The Flip Side of Remote Work [2021 Study]
Career Advice Contributor

 

 

Let’s admit it:

Most of us have mixed feelings about telecommuting. While some of us can’t imagine returning to the brick-and-mortar office, others miss the free latte, catered lunches, and warm chats with friends and colleagues.

But—

While we’re still waiting for employers to figure out a way to reopen their office spaces safely, we wanted to gauge employees’ experiences with remote work over a year in, focusing on the professional and personal benefits it provides. 

Tapping into the proverbial wisdom of the crowd, we polled over 1,000 US workers and stumbled upon a few hidden gems.

Keep scrolling to learn more.

Remote Work: Money and Time Savings

 

The Flip Side Of Remote Work Infographic 1

We all know the plentiful benefits of telecommuting—flexibility, improved work-life balance, and feeling hyper-productive are just a few examples. Plus, you get to wear sweatpants (with the letters peeling off) during a Zoom call, which could be a game-changer for many.

But—what about the time and money you save by working from the comfort of your home? 

Let’s start with time savings. Here’s how much time remote employees save each day by not having to commute to the office:

 

  • 30 minutes to one hour: 36%
  • 1–2 hours: 30%
  • Less than 30 minutes: 16%
  • 2–3 hours: 13%
  • More than three hours: 4%

To put it into perspective, most employees (66%) save between 7.6 to 30 days a year by not having to deal with the pesky commute.

What do remote workers use the extra time for?

  • Spending more time with family or friends: 84% (exceptions are construction and natural resources sectors, with 34% of the employees vs. 16% in other industries claim they didn’t have a chance to spend more time with their close ones.)
  • Getting more sleep: 78%
  • Undertaking more recreational activities: 77%
  • Learning new skills and competencies: 70%
  • Self-improvement, training, or education: 60%

Here, we also wanted to give voice to some of our respondents to elaborate on how they use the extra time. Below is one of the responses we received:

Having additional time has allowed me to return to school to get my Business Administrative Technology degree, lend more time to my hobby (playing the piano), spend more time with my family, and take advantage of virtual career development in the form of training, webinars, career coaching, and networking.

But we acknowledge that not everyone managed to use their time for such aspirational purposes. So we asked those unlucky respondents what prevented them from using the extra time gained thanks to not having to commute to work. More often than not, the spare time was taken by homeschooling kids or increased housework from being present in the home more.

Now—things got even more interesting when we examined how much money remote employees save on commuting per month:

  • $100–$200: 38%
  • $200–$300: 29%
  • $0–$50: 19%
  • $300–$400: 11%
  • $500 or more: 3%

 

On top of that, there’s the money remote workers save each day by not having work-related expenses such as buying a coffee, an occasional croissant, or lunch:

  • $10–$15: 34%
  • $5–$10: 31%
  • $0–$5: 18%
  • $15–$20: 13%
  • More than $20: 3%

It’s worth noting that female workers turned out to be more frugal than men when it comes to daily work-related expenses. While nearly 40% of men would spend $10–$15 on average when working onsite, only 30% of female workers would follow suit. Instead, most surveyed women (33%) spent only $5–$10 per day when they worked in the office. That’s somewhat in line with a Consumer Expenditure Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which found that men generally outspend women by a slight margin.

And it seems that home working has triggered a wave of entrepreneurial activity. When asked, “Did you start a side hustle with the time you’ve saved working remotely?” a full 74% of remote employees said, “Yes.”

That’s particularly true for employees working in manufacturing who managed to start making money on the side even more often than those in other industries (91% vs. 74%).

Add it all up, and we’re looking at roughly $4,000. That’s how much the average person saves yearly by working remotely (the above figure is in line with other similar studies on the topic.)

To put that in real terms, that’s enough money to buy you nearly 10 Apple Watches or about four bleeding-edge Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra smartphones.

Now, how do Americans use the extra money?

