Wikipedia describes that telecommuting

… is a work arrangement in which employees do not commute or travel (e.g. by bus or car) …

If you do not commute, how can you call it "commuting?" Where is the commuting, tele- or otherwise? In fact, it's all about not commuting, right?

WP also mentions telework (makes sense) which according to it is not quite the same as "telecommuting."

Etymonline records its origins as

by 1975, as a hypothetical workplace set-up; verbal noun from telecommute. Said to have been coined by Jack Niles of USC.

  • 1
    OP is saying there's no tread involved :)
    – TimR
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 8:43
  • 2
    It just means they don't commute in the physical sense, but in the virtual (via the internet) sense. Usually they are connected via VPN to their desktop (or virtual desktop) and work as if they are there in the office.
    – Smock
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 12:41
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    telecommute=to commute electronically. You commute in mind not in body. Or you can imagine it as an out-of-body and in-mind trip.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 13:11
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    It's like phone-sex.
    – TimR
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 13:26
  • 1
    It’s a couple weeks early for April 1.
    – Jim
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 2:54

7 Answers 7


Telecommute includes commute by way of analogy, just like the presence in telepresence, the desk in a virtual desktop and arguably, the friendship of a facebook friend.

That is, although there is no commuting in the traditional sense, some of the abstract properties still hold. For example, the person is considered to be ‘at work’, with deliverables and accountability.

Although they don’t ‘go’ to the office in the traditional sense, they still ‘go to work’ in a more abstract sense - one that carries consequences if the work assigned is left undone.

  • That entire logic leads to telework rather.
    – Kris
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 7:46
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    @Kris The terms are related; it’s unsurprising that the logic is as well.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 7:46
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    I always assumed it meant that the data from your computer (or phone or whatever other device you use to connect to work with) commuted to the office on your behalf. Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 8:17
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    @Kris Apparently "telework" is a word though I've never heard it before and to me it sounds bizarre to mix Greco-Roman and Germanic bases. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/telework#English Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 14:53
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    @Kris Yes, "telework" or something like it would be a more sensible term. But "telecommute" is the word that's actually used, and meaning in English is determined by usage, not etymology. Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 15:56

It’s a portmanteau. When telecommuting you are commuting via the telecommunications network. All your "travel" is done by the internet. No internet, no work (cf no train, no work).

You’re right in that the word "telecommuting" doesn’t literally mean what it means, but it’s much nicer to say than "telecommunications commuting".


The Oxford English Dictionary describes telecommuting as

The action or fact of working remotely, esp. from home, using telecommunications technology.

Meaning that the 'commuting' is metaphorically by phone, computer, Remote Desktop Connection etc.

You shouldn't take the word 'commuting' too seriously. Telecommuting is just one of those silly coinages that are supposed to be 'humorous' or whatever.

If you don't have access to the OED, here's an M-W link & definition:

to work at home by the use of an electronic linkup with a central office

  • "is just one of those silly coinages that are supposed to be 'humorous' or whatever" is just the thing I am looking to formalize. Please see also: "Expression for an expression meaning what it doesn't mean" english.stackexchange.com/q/490195/14666
    – Kris
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 7:39
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    Maybe, but only if Niles was being tongue-in-cheek. I don't know if he was.
    – Kris
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 7:44
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    @Kris What downvote? I didn't downvote.
    – Lordology
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 8:39
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    @Mitch I understand about M-W - but why Wiktionary? The OP has included the Wiktionary definition already - I am just stating that said definition may be a little off.
    – Lordology
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 15:49
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    @Lordology someone downvoted you, I assume that's what Kris was asking about.
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 18:52

You could look a the difference as being that teleworking can be done out of hours at the worker's convenience. For instance the teleworker could be provided with scans of paper invoices and delivery notes and be expected to enter all the information into a spreadsheet by 9:00am the next day. If they chose to do this outside the normal working day, perhaps when their children were in bed, this would not really matter so long as the deadline was met.

With telecommuting there is the expectation that the worker will be available by phone, Skype or other online conferencing facility during normal office hours regardless of their domestic circumstances. If online conferencing was involved there would, almost certainly, be a requirement to adhere to a dress code as well. The teleworker could be working in nightwear or the nude, the boss would never know.

Ultimately the telecommuter has a genuine presence in the workplace, even though that is a distance. The teleworker does not, necessarily, have such a presence.


The issue here seems to be whether the use of a verb telecommute is a sensible way to describe the kind of working that it describes. I am surprised to be writing on this site that whether it is sensible is a question neither of grammar nor of usage. The verb is well-established in the leading dictionaries, with a more-or-less common range of definitions. That means that the lexicographers are satisfied that this word is frequently enough used in a wide enough range of contexts.

With hindsight, it was inevitable that the internet would break many of the remaining controls on the English language. For example, it made it possible overnight to turn nouns like access into verbs, like access: and not just verbs but transitive verbs. Any such ‘rules’ were ‘policed’ by editors, lexicographers and school teachers. We now access the internet and all sorts of apps and opportunities it offers. But this phenomenon is a fact of usage.

The verb to telecommute and its cognate noun telecommuting are fully established. I should add that there seems to me to be a subtlety about their use. I have never heard anyone saying “I am a telecommuter” or “I telecommute”. The words occur discursively, mainly in journals, books and reports related to the discourse of sociology, management, and so-called human relations.

Actual ‘telecommuters’ (and here I have to rely on personal experience) use the term. They more often say that they ‘work from home’. Confusingly, not all people that work from home are telecommuters. Telecommuting implies a base to which you work from home. It is in essence remote working. Moreover, it is not clear that all forms of working ‘from’ home count as telecommuting. For example, for several years I ran a company with an annex office near home, visiting the main office once a week. It is not obvious whether this was a case of ‘telecommuting’ or not. Nor is it clear that by having my PA come to work at my house this would have made any difference.

Commuting itself is a very young idea: less than a hundred years. The term ‘telecommuting’ is still a toddler. Let’s give it a chance to come of age.

  • On top of that, if you are in the office and call in to a meeting in another office, you may be teleconferencing but you're neither telecommuting nor teleworking. English is wonderful. Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 16:52
  • "Access" as a verb has been in use since at latest 1953, long before the internet.
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 18:51
  • @Kevin Oops, I should have checked. Thank you.
    – Tuffy
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 23:43

Commute and commuter have themselves changed meaning in the last hundred years or so; originally (and perfectly rationally) the meaning "make a single large payment to buy off future obligations" was applied to paying for your travel in advance ("There are many business men who practically divide their time between New York and Chicago, and ‘commute’ (the American term for taking season tickets)" Daily Chronicle, 1906). The phrase 'commute every day' would then have made no sense; but over time, people unfamiliar with the word assumed that if commuters were those who travelled to and from work, commute must mean 'make the journey'. If 'commute' can take on another meaning because of the perceived lack of a suitable term, why should not 'telecommute' be coined for another such lack, regardless of etymology?


English is not always logical, and when it is logical, the logic isn't always what you might naively expect.

In this case, the logic is that commuting is what's most relevant to the word. Physically commuting to work is, for most people, a disliked waste of time & resources. Working remotely eliminates the physical commute, so calling it telecommuting emphasizes the fact that it removes that waste from your life. If you called it telework... Well, you're still doing the same actual work, so it doesn't have the same connotation of advantage.

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