because employees are co-located in an office together doesn’t necessarily mean they’re productive.      

Traditionally, presenteeism has referred to employees that attend work while sick.  However, in today’s workplace many are realizing that presenteeism isn’t about ailing workers in the office, it includes workers that are present but not producing any work. 

Measuring the cost of unproductive workers is often difficult.  Studies conducted on the traditional definition of presenteeism have found that the average cost per worker in the United States is about $255 annually.  However, the cost of present but unproductive workers is far higher.  According to a survey by Proudfoot Consulting a few years ago, almost 29 percent of company time in the US is unproductive.  The estimated cost of poor productivity is a whopping $600 billion and is the equivalent of 33.5 days per worker annually. 

Obviously, the huge loss of productivity is not due to employees running around with a couple sets of car keys in their pockets and taking two hour lunch breaks.  However, it does point out that not all the time people spend in the office place is value added work.  Telework can’t fix all the productivity problems within an organization but it can have a positive impact.  Effective managers of teleworkers know that they can’t manage through attendance.  They have to develop tangible managers of success.  When this is done, employees have to deliver results and an employee’s time is time spent working.



Are Remote Workers Under More Scrutiny?

April 24, 2013

remote working

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?




Celebrate National Telework Week: March 4 – 8, 2013

March 4, 2013


This week is the third annual Telework Week, sponsored by the Mobile Work Exchange (formerly the Telework Exchange).  It’s a chance for all organizations, both public and private, to  join the telework movement, whether that means trying it for the first time,  expanding existing telework programs or practicing your disaster recovery and COOP planning.  Interested individuals or organizations can pledge their commitment to telework by going to the Mobile Work Exchange website.

 Last year, more than 71,000 pledged, saving $5,651,890 on commuting costs, gaining back 251,774 hours into their day, and removing 3,453 tons of pollutants from the air, while refraining from driving 6,413,006 miles.

Telework Week provides a good opportunity to get your leaders and organizations involved in telework.    Leaders and employees may find that work practices used next week should be continued throughout the year.

 Happy celebrating,


Is Yahoo Right? Will Face-to-Face Interaction Improve the Business?

February 28, 2013


By now you’ve already felt the shock wave in the telework community about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to reign in remote workers.  The internal memo, leaked a few days ago, stated:

We need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

There have been many that have criticized the move, claiming it was a silent layoff, while others have suggested that there was wide scale abuse of Yahoo’s flexible work practices and this was Mayer’s attempt to fix bad behavior.  Regardless of the motive, the real question is whether Yahoo is correct in its assumptions.  Are speed and quality sacrificed when people work from home?  Do people need to be physically present together to collaborate?  Is geography a key driver to teamwork?

Most experienced virtual workers have an almost allergic reaction to the memo.  For the most part, Yahoo’s claims appear to be largely unfounded.  In several studies over the past few years, teleworkers have repeatedly expressed that they feel more productive than their office-bound counterparts.  Furthermore, a study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee just over a year ago found that teleworkers had higher job satisfaction from restricted face-to-face interaction, keeping them better insulated from distractions like office politics, interruptions, and impromptu meetings, some of the very things Yahoo is trying to encourage.

However, Mayer has her supporters.  Some, including a few former Yahoo executives, believe Mayer made the right call.  Columbia Business School Professor Raymond Fisman wrote in a recent CNN article that, “Personal interaction is still the most effective way of conveying a company’s direction, and keeping tabs on what different parts of the organization are up to.”   Fisman goes on to cite research that was conducted over 40 years ago and says that more recent research “finds business leaders still spend 80% of their time in face-to-face meetings.”  I, too, spend a lot of time in face-to-face meetings, except mine are usually done via video and telepresence and I have yet to feel that I have lost any sort of personal interaction with my coworkers.

Personally, I disagree with Yahoo’s decision, not only because it doesn’t appear to be based on facts, but it may ultimately hurt morale, lead to unwanted turnover, and cost the company money (whether it is the soft cost of productivity or the hard cost of paying high salaries in the Bay area).  If employees are taking advantage of current teleworking policies then the real issue is leadership and how managers are measuring performance and setting expectations.  No organization survives without good leadership, regardless if people are sitting elbow to elbow or sitting on opposite sides of the globe.   If Mayer and her team can figure that out, they may be able to turn the company around.  



Creating the Telework Elevator Speech

February 19, 2013


When trying to make the business case for telework internally, it may be helpful to create the proverbial elevator speech.  An elevator pitch is the concise summary of what telework means to the organization and what it will do for the organization.  As the old adage goes, if you found yourself riding in an elevator with an executive in your organization, what would you say during your short journey to hook the decision-maker on your idea?  This short sales pitch is a practice that can be used for almost any type of project or program and has become some prevalent in many organizations that it is almost passé.  However, it is still an effective tool for getting your message across quickly and clearly.     

You may have already developed your business case, whether it is a detailed document or lengthy series of PowerPoint slides.  The elevator speech is obviously based on this but you want to articulate it in about one minute or less.  First, consider who the listener or audience may be.  What do they care about?  What are their “hot buttons”?  What do you want them to remember most?  You may even develop a couple of different versions based on different audiences.  Think about the key benefits the telework program brings to your organization or the risk of not implementing the program (i.e. will you lose key talent to competitors that offer more flexible work practices?)

If the organization has attempted to implement telework in the past and it has not been overly successful, be prepared to add something that will explain why it is different this time around or why the decision-maker should consider revamping the program. 

Lastly, add in the timing, whether it is a short-term goal you are striving for or when a decision needs to be made to allocate resources or gain commitment.  There has to be some level of urgency, otherwise it is just nice-to-know information. 

If you really want to create a concise summary, try the “15 words or less” exercise.  In this exercise, you try to effectively summarize the entire program in only 15 words.  It may help you nail down what’s really important and the essential key words to communicate.  When you are done, test it out on your peers and team members, then make refinements as necessary.

Good luck!