 

  • Build or beef up an emergency fund or nest egg: 69%
  • Contribute to retirement and/or pension savings: 63%
  • Save for big purchases (e.g., a home, car, grad school, or vacation): 61%
  • Invest in personal or professional development: 56%

Predictably, self-employed employees use the extra time to work more (46% vs. 19% compared with full-time employees). That makes sense. When you’re your own boss, the more hours you put in, the higher your earnings.

Lastly, we’ve also noticed that employees with a Master’s degree (75%) or a Ph.D. (79%) are more likely to spend the extra money to beef up an emergency fund or a nest egg than those having a Bachelor’s degree (69%).

Telecommuting vs Traveling and Work Satisfaction

The Flip Side Of Remote Work Infographic 2

When we were forced to leave our cubicles in the infamous spring of 2020, few could keep the heads above the water.

For one, employers expected us to deliver on our pre-pandemic goals without missing a beat. On top of that, we were tasked with navigating the stressors brought on by the COVID-powered challenging circumstances.

But as we got more comfortable with WFH, some of us could finally entertain the secret dream of becoming a full-time digital nomad and travel while working remotely.

And in fact, many turned the dream into reality.

Based on our findings, a full 49% of employees have traveled to a different city or country to work remotely in the last year.

As one of our respondents elaborates:

This past year, remote work has been a dream come true for me. I have been able to work from Portugal, across the dining table from my spouse, and we’ve loved every second of it. I am much happier with my job and actually look forward to working every day. I am back to having the fun, carefree personality I did as a teen. I am getting mountains of work done much more efficiently than I did pre-covid. I have the time to explore the new city, pursue dreams, goals, and other passions. I have lost weight and feel healthier thanks to exercising every day. This experience has been eye-opening and amazing. I never want it to end.

Here’s how long remote employees spent working as digital nomads:

  • One week: 21%
  • 2–4 weeks: 17%
  • Two months or more: 15%
  • Less than a week: 13%
  • One month: 4%

 

Interestingly, manufacturing employees were much more likely to travel to a different city or country to work than those in other industries (80% vs. 49%). On top of that, we found that men were more willing to travel during the prolonged WFH than women (55% vs. 40%).

At this stage, we also wanted to see if there’s a correlation between remote work and job satisfaction, given the flexibility it offers. 

So—here’s how remote employees describe the state of their professional life since the start of telecommuting:

  • Somewhat better: 37%
  • Unchanged: 32%
  • Significantly better: 15%
  • Somewhat worse: 13%
  • Significantly worse: 3%

It’s worth noting that employees that work in business and finance are more likely to report their professional life is either somewhat better (45%) or significantly better (21%) compared to those in other industries (37% and 15% respectively).

Lastly, we asked if US workers have grown more passionate about their jobs in the last year. A whopping 52% of employees said, ‘”Yes.” Plus, we found that workers from such industries as business and finance (49%), healthcare (49%), and manufacturing (51%) are more likely to say they have become more passionate about the work they do compared to employees working in other industries (41% on average).

 

The Effect of Telecommuting on Employees’ Overall Wellbeing

The Flip Side Of Remote Work Infographic 3

As our last order of business, we wanted to deep-dive into the effects of remote work on employees. 

We set out to take the pulse of workers’ overall physical and mental health, well-being, and generally how telecommuting affected different aspects of their lives.

So—

Based on the data we obtained, the vast majority of workers (60%) in the US exercise more since they have started to work remotely:

 

  • I exercise a little more: 37%
  • I exercise the same amount: 32%
  • I exercise a lot more: 23%
  • I exercise a little less: 5%
  • I exercise a lot less: 3%

 

Although a lot of focus has been on telecommuting’s negative health impacts, there could be an actual increase in overall physical fitness for homeworkers, according to our data. That said, we couldn’t corroborate the finding due to a lack of available studies on the topic.

Even more interestingly, most US employees claim their financial situation is now somewhat better or significantly better:

 

  • Somewhat better: 43%
  • Unchanged: 29%
  • Significantly better: 14%
  • Somewhat worse: 11%
  • Significantly worse: 2%

 

In this context, workers with only a high-school diploma (vs. those having a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or a Doctorate) are less likely to report remote work has somewhat positively affected their financial situation: 29% vs. 48%.

