Remote Work Terminology

Jobs in which you don’t have to show up at an office have a large number of terms that are applied to them. The terms have shifted and will continue to change for a few reasons:

  • This concept, although very large and growing, is a new one to many people, so we adjust our language to fit the reality.
  • There is a generational shift with the popularity in working this way – many people graduating from college are used to working / studying with their laptop from all over and get jobs that work this way. Because generations shift the language, there are clear age differences in the terms.
  • Remote work had some early negativity on it, and it still fights some bad stereotypes – negative terms change more quickly than positive ones.

Here is a partial list of terms associated with remote work:

Telecommuting

  • This is an old term that isn’t used as much anymore, probably because the “tele-” part feels very old. We have dropped the tele- from telephone already. Also the second part is “commute”, eww.

Virtual Teams / Virtual Work

  • An early term for a team that was across geographic lines. Not used that often anymore because virtual feels pejorative here – we are a real team, not virtually one. The rise of the term virtual reality also killed this term, as VR is clearly not close to real life (yet).

Work from Home

  • WFH is a general term for those that are able to work from their home.
  • Many part-time clerical jobs fall into this category as well as digital professionals.
  • Googling “work from home” typically finds you lower-paying jobs (and many scams) than googling “remote jobs”, and “remote” typically means full-time while WFH can mean part-time.

Remote

  • General term for people that work from wherever they want, typically digital “knowledge workers” – writers, programmers, analysts, etc..
  • Over time this term has been starting to be replaced by distributed, as “remote” feels negative to some people (they mean remote minority, which we describe below) – and because you can’t say that you have a “remote” team without people thinking you mean an entire team somewhere else, you have to say “remote friendly” or “remote first”, which is longer.

Remote Minority

  • A term that I use to describe a scenario in which a few people work from offsite, but the majority of the staff are co-located at a headquarters. This is not an easy situation to manage, extra steps need to be taken to make this work.

Remote First

  • A term you apply to a company which means that pretty much everyone works from where they wish, and that the founders worked this way very early and have kept it up. These companies typically have strong support for remote work and processes which support distributed teams well.
  • Remote-first essentially means “remote-only” – there might not be any form of office space anywhere.
  • You might have to get on a plane to visit a coworker at a remote-first company.

Remote Friendly

  • This term carries little consistent meaning and ranges from “you can work from home on Fridays” to “we have entire teams that are remote-first”. Be careful applying for jobs that list this with clarifying what they mean. They also might not know what they mean.
  • You might be able to visit a coworker at a remote-friendly company, and they may want you to do it a few days a week.

Distributed

  • A nice term that describes quickly a team with remote and/or onsite workers, or a fully “remote” team – they are distributed all over the place. “Distributed worker” does not sound right though, this sounds like some sort a medical emergency.

Nomad, Digital Nomad, Nomading

  • A person that has a remote job on a distributed team that typically does not work from a “home base”, but instead travels from place to place while continuing to work from wherever they are. Think young people traveling across Europe but working from hotels or a family traveling across the U.S. while the mom works during the day from the hotel.
I’m writing a book about successfully working from home; click here if you want to know when it is complete.

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