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What’s In A Name?

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One of the comments on my last post (Is telecommuting good or bad for the environment?) gotquestionmark.jpg me thinking about the various different ways we refer to people who don’t work in traditional office settings.

It seems as though the number of terms increases almost as quickly as the number of people who enter this type of working arrangement. I started putting together a list of a few of the descriptors that seem to appear most frequently (I’m sure you will have others to add):

  • Workshifter
  • Mobile worker
  • Road warrior
  • Digital nomad
  • Telecommuter
  • Teleworker 
  • Home office executive
  • Remote worker
  • Nomad worker
  • Digital worker
  • At-home workers

While many of the terms are used interchangeably, like “teleworker “and “telecommuter,” others clearly have different meanings. Road warrior, for example, is someone who travels extensively for business – much like George Clooney’s character in the movie Up in the Air.  A home office executive, on the other hand, would be someone who works exclusively from home. 

The question of terminology of course becomes interesting when trying to measure the number of people who telecommute, how this is changing over time and how it is impacting our culture. Let’s say for example, you are trying to measure the impact of Workshifters on something like home office supplies. How can you be sure you are comparing apples to apples when so many people define Workshifters in so many different ways?

How can we even measure the number of people who are telecommuting if we don’t have an overarching term or “guidelines” to qualify you for this category?

It appears that the Bureau of Census attempts to count us Workshifters by determining how many people “primarily” work from home. That clearly doesn’t encompass someone who is primarily on the road. Shouldn’t this type of person be classified as a telecommuter, too? (Note:  I contacted the Census Bureau Public Information Office to learn more details about how they will be counting Workshifters in the 2010 Census, but have not yet heard back as of this posting.)

What do you think? Should there be a set way to classify people who work outside of traditional office environment? Or, is it impossible to reach a consensus on these terms, since the “best” definition of telecommuting most often depends on your own point of reference?

Photo Credit: eshm

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