There is still a fair amount of confusion as to what, exactly, are teleworking and
telecommuting? Our answers go into some detail but, first, here are our general
- Teleworking ANY form of substitution of information
technologies (such as telecommunications and/or computers) for normal
work-related travel; moving the work to the workers instead of moving
the workers to work.
- Telecommuting Periodic work out of the principal
office, one or more days per week, either at home, a client's site,
or in a telework center; the partial or total substitution of information
technologies for the commute to work. The emphasis here is on reduction
or elimination of the daily commute to and from the workplace.
Telecommuting is a form of teleworking.
These definitions go a long way to separate
telework from other kinds of work, but some more detail may be needed
to better identify the population of teleworkers. In response to many
requests (and arguments) about the nature of telework, here is a more
detailed definitional framework.
Units or Scale
Telework "Success" Criteria
||at least 10% of annual working hours
||hours per day
||normal full working day
||days per week
||no specific criteria
||regular to random
||no specific criteria
least 20 minutes one-way trip between teleworker and employer/client
must involve technology substitution for what "normally"
would involve travel
must involve technology substitution for what "normally" would
| "Commute" distance
is one who otherwise would travel daily to employer/client site
||at least one technology type is normally used
||whatever provides sufficient
bandwidth (increasing requirements for broadband) and security
comparable to standard office gear (plus printer)
used at least 10% of working hours
||vital to useless
or more technology applications must be vital to telework process
must get paid for effort that includes teleworking
general, telework tasks must be information/knowledge oriented
data transfer to complex negotiation
Some explanation of this table is in order.
We feel that the table captures the key features of telework and teleworkers,
and helps distinguish between teleworkers and non-teleworkersor
between the times you might be teleworking and the times you're not.
- Frequency In order to be classified as a
teleworker, an individual has to spend some minimum amount of time teleworking.
We have somewhat arbitrarily set this as 10% of annual working hours.
That is, an average of at least one full day every two work weeks
(assuming a five-day work week) or the equivalent. This can be made
up of a series of full days or a collection of hours distributed
over the year, or some combination of the two.
Distribution There are two issues here. One is the
ability of a teleworker to work non-standard hours while working
with a conventional employer. The second is the ability of some telecommuters
to have hybrid days, e.g., with some hours worked at home, others
in their traditional offices, thus avoiding rush-hour traffic. Whether
teleworkers spend entire or partial days at home may affect their
automobile use and resultant air pollution consequences.
- Periodicity Although this factor does not help
distinguish between teleworkers and other workers, it is an aid in
determining the impact of teleworking on the teleworkers' communities.
For example, regular teleworking enables establishment of regular
schedules for other things, such as dropping the kids off at school.
Also, if large numbers of teleworkers are regular telecommuters,
then there can be a significant impact on traffic congestion
Parameters These are simply indicators of the
travel implications of telework. We have, again rather arbitrarily,
set a distance between teleworker and employer of a 20 minute travel
time as the minimum before we'll call the person a teleworker. The
total travel distance between teleworker and employer is important
in denoting telecommuters. If the technology were not available,
telecommuters would travel the distance on a daily basis; other teleworkers
would find it too far to go. In the U.S., this is somewhere around
100 miles (160 km) each way.
Furthermore, teleworking must involve a change in "business as usual".
If you would ordinarily get on the phone to call some one, then you do not
become a teleworker overnight just because you continue this practice. [Note
that this may be a moving factor in the definition game when what is today
novel (teleworking) becomes business as usual in five years.] Finally, there
is the designation of mobile worker, corresponding to workers in the field
or at various client sites. These can be "normal" workers on travel status
or traveling salespeople or field representatives who might be located from
occasionally to full time at other points than the central office.
Technology These are descriptors of the technology
or technologies that make teleworking possible. In the simplest case,
the telephone may be the sole technology that allows a teleworkers
to spend some days per month at home catching up on paperwork, but
keeping in voice touch with the office. At the other end of the scale
we might have a self-employed consultant using wide-band telecommunications,
satellites, and multiple computers to work for clients scattered
all over the world. Our criterion is that at least one of these information
technologies must be critical to making telework possible.
Use Frequency This is a further constraint on the
technology combination. It must be so important that it is used at
least 10% of working hours, averaged over a year.
Importance This factor is simply to identify what
is vital, as contrasted with what is just nice to have. For example,
many teleworkers consider email and Internet access to be vital,
while video teleconferencing may be cool but not absolutely necessary.
Status There are only two primary categories
here: one is either self-employed, such as a home-based entrepreneur,
or an employee of some organization with headquarters elsewhere than
one's home, although there is a middle ground here for contract workers
(those whose work is in accordance with a contract for specific services).
Further, to be a teleworker one must get paid or otherwise have an
economic benefit from the telework performed.
of Work This helps demographers, and others
interested in forecasting, divine what sort of work is being performed
by teleworkers. We are often asked what sorts of jobs are teleworkable.
If you want a short answer, a better question is what sorts of jobs,
are not at least partially teleworkable (brain surgery falls
into the teleworkable category).
of Communications This factor helps define the extent
to which certain tasks in individual jobs are susceptible to teleworking.
For example, routing data processing is a no-brainer with fairly
standard computer and telephone technology, while negotiating a major
and complicated contract with individuals in another country may
not be a good candidate for teleworking.
If you've read this far and have any comments,
gripes, or polite suggestions about these definitions, please
email us directly.
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Thursday April 11, 2013.
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