Today I had occasion to address a session of the 11th International Workshop of the International Telework Association on the topic of telework and business continuity (aka disaster preparedness). I used Skype so that I could communicate with the audience in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada while I sat in my office in California.
One of the questions after my talk was about what this subject should now be named since telework and telecommuting were allegedly sooo 20th century. My response was that I coined the terms telework and telecommuting in 1973 and have seen no reason to abandon them since, even though there subsequently appeared to be other terms used in other parts of the world. What I didn’t say is that at least one of these terms, eWork, seems to me to be more of a EU versus US contest than one of any substantive difference in meaning.
Coincidentally I am in the process of composing an inaugural editorial for a new journal focusing on the topic of eWork and its affiliates. Here’s part of the current draft:
- According to the Irish eWork website: “E Work is the capacity to undertake any business function independent of location using modern communications and information technologies.” This is pretty close to my 1973 definition of telework: ANY form of substitution of information technologies (such as telecommunications and computers) for work-related travel; moving the work to the workers instead of moving the workers to work. And then there’s telecommuting, the most common form of telework/eWork in practice today: “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.“ So the term eWork emphasizes location independence directly, while the telework and telecommuting definitions focus more on travel substitution aspects. Yet, fundamentally they all deal with the same issues, whatever they are called locally. In the US telecommuting is the dominant term while Europeans prefer telework and eWork, in chronological order of acceptance.The central concept for all of these is that information technology has progressed to the point where the distance separating two partners in an information transaction is often no longer an important factor. So use whichever term you prefer.
Meanwhile, I’ll stick to the original terms, if only out of sheer cussedness.