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In the context of someone working for an employer but one day doing their office work at home, rather than at the office, which one is the correct usage — "work from home" or "work at home"?

For example:

Person 1: Are you working from office tomorrow?
Person 2: Work [at/from] home.

  • 1
    On ELU, I have to say Work from home is the correct expression, though Work at home is also heard when that same idea is meant. When you work from home, it is only the place of work that changes -- the work still belongs to the company (or whoever); when you work at home, you could be doing just about any work, any one's work, including your own personal work. – Kris Nov 4 '13 at 6:58
  • It's also more common to use Work from home when you do it on a regular, long-term basis and possibly say Work at home only in the case of individual/ occasional/ short-term assignments: "You can work at home for this task." – Kris Nov 4 '13 at 7:03
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"Working from home" seems to be the standard current idiom for telecommuting. The connotation seems to be that your work is still centered around the workplace, but you are completing it remotely. Under this theory, "working at home" would still be preferred in cases where you were self-employed (so your workplace is your home) or where the work was actually centered at home for some reason (for instance if your job was assembling something and you took it home and assembled it there instead).

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A common sense says that 'work from home' means you do work for someone from home. On the other hand, when you say 'work at home' that means you got a personal task to be completed (maybe, cleaning the house) at home. So, if you have to fix a door at home, you may say, "Sorry dude, I cannot accompany you. I have work at home". If you are a freelancer and someone asks you about it, you say, "I work from home."

To make it simpler -'work at home' means the work already exists at home (here, fixing the door) and work from home means unless you go and start doing it, it does not exist (freelancing work).

  • To be fair, I'd use work at home not only for personal work, such as DIY or housecleaning, but also for actual paid work, such as a hairdresser who works from a studio in their own house. – TRiG Nov 9 '13 at 0:35
  • @TRiG You are right but then I clarified this matter in second paragraph. If you are paid and doing hairdo, that work does not actually exist unless you go and start. What I meant by 'work for someone' is actually working & earning! Here, the hairdresser worked for the client and got paid; the same way freelancer does. – Dr Maulik V Nov 9 '13 at 4:47
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"Work from home" is more commonly used: generally people are still, in some way, doing business other with people (employers, colleagues, clients/customers) who are located elsewhere. In other words, a person's work location might be his/her home, but the work itself isn't completely local to the home. So the home is viewed as just another business location.

Whenever I see/read "work at home," I think of somebody who is fixing his/her garage or maybe writing a novel.

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Suggested tip to determine which one to use, "work from home" and "work at home". Since "from" is politically stronger for a first person statement, it is better to use "work from home" Ex: I will work from home.

However if you are referring to second or third person, it sounds better using "work at home". Ex: You have to work at home. John Smirth will work at home.

Combination of course will follow the first person. Ex: She and I will work from home. You and I will work from home. You and John Doe will work at home.

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The earliest instances of "work from home" that a Google Books search turns up use the phrase to mean "work away from home." Thus, for example, in The Charters and General Laws of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts, we find this provision (enacted in September 1634) "relating to the impressments of labourers, horses, &c.":

Sect. 1. It is ordered by this court and the authority thereof; that in all publick works of this commonwealth, one magistrate and the overseer of the work, shall have power to send their warrants to the constables of the next towns, to send so many labourers and artificers as the warrant shall direct, which the constable and two other or more of the freemen, which he shall choose, shall forthwith execute, for which service, such magistrate and overseer aforesaid, shall have power to give such wages as they shall judge the work to deserve : provided that for any ordinary work, no man shall be compelled to work from home above one week together.

And from Reports of the Inspectors of Factories to Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Home Department (1869):

When the mothers return to work, which they are obliged to do in a few days, where these [charitable institutions] exist not, or are not used, these nurslings are committed to any temporary care, and too frequently languish and die, or become diseased from improper diet. It is indeed true, that when mothers work from home, families must be neglected at home; and the voluntary extrusion of young mothers from factories and workshops, and even the limitation of married women in them, would be a national boon as well as a national gain.

The first uses of "work from home" in the sense of "work for a company without having a desk at its offices" that a Google Books search scares up take the form of classified ads in Popular Science magazine. These appear over the course of 24 years, between 1940 and 1963, and they appear more or less in the form of this one from the June 1940 issue:

BE Credit collection specialist. New method. Work from home. Full—part time. Unlimited opportunities. 70% profit. Details—franchise 25c. Modern Collections. 5000-D Cordelia Ave., Baltimore, Md.

Also interesting is this instance, from Central Office of Information [Great Britain], Reference Division, Home Affairs Survey, volume 2 (1951):

It is estimated that there are between 600 and 700 blind piano tuners in Great Britain, the majority of whom work from home.

Since piano tuning tends to be done at the customer's residence or business, it seems likely that "work from home" here means "work for themselves from out of their homes."

Still more to the point is this observation from International Labour Organisatioin, Documents of the Meeting of Experts on the Social Protection of Homeworkers (1991):

The United Kingdom survey clearly distinguishes between persons who work at home and persons who work from home, using it as a base for their work activities (e.g. salesmen, self-employed consultants and professionals of various kinds, freelance journalists and authors, etc.). The survey estimates a total of 658,250 for all home-based workers, with 229,790 (mainly women) working at home, and some 400,810 (mainly men) working from a home base.

Here "work from home" is an umbrella term that explicitly conveys the idea "work from a home base."

The first clear instance Google Books finds of "work from home" in the sense of "work at home for a company despite having a desk at its offices" comes from Datamation, volume 31 (1985):

Moving a dp shop from the city to the suburbs is one excellent way to cut costs and please employees. Another is the selective use of telecommuting, enabling some employees to work from home or elsewhere off-site for several days each week.

Because telecommuting is so closely tied to the earliest use of "work from home" in its modern sense, perhaps the phrasing appealed to people because it suggested the idea that the employee was "connecting to the office from home"—that is, the employee wasn't merely working "at home" but in some sense working "at the office from home."

In any event, the breakthrough year for "working from home" appears to have been 1994, the year Jeff Beamer published The Joy of Working from Home: Making a Life While Making a Living. The next year, another self-help book—Lionel Fisher, James Laroche & Sarah Fisher, On Your Own: A Guide to Working Happily, Productively and Successfully from Home—argued that "physically structuring a specific work zone within a residence should be a priority for homeworkers":

It means keeping where you live separate and distinct from where you work when home and office are under the same roof. Something that will help you do that is to remind yourself constantly: I work from home, not at home. There's a keen difference.

Regrettably, the authors never specify what that keen difference is.

I agree with the other answerers that "work from home" is now standard in many workplaces as a way of indicating days spent at home working on office business—whether telecommuting is involved or not. Still, though "work at home" may strike some hearers (as Tim Huynh suggests in his answer) as implying work on private projects at home rather that on company business at home, I don't believe that there is any firm basis for that distinction. I continue to use the phrase "work at home," and no one in management has yet sent me a note instructing me to "Stop working at home, and start working from home!"

Meanwhile, as far as I can tell, the vogue for "work from home" has not led to an upsurge in popularity for the phrase "work from the office."

protected by Community Jan 5 at 17:55

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