Telework – A Rose by Any Other Name?

We’ve got a problem. It’s the word “telework.” The picture it conveys is that of an employee working in a home office (with or without bunny slippers) on an approved one-day-a-week schedule typing away at a computer. Is this really what we are hoping for in promoting the telework concept?

I think not. We are not simply looking for the chance to do the same work at the same time with the same tools in a different place. I’d suggest that what we really are looking for is a transition to a new way of working, a more flexible approach to when and how we work – as well as where we work. And not only do we want the flexibility to work outside the office, we want a different experience when we are in the office, a more collaborative environment that promotes creative interaction. If this is where we want to go, then the term “telework” will hold us back. It’s a 20th century term that doesn’t fit a 21st century world. It’s time for a new term to describe this new way of work — a term that embraces the real change we want – choices about where we work, when we work, how we interact with colleagues, and how we organize our workdays and our work lives.

Shakespeare’s Juliet asks “What’s in a name?” Quite a lot, I think. It’s time to come up with a term that truly reflects the change we are looking for. Any ideas?

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Corey McCarren

I’m on board with disliking the word “telework”. I use telecommute, which isn’t much better but I prefer it. I think if there was a one word term that said “working from my personal virtual office” that would better convey the meaning. It implies that you are in fact “in the office.” The prefix ‘tele’ in itself means distant. The goal isn’t to convey that you are distant or far from the office.

Henry Brown

Have used the term “virtual-work” which seems to remove some of the “negative feelings/reaction“, especially by management.

Gordon Lee Salmon

Thanks Naomi. I still like the term virtual work or flexiwork to encourage people to be open to innovative ways of working that transcend place and focus more on creating positive, sustainable results.

Stacey Swanson

I like Results-Only Work Environment where people are trusted to achieve their results. Each day, they can choose where and when they will work based on how to best achieve their outcome. In order to do this, the organization’s culture needs to be changed. Just implementing a policy doesn’t mean the culture will support people using it. ROWE gets at the heart of culture change to make results sustainable.

Lawrence Jefferson Bell

As a training developer and program manager, I’ve become comfortable with the term “blended learning” because it opens learning to a wealth of delivery tools based on what works best for the learner and the learning outcomes. Can we also broaden that concept to our working outcomes and call it “blended work?”

Terrence (Terry) Hill

I’m in Andy’s camp on this one. Let’s just call it “work” and take away all the qualifiers. Whether it is virtual, mobile, or flexible, it is still work. I hope for the day when we no longer need to distinguish and no longer care where or when work is performed. Then, we will truly maximize our potential.

Stacey Swanson

Terry- Loves your comment. If there is a label, telework, remote work, flexwork, etc it implies something different is being done. Like the focus really isn’t on the work. In order to get to results, in a Results-Only Work Environment, we remove all of the labels, so people can focus on the work and not what someone is doing that is “different” from the norm. When it comes down to it, it should be about setting clear expectations and then trusting people to achieve their results in a way that best works for them. Go ROWE and end the madness of labels.

Lawrence Jefferson Bell

Terry & Stacy,

OK, my friends, you talked me into it. I’m voting for your candidate… simply “work.”

Cali Ressler

Lawrence – so glad Terry and Stacey talked you into simply “work”. They *are* pretty persuasive, aren’t they?! Once we remove all the labels and simply focus on the work we’re doing, I think we’ll all be surprised by how many positive consequences surface.

As Stacey mentions, in a Results-Only Work Environment, no one talks about telework, flextime, etc. They talk about what they need to achieve, how that’s being measured, and how satisfied their customers are. That’s what’s important and that’s where the focus should be.

Naomi S. Leventhal, Ph.D.

Great comments! I like the idea that what we really need to do is to redefine “work” – rather than look for a new slogan to describe it. So if we commit to adopting a new approach to work and really live it – we can transform the way our colleagues, friends, and people we don’t even know think about work.This may already be happening – at least from a generational perspective. I think it’s safe to say that twenty-somethings don’t picture cubicles when they think about what they will be doing once they complete college or graduate school.

Paul Alberti

Love the solution “work” – easy, simple and concise. However, I saw that OPM has terminated thier ROWE pilot –

Seems the metrics to measure performance were not well throught out and the culture was not developed up front to accomodate a ROWE. Too bad becasue the ROWE concept was actually innovative and a breath of fresh air to the federal government.

Unfortunately the “work” concept is still tenuous. Some managers still refuse to allow non-standard work environments. Morale across the government is dropping fast; we say it is a leadership problem. But leaders continue to make decisions that maintain the status quo – not look for ne exciting, innovative ideas. Anything “new” is going to have issues and hic ups, hopefully we have leaders and managers smart enough and willing to take the hic-ups and work through them for a succcessful solution.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Yes! If this were an election, I’d be well on my way to (the) office…or not! 😉 In fact, I haven’t completed “work” from an office in more than 7 years…and I’ll never go back! Give me (productive) work (from anywhere), or give me…traffic?

Allison Primack

Here are some responses from GovLoop’s Facebook page when we asked “Is this really what we are hoping for in promoting the telework concept? Would you change the term, and if yes, what would you change it to?”

Eric Hackathorn I would hope to increase migration if I were allowed to telecommute. A change of scenery is a great way to promote creativity.

Iris Mars If I were allowed to telework full-time, I’d move somewhere cheaper!

Thomas W. Thornberry I do psychological disability evaluations on a two-day rotation. Then I write up the reports and email them to the home office. I’ve only met my boss twice in the ten months since he hired me, and I operate entirely alone. All necessary paperwork from the office comes by mail. To be honest, I miss having co-workers, and stories of work to talk about with my wife. There’s an important interpersonal component that gets lost in telework.