What is a Telecommute Job?

  • Posted by Nicole Adams

In a telecommuting employment arrangement, an employee works outside of the office which often means working from home or a location close to home like a coffee shop, library, or co-working space. Various market forces are driving the rise of telecommuting including COVID-19, so telecommuting jobs are becoming more common as companies are creating the needed tools and technology to have a dispersed workforce. 

How Telecommuting Works

The term was coined in the 1970s by Jack Nilles, a former NASA communications system engineer. He was the first to explore the possibility of using technology to work away from a main office in an effort to reduce reliance on car travel and save valuable time by not driving to work. The inspiration for his idea was the economy, air pollution, gas shortages and gridlock. In 1979 a New York Post article further pushed the idea to the wider public and by 2009 over 100,000 government employees had a telecommuting option.

In its original usage, Nilles referred to workers reporting to satellite offices located closer to employee homes, eliminating the need to travel long distances to the company’s main office. Since then telecommuting has remained a dominant term, although the meaning has evolved and the term remote work is being used, too. Today it refers to employees who usually combine traditional in-person work with part-time work from an alternate location, which still reduces commuting time.

Telecommuting allows businesses to create, communicate and collaborate without being in the same place. A worker may occasionally enter the office to attend in-person meetings and touch base with an employer, however with many options for distance conferencing, there’s sometimes no need to visit the office. Some employees telecommute full-time, while others may work remotely for part of the week and go into the office for the remainder of the week.

What is Telecommuting vs a Remote Job?

Remote work and telecommuting are often used interchangeably but are in fact two different terms. Initially NASA promoted teleworking as a way to avoid a long workplace commute by creating satellite offices nearby that people went to. Historically positions considered “telecommuting” are usually filled by candidates that are geographically close to the business so that they can work in-person on occasion. 

  • Telework: working from home, a satellite office, or shared space rather than commuting to a nearby office
  • Remote Work: working from home, a satellite office, or shared space regardless if an office exists in close proximity to you

When an employee telecommutes to work more often than they physically visit the office, they may also be referred to as a remote worker. This distinction can be important in some places because the word “remote” implies that the employee lives outside a reasonable commuting distance from their employer and therefore both the employer and employee may be subject to different tax and legal requirements.

While these two types of work are similar, the biggest difference is with telecommuting there’s the option, and perhaps some expectation that you spend some time in an office, so you might not be able to live anywhere in the world. Remote work suggests that an employee is just that, remotely located. It’s not a technical definition, but does imply that the employee is too far away from the company to come into the office. They may work remotely on a temporary basis, while traveling, or they might be a permanent remote worker. 

The work world is shifting and more and more companies are allowing their employees to work from home and there are tons of organizations looking to hire for remote opportunities. If you’ve been contemplating a remote career, now is a great time to start your job search