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What Should We Call People Who Work Remotely?

Terms for working remotely include telework, telecommuting, virtual work, more

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There are quite a number of different terms used today to describe people who work remotely or outside of the traditional office environment. Although some of the terms have distinct meanings, others are really synonymns for each other. This overlap can make it hard to find out information and statistics about remote working (like trying to find out how many people actually telecommute), since sources can be talking about the same thing but use different terminology. Here's a look at some of the more prevalent of these terms and their connotations.

Telecommuters and Teleworkers

People who work remotely (e.g., from home) as employees of a company are most regularly called telecommuters or teleworkers. Although telework and telecommuting seem to refer to the same thing, Jack Nilles, who coined the phrases in 1973, makes clear distinctions between "telecommuting" and "telework". If you want to find a work-from-home job, though, it's best to search for both these terms since many people use them interchangeably.

iWorkers, eWorkers, and Web Workers

The "iWorkers", "eWorkers" (or "e-workers"), and "Web Workers" designations more finely reflect the high-tech or Internet-based nature of remote work. It's really new technology tools that enable more workers every day to get their jobs done off-site, wherever they may happen to be. For even more trendiness, this group can also be referred to as Workers 2.0.

Differences from telecommuters/teleworkers: While telecommuters are often thought of as work-from-home employees, e-workers, iWorkers, and Web Workers may describe those who work in alternate locations (e.g., at a wi-fi hotspot) as well as from home. Also, telecommuting is a working arrangement between a company and an employee; iWorkers, e-workers, and Web Workers may also describe self-employed freelancers.

Road Warriors

Road warriors are frequent business travelers or those who often conduct business on the road; depending on who you speak to, this might also include professionals who do most of their work in the field. As such, road warriors are a unique group of people who work remotely, making their "home offices" wherever they can use their laptops -- in hotels, at the airport, and even out of their cars (literally, mobile offices). Road warriors can be considered telecommuters also, depending on the amount of business travel done, but surveys that measure the number of telecommuters usually don't include road warriors along with people who work from home.

Mobile Professionals and Remote Workers

"Mobile professionals" and "remote workers" are the two names I use most to describe us, because they are broad enough to encompass the other terms, but also descriptive. I usually refer to myself as a telecommuter, however.

Other Terms

There are a great many other new terms to describe workers who aren't "cubicle dwellers". Some of my favorites -- "digital nomads", "location-independent professionals" and "technomads" -- reflect the freedom remote workers have in doing their jobs from anywhere. "Portable professionals", however, is a strange term to me (does this mean that we can be carried around easily?), as is "virtual workers" (we are, in fact, authentic, actual workers).

Whichever name you prefer for yourself, though, the takeaway is the same: telecommuting benefits both you and business. One day we might even figure out how to use one label for all these types of workshifting (there's another one!).

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