Free-range worker to Zoom bombing – your complete guide to the new ‘office’ jargon


Over the past year, something has happened when discussing work. You might have noticed it. New phrases have crept into our language, so when, for example, you’re working with a colleague on a project, you’re now “collabing”, and if someone makes an unexpected appearance in an online meeting (be that a co-worker, your unruly toddler, or even your cat) they’re “Zoom bombing”.

Yes, we all knew the pandemic would change how – and where – we work. But most of us didn’t realise that it was going to provide us with a whole new vocabulary to learn.

As many of our jobs shifted from office-based to remote, unique work-based jargon developed to help articulate the change. Sometimes it feels like you need a dictionary to do your job – so we’ve made you one. Read on for our handy guide to the new language of home working.


If there’s one term you know, it should be this. Meaning “working from anywhere”, it’s the 2021 version of WFH (working from home). “It also used to be called telecommuting – that’s an example of how language changes over time,” says Tracey Fritcher, a principal strategist of employee experience at ServiceNow. “I haven’t heard that term in a long time!”

Free-range worker

The term for someone who can WFA, be it their home, a coffee shop, or a wifi-enabled train. Essentially a new spin on what we’ve been calling a “digital nomad” for years. Possibly intended as a counterpoint to those home workers who felt increasingly like caged battery hens during lockdown.

Desktop dressing

Think of it as the couture of the video call: where you dress for only your upper half to be visible. Or, in the words of Gaylan Sankey, a principal strategist of employee experience at ServiceNow: “It’s when you wear yoga pants on the bottom and a nice dressy shirt on the top. It’s business on top, party underneath.”


When you’re WFA, it’s easy for the days to blend into each other until you don’t know what day it is. If you’re not careful, every day is Blursday.

VoIP phone

It stands for Voice over Internet Protocol and is just a way of referring to a virtual phone system that lets you use the same number to make a call, regardless of which device you use to login. Hosted online, obviously. This IS 2021.

Synchronous communication

Communicating with someone in real time. Think phone calls, video meetings or anything that feels like a live interaction. In other words, the opposite of …

Asynchronous communication

Where you communicate with someone whenever you can get round to it. Mainly an elaborate way of saying “emailing” or “messaging”.

Zoom bombing

As already mentioned, the term for appearing unexpectedly in a video call. “It’s when someone gets into the meeting uninvited,” says Fritcher. “There are lots of words about operating in a constant world of video calls now – Zoomed out (Zoom fatigue) and Zumped (fired over Zoom) are a few of the new terms I have heard floating around recently.”

Co-located company

A business physically based around what, in pre-pandemic times, we called “the office”. It’s somewhere whose workforce largely comes together in one physical place.

Hybrid team

A workforce made up of both remote and co-located employees. Also known as a “distributed team”.

Shadow IT

The term given to any form of tech that employees use that isn’t part of the IT department’s sanctioned suite of software. Using Zoom or Google Meet instead of your work Microsoft Teams account? Or an unauthorised Dropbox account? You’re running shadow IT. Naughty.

Cloud sprawl

The uncontrolled spread of an organisation’s use of cloud-based services – often exacerbated by shadow IT. Problematic for reasons of cost and data security.


Before Covid. Usually used for analysing how a company’s performing compared with the times before our new WFA reality. “When we talk about the employee experience and HR stuff, I end up using the term ‘BC’ a lot,” says Sankey.


A term familiar to all fans of hip-hop and social media influencers, which means “collaborating”. How to get colleagues to collab is increasingly a big deal for WFA, given that it often lacks the kind of informal office interactions that we used to depend on to exchange information and ideas.

Hub and spoke

A less centralised approach to the traditional office, with the central “hub” headquarters complemented by local “spokes” that offer smaller offices in other locations, possibly in areas where lots of employees live.

Communication modalities

The different ways people can communicate – visual, written, audio and touch. Different tech uses different communication modalities, with some workers preferring one to another and most preferring to mix it up so that they throw some written (email) in among all the audio/visual (video calls).

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