Differences Between Telecommuting and Telework

The difference between telecommuting and telework

Question: What's the difference between "telecommuting" and "telework"?

Both telecommuting and telework refer to a working arrangement where employees regularly perform their work outside of the traditional on-site working environment. Although often used interchangeably, some use these two terms to refer to different situations.


Jack Nilles, co-founder and president of JALA, coined the phrases "telecommuting" and "telework" in 1973 and defines these terms as follows:

Telework: ANY form of substitution of information technologies (telecommunications and computers) for work-related travel.

Telecommuting: that portion of teleworking that applies to the daily commute to and from work-a primary source of traffic congestion, air pollution and loss of productivity in urban areas.

JALA provides an interesting definitional framework that more precisely defines the nature of telework.

Other distinctions or explanations that have been made about telecommuting and telework include:

  • "Telework" may just used more regularly outside of the US, while in the States the more common term is "telecommuting" (kind of like saying "postbox" in England vs. "mailbox" in the US). The US Federal Government, however, has adopted "telework" in its materials regarding regular employee remote work.
  • "Telecommuters" are sometimes distinguished from "Remote Workers" by the amount of time they spend working outside of the corporate office, with remote workers being regular, full-time distance workers and telecommuters those who only work remotely some days or irregularly (or vice versa, depending on who you ask).
  • Some include independent contractors (rather than just employees) in the definition of telework.

For this site, we generally will refer to any work done remotely (by an employee or independent contractor or entrepreneur) as remote work; employee work done regularly away from the office as telecommuting; telework when discussing government-related issues or the general concept of using technology to work outside of the traditional office.