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Home-Office, Remote-Work,… What!?! A definition of terms

tscharke profile image Thomas Scharke Updated on ・5 min read

Prologue

Today (09th of April) it feels like the whole world talks about Home-Office and Remote-Work. Some people practice it nowadays, others (like me 😉) practice it for years.

With my personal mindset and some learnings, readings and experiences, today is a good time to update this article and bring in some of the learnings and refresh the structure.

And the main questions, that are often brought to, are the questions of the concepts. What is behind these terms?

In this article, I would like to write down the terms I know and define them how I understand and use them.

Statement

Before today's situation (#COVID-19) you could read a lot of Remote-Work, Digital Nomads and New Work, etc. And gladly paired with the statement: Remote-Work is the future.

One more thing in advance, because I will never tire of repeating it and that in 2020 it makes more sense than ever before:

Remote-Work is not the future, it is the present (1)

Table of Contents

Concepts and Definitions

In general, the terms refer to working independently of location and time. It can be one, the other or both; it is, therefore an or or an and.

Furthermore, certain criteria must be met to be able to work anywhere in the world and at any time (e.g. internet, equipment, time zones, mindset, tools, etc.)

Above my definitions is the term New Work, which represents a model developed by Frithjof Bergmann. More precisely, Wikipedia...

In the years between 1976 to 1979, he undertook trips to the former countries of the Eastern bloc and began to question capitalism and communism. In this time he introduces his concept of New Work.

For me, the following terms are therefore aspects that contribute to a New Work but are not specified in it and therefore are not must be.

Note: Sometimes there're country-specific peculiarities/differences. The characteristics I mark with a flag (e.g. 🇩🇪) and list them there.

Terms

Telecommuting / Telework / Telearbeit

In 1973, Jack Nilles (Rocket scientist with the US Air Force) described the concept of working independently of location for the first time. Jack spent a lot of time in traffic jams and wondered if there could be other forms of "work" or better "working together".

With these ideas, he spends a lot of time of research and all this ends in these definitions taken from Wikipedia.

[..]The term means [..] a work arrangement in which employees do not commute or travel to a central place of work, such as an office [..].

Others words for it are telecommuting, telework, teleworking, working from home (WFH), mobile work, remote work, and flexible workplace.

Nowadays I would say it's the definition we know as Home-Office because it is location-independence only.

  • 🇩🇪 The word "Telework" was translated in Germany 1-to-1 to Telearbeit.
  • 🇩🇪 So "Telearbeit" is a term that I know from Germany only.
  • 🇩🇪 The exclusively German Wikipedia says about it: "The term Telearbeit refers to forms of work in which employees perform all or part of their work outside the employer's premises.". This refers to the actual Home-Office.
  • 🇩🇪 This term is used in certain "circles" in Germany as a devaluation because here the mentioned topics are only slowly gaining ground. Conscientious people also use the word Telearbeit to point out that the mindset of the other person - charmingly put - is lagging behind the times (that I never used 😉 I will describe it for completeness).

Home-Office

The workplace including the infrastructure is at home. In general, it is location-independent and not time-independent.
It's not time-independent working, because the person has to keep to the official office hours to be reachable e.g.

There are two models for location-independence:

  • I). The home address is contractually regulated - then it is not location-independent.
  • II). The home address is not contractually regulated and it is my own decision to work at home, although I could go somewhere else at any time - then it is location-independent.

We're different in Germany, so we have some specials 🤦‍♂️

  • 🇩🇪 The word "Home-Office" was translated to "Remote-Work" because 🤷‍♂️I've no clue; it sounds cool or the most Germany thought that "Home-Office" isn't an English word? 🤔🤷‍♂️
  • 🇩🇪 If an employer allows and defines this term in the employment contract, the employer is responsible for the working-situation and working-equipment (e.g. desk, chair, lamp, monitors, keyboards, etc.) and the corresponding conditions of the "Employment Protection Act" (in german: Arbeitsplatzschutzgesetz)

Remote-Work

Remote-Work is not Home-Office. It extends the term Home-Office by the factor of time-independence. This means that in Remote Work a person works location-independent and time-independent.

  • 🇩🇪 The term is also often used when the employment type "self-employed" is added to the two factors of location- and time-independent work.

In current discussions, this term implies that regardless of the type of employment, an office or Headquarter (HQ) is available. This means that working independently of location is an "option" that can be used. However, if there is no office or similar, then location-independent is no longer an option and we would have to speak of Distributed Work.

Distributed-Work

This means that people work independently of location AND time AND distributed. It extends the term Remote-Work by the factor of distribution.

This term is currently being used more and more often since more and more companies are implicitly distributed. These companies have no offices, Headquarters (HQ) or other premises, and do not want them.

Matt Mullenweg talks about it in his podcast Distributed and Canva has also presented it in her blog post Challenging hq privilege. The term and its distinction from Remote-Work are currently under active discussion. 😃

To be honest, until a couple of weeks before, I use the terms Remote-Work and Distributed-Work synonymously. Nowadays I use the term Distributed-Work only, because Remote-Work becomes the new Home-Office and so Distributed-Work should become the new Remote-Work 😆

Remote-Teams

More than two people (a team) who practice Remote-Work, i.e. work location AND time-independent.

Most remote teams I hear about are in permanent employment. Only rarely do I hear of teams consisting of only self-employed or even of permanent employees and self-employed.

Digital Nomads

A Digital Nomad practices Remote-Work and extends this by the factor of non-sedentary lifestyle or puts this factor in the foreground.

  • Nomads are people who lead a non-sedentary lifestyle. This means that they are people who emphasize the two aspects of travel and frequent changes of location. Nomads do not have a permanent home. They stay where they want and as long as they want.

  • Digital because they meet the above criteria and work in a digital profession.

Footnotes

  • Cover Image by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash
  • (1) I didn't invent this statement. I've adopted it because I find it coherent and appropriate. Unfortunately, I can't find the author anymore. If someone knows more, please leave me a comment 😉

Discussion (1)

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icyerasor profile image
icyerasor

Interesting definitions. For some reason for me the term "home office" also kind of means "temporarily limited work from home for a day a week or to from time to time". Often associated with being disconnected from the team more than you should.. i.e. like:

Person A (on premise): Hey, how does feature XYZ work?
Person B (on premise): Oh.. Person C is an Expert on that, he can show you! But wait - he's doing home office today. You might wanna ask him tomorrow.
Person C (at home): took some mostly separated work home to work on it undisturbed. On the other hand would be open for calls, but colleagues don't go the extra mile.

On the other hand "Remote Work" for me sounds more elaborate and means to include everyone by holding Meetings (even short 15-min Dailies) always online without exception and deliberately not doing spontaneous on-prem meetings to make sure no one is left out. In your definition (time-independent) that sounds like even harder to achieve then within your "home office" definition.

Just my personal quirky definitions - probably have to readjust them^^
And of course they changed immensly within the last 6 months or so..