Remote work hasn't actually saved Americans much time — they're mainly just working more
- Not having to commute could mean getting to partake in leisure activities — or more time to get work done.
- A working paper looked at how people working from home are using their time saved by not commuting.
US workers who get to work from home are using most of their extra time not commuting to work remotely — as opposed to using most of this time on watching TV and other leisure activities or on caregiving duties like childcare.
A working paper from Cevat Giray Aksoy, Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, Steven J. Davis, Mathias Dolls, and Pablo Zarate looked at how much time is saved across 27 countries by not having to commute.
"The average daily time savings when working from home is 72 minutes in our sample," the study stated. "To obtain this figure, we consider the commute times of persons who worked mainly from home at some point during the pandemic and compute the average of country-level means."
The new paper includes results for the G7 countries. Looking at just the results for these wealthy democracies, the US stands out for its lack of minutes saved. US workers save 55 minutes a day, 17 minutes fewer than the overall average for the 27 countries. Japan's figure was 28 minutes above the average for the 27 countries.
Outside of the G7, Serbia and Poland had the smallest time saved at 51 and 54 minutes respectively. And daily savings in China was just slightly higher than Japan, at 102 minutes.
Having this extra time not commuting means people can spend more time on other tasks and interests. While a few of the countries part of the analysis seem to be spending more of their time saved from not commuting on leisure activities than work, others are spending more of their time on their jobs. The US is one of the countries where the time saved is being allocated more so to primary or secondary jobs rather than leisure time.
This isn't just the case for remote workers in the US; other countries like France also saw workers using most of their saved time on work. Meanwhile, remote workers in other places, like Germany and Japan, are using more of this time not having to get to a workplace on leisure activities rather than their work.
"Workers allocate 40 percent of their time savings to their jobs and about 11 percent to caregiving activities," the authors wrote about the overall result for the 27 countries. "People living with children allocate more of their time savings to caregiving."
Given that 40%, the authors wrote that "much of the time savings flow back to employers." Additionally, they found that 34% of time savings went to leisure, which includes activities like reading or exercise.
While this extra time isn't being allocated as much to caregiving duties, one perk of remote work still is being able to allot time for family time and duties.
"People see telework and remote work as something that can help them balance things in terms of work and family, and it's something that people would like to continue doing after the pandemic is over," Juliana Horowitz, associate director of research at Pew Research Center, previously told Insider.
For the US, workers spend their time savings similarly to the overall average — where 42% of it is for primary or secondary jobs, 35% for leisure, and 8% for caregiving duties. The chart below shows what that translates to in minutes for the US and the other countries part of the G7:
In Japan, about half an hour of the 100 minutes is devoted to work, but more of this time is allotted to leisure activities. For the US, about 23 minutes of this time saved goes to work while about 19 minutes of this time saved is allocated to leisure time.
According to the paper, once the pandemic is over, workers will still be reaping the benefits of remote work. The paper notes that work from home will save "about one hour per week per worker after the pandemic ends." That's not as much as what the authors estimated for 2021 and 2022 — "about two hours per week per worker."
In addition to the recent working paper about 27 countries, a New York Fed analysis using the American Time Use Survey, as reported on by CNBC, previously showed how remote workers are using their extra time from not having to make the trip to work. The authors of the Liberty Street Economics post from the New York Fed wrote that "employed individuals allocate their saved commute time toward leisure activities and sleeping."
"Our results from the ATUS suggest that although individuals may have increased time working in the precise time-slot they used to commute, overall paid-work hours fell because of substitution toward other activities throughout the day," the New York Fed post stated.
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