The same goes for part-time employees compared to full-timers, only 6% of whom (vs. 14%) claim their financial situation is now significantly better.

Interestingly, workers in such industries as government/nonprofit as well as healthcare are more likely to report their financial situation is now better (55% and 53% respectively), particularly compared to employees working in media and entertainment where only 23% of employees claim they are now better off financially.

So—

For most of our respondents, remote working might be better both for the body and the bank balance. That presents tangible benefits for employers, too, as healthier and happier employees are generally more productive and less likely to call in sick or use vacation time due to illness (poor health costs US employers $530 billion, according to some estimates.)

Now—onto family and social life.

The effect of remote work on employees’ family life has been largely positive, with more than 63% of respondents reporting their family life has improved:

  • Somewhat better: 42%
  • Unchanged: 25%
  • Significantly better: 21%
  • Somewhat worse: 10%
  • Significantly worse: 3%

 

We also asked about the impact on remote workers’ social life. As you’d expect, social distancing measures have played a part, with more than half reporting their social lives were unchanged or worse. More surprising was that 44% still managed to have a somewhat or significantly better social life. Perhaps those Zoom socializing sessions do pay off.

  • Somewhat better: 31%
  • Unchanged: 29%
  • Somewhat worse: 18%
  • Significantly better: 13%
  • Significantly worse: 9%

 

Interestingly, prolonged WFH has had a positive impact on most American’s life goals and their crystallization. According to our respondents, their vision for life roadmap is now:

  • Somewhat better: 35%
  • Unchanged: 34%
  • Significantly better:  18%
  • Somewhat worse: 9%
  • Significantly worse: 4%

 

Lastly, we wanted to gauge the effect of remote work on employees’ mental health. According to the survey takers, their mental wellbeing is now:

  • Somewhat better: 36%
  • Unchanged: 25%
  • Significantly better: 20%
  • Somewhat worse: 14%
  • Significantly worse: 4%

 

The above findings aren’t exactly in line with the other research works (TELUS International’s survey, for instance) that generally claim mandated WFH created massive amounts of stress, anxiety and uncertainty. But perhaps, things have started to change recently, as more employers now roll out wellness programs, offer virtual therapy sessions, and give employees access to meditation apps.

It’s worth pointing out that 26% of part-time employees vs. 13% are more likely to report their mental health has deteriorated compared to full-timers. 

Lastly, employees working in such industries as construction/natural resources are much more likely to say their mental health has somewhat improved since they started to telecommute compared to other sectors (59% vs. 36%). The same is true for media and entertainment industries, whose employees also claim they are significantly better off mentally when compared to other sectors (31% vs. 20%).

 

Stacking It All up

While some skeptics don’t believe remote work is a sustainable model in the long run, most employees are still hesitant to switch back onsite.

Here’s a quick recap of the study’s key findings that give the why:

  • Most employees (66%) save between 30 minutes and 2 hours each day by not commuting to the office.
  • The average employee saves around $4,000 yearly by working from the comfort of their home.
  • A full 74% of remote workers started a side hustle with the time they have saved working remotely.
  • Another 49% of Americans have traveled to a different city or country to earn a living in a remote capacity in the last year.
  • As many as 52% have grown more passionate about their jobs thanks to telecommuting.

Methodology

We surveyed 1,089 respondents that have been working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic via a bespoke online polling tool. All respondents included in the study passed an attention-check question. The study was created through several steps of research, crowdsourcing, and surveying.

 

Limitations

The data we are presenting rely on self-reports from respondents. Each person who took our survey read and responded to each question without any research administration or interference. There are many potential issues with self-reported data like selective memory, telescoping, attribution, or exaggeration.

Some questions and responses have been rephrased or condensed for clarity and ease of understanding for readers. In some cases, the percentages presented may not add up to 100 percent; depending on the case, this is either due to rounding or due to responses of “neither/uncertain/unknown” not being presented.

Sources

ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER

JeffAltman, The Big Game Hunter
JeffAltman, The Big Game Hunter

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1900 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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