Nothin’ virtual about working from home

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In my trolling for work-at-home job boards (see post below), I noticed a lot of references to so-called virtual workers. This term bugs me. So I hereby am lodging an objection.

Today I am working from home. I suppose if you are just learning to use the Google and the World Wide Interweb, you might insist on calling me a virtual worker. So you sound hip. Like the young folk with their fire and their wheel.

But my work isn’t virtual. I am not virtually working. I am working working. I am doing exactly what I would be doing at the office: transcribing a reporter’s notepad and deciphering notes I made a week ago; monitoring ongoing assignments via e-mail; reading articles online; flitting around on Time.com; throwing up posts on my blog. Only I have no mascara on, and my feet are kind of cold because I don’t have heat in my attic office, and I am paying for my own consumption of electricity, phone and Interweb connection.

Where did this stupid term come about, anyway? I looked on the Wikipedia, which is also on the Interweb. Here’s the definition of “virtual“:

Colloquially, ‘virtual’ has a similar meaning to ‘ quasi-’ or ‘pseudo-’ (prefixes which themselves have quite different meanings), meaning something that is almost something else, particularly when used in the adverbial form e.g., “He’s virtually [almost] my boyfriend”. The term recently has been defined philosophically as, that which is not real, but may display the full qualities of the real.

See? It means not real, though it seems real.

What’s a better term for the worker who works out of the office? I looked up “telecommuting“:

Telecommuting, e-commuting, e-work, telework, working at home (WAH), or working from home (WFH) is a work arrangement in which employees enjoy limited flexibility in working location and hours. In other words, the daily commute to a central place of work is replaced by telecommunication links. Many work from home, while others, occasionally also referred to as nomad workers utilize mobile telecommunications technology to work from coffee shops or myriad other locations. Telework is a broader term, referring to substituting telecommunications for any form of work-related travel, thereby eliminating the distance restrictions of telecommuting. All telecommuters are teleworkers but not all teleworkers are telecommuters. A frequently repeated motto is that “work is something you do, not something you travel to”. A successful telecommuting program requires a management style which is based on results and not on close scrutiny of individual employees. This is referred to as management by objectives as opposed to management by observation. The terms telecommuting and telework were coined by American Jack Nilles in 1973.

The truth is none of these labels really work. As the Wikipedia notes, “telecommuting” was coined back when off-site workers stayed connected via telephone. The “e” words just sound pretentious and stupid. “Hi, I’m Lisa, and I’m an e-worker.” “Oh, yeah, I’m not coming in today; I’m going to e-commute instead. You know, using the Interweb. And the Google.”

I don’t really like “flex-worker” either, because it makes it sound like I view my work as flexible; I might do it, or I might not. Who cares? It’s flexible. Deadlines, my friends, are not flexible. I either get the story in, or it doesn’t run in the magazine and mama loses the family health insurance.

Here I open it up to you, my cleverer counterparts, to come up with a new name for the workforce of tomorrow. We shall gain the ultimate token of fame for coining a term: a link from the Wikipedia.

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