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Remote work is giving people more free time: Here's what they are doing with it

A new study has looked at what people are doing with the time they've saved by commuting less.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer on
Woman relaxing at home
Image: Shutterstock

Many people now spend a lot less time commuting as a result of the shift to remote work. But what are they doing with that time previously spent going to and from the office? 

Researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York have found that workers across multiple age brackets are sleeping more, pursuing more leisure activities, and cutting overall work hours.      

Using data from WFH Research's American Time Use Survey (ATUS), as of June 2022, 15% of full-time employees work fully remote, while 55% are full-time at the office, and 30% work hybrid. 

"In the aggregate, Americans now spend 60 million fewer hours traveling to work each day," David Dam, a former research analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, explains in a blogpost

"We find that employed individuals allocate their saved commute time toward leisure activities and sleeping, while reducing overall work hours."

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Before jumping to the conclusion that remote workers are shirking more, it should be noted the researchers used the data to illustrate how "one hour of foregone commute time is allocated towards other activities."

"First, we find a substantial fall in time spent working; the decrease in hours worked away from home is only partially offset by an increase in working at home," writes Dam.

"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 analysis did find that remote workers do spend more time on both leisure and sleeping. Younger Americans reported spending more time at social events, eating at restaurants or bars, and exercising. Older age groups allocated more time to childcare, household chores and repairs, and meal preparation. 

The findings will likely add to the growing tension between CEOs