Although I use the term “work from home” a lot myself, it’s not the right expression to characterize what I’m talking about. In fact, it’s probably doing damage to those of us who are calling for more flexible workplaces.
I’ve never understood why employers are willing to send their staff on “business trips,” but then ban them from working from home. If an employee can work effectively from a city hundreds or thousands of miles away, surely he or she can also work from across town.
The biggest hurdle in addressing this disconnect might simply come down to semantics. Employers seem to have an unshakeable fear that “home” has too many distractions, home is too comfortable, home is too cushy, to be a place that “real work” can get done. For people who have only ever known the office as an acceptable place for work, and home as a refuge from that work, it’s impossible to imagine merging what seem to be two worlds diametrically opposed. And so for them, just the very term itself “work from home” is immediately off-putting, and all arguments to the contrary fall on deaf ears.
But of course the truth is, work—real, honest-to-goodness, nose-to-the-grindstone work—can take place anywhere; not just in the office, and not just at home. And when I say I want to “work from home,” what I really mean is that I want to work in the environment that makes the most sense for me to get my work done in the best way possible. Sometimes, that might mean working on a train or in a hotel room (as it might, for example, if I were on a “business trip”). Sometimes, it might mean working in my living room. Sometimes, it might mean working in a coffee shop. Sometimes, it might mean working on my friend’s porch. Sometimes—but not always—it might actually mean working in an office.
Coined by rocket scientist Jack Nilles in 1973, the terms “telework” and “telecommute” are certainly more apt descriptions, because they don’t pin down a specific location. Plus, a rocket scientist came up with them.
But it’s hard to get people excited about “telecommuting.” It’s such a technical-sounding term, and has in fact been associated for years with tech companies (which, Yahoo’s current misstep aside, have typically been way ahead of the curve in this area). And it also doesn’t have the innate appeal that “working from home” does (think: in pajamas) for those who aren’t scared of it.
It’s time we come up with a new phrase that embraces this idea of work as something that can be done anywhere. Cali Williams Yost, a pioneer in what’s best described as the “work-life movement,” understands how important branding is to this cause. She suggests we stop talking about “work-life balance” because it’s impossible to achieve a 50-50 split between work and life, and for most of us, that’s not even a goal that makes sense. Instead, we should be aiming for, as Yost puts it, “work+life fit.” “Fit” allows for unique approaches to the work-life conundrum; there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all “balance.”
We need to make a similar shift with the concept of remote work. I’m no branding expert, but how about instead of asking your boss to “let you work from home,” ask instead for him or her to “let you work smarter.” By which you mean, work from wherever makes the most sense. Let’s see your boss try to argue with that.
If you have other branding suggestions, send them along!