Can We Drop the Labels and All Be "Workers"?

Are you a teleworker, remote worker, office worker, virtual worker, telecommuter, part-timer, flex worker? What label fits you best?

Labeling employees according to where or how they work seems like a really 20th century thing to do. It isn’t useful and is, in fact, a great way to set up animosity among team members.

It can also get ridiculous. Take this example from American Express who labels their workers as Hub, Club, Roam, or Home.

As part of its BlueWork program, American Express conducts an employee survey, which helps assign employees to one of four categories: Hub, Club, Roam, and Home. “Hub” employees’ work requires a fixed desk, and their presence in the office every day.  “Club” employees have flexible roles that involve in-person and virtual meetings; they have the opportunity to share time between the office and other locations. Those in the “Home” category are based from home offices – set up with assistance from the company – on three or more days per week. “Roam” employees are almost always on the road or at customer sites, and seldom work from an American Express office.

Its perplexing that people who are envisioning the future workplace still see it as managed flexibility (an oxymoron) vs. 100% autonomous and accountable for all.

Beyond telework

Operating in a Results-Only Work Environment means that all employees are 100% accountable and autonomous. They will be where they need to be to get results, whether it’s in the office, meeting in person with a client or customer, or collaborating over Skype while at the corner coffee shop.

Telework and all the variations of managed flexibility are the same office politics with a new location. Here’s why we have to go beyond telework so that all employees can take ownership of their work, manage their own schedules, and live their lives to the fullest:

  • Telework is not a new idea no matter how many fun and catchy marketing spins you put on it (‘My Work’, ‘iWork’, ‘My Mobile Workplace’, ‘Workflex’ etc).

  • It’s not flexible. If your telework days are Tuesday and Thursday and now that doesn’t work for you anymore, you have to write a new proposal and get approval to change your days. And the answer will most likely be ‘no’ (“You should be grateful you got to telework in the first place. It’s a privilege, not a right”).

  • Everyone is Sludging the teleworkers. “I wish I could sit at home all day eating bon bons like the teleworkers. Those of us in the office do all the work!”

  • Telework has limited access – it’s only for the special people. Haven’t been at the company a year yet? Tough. Too low on the totem pole? Tough. Your boss decided your job isn’t right for telework? Tough. You don’t have the appropriately designed home office? Tough. I don’t like you. TOUGH!

  • Nobody believes you’re really working if you’re TELEworking.

  • In order to telework, you need to ask PERMISSION. It’s fun being back in elementary school, right?!

  • People who telework aren’t seen as dedicated as those who spend 60+ hours each week in the office.

  • People STILL believe the best and only way to build great relationships is face to face. It’s a sad fact those poor teleworkers don’t put in enough face time; therefore, their relationships are sub-par.

  • Telework is a label we put on people who are not working where they should be. The office.

Drop the labels and managed flexibility. Restore team cooperation and autonomy.

Jody Thompson

Jody Thompson, along with her partner Cali Ressler, is the Founder of CultureRx and co-creator of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). Jody is a nationally recognized keynote speaker and bestselling author. She has been featured on the covers of BusinessWeek, Workforce Management Magazine, HR Magazine, Hybrid Mom Magazine, HR Executive Magazine, and the New York Times. You can find her on Linkedin.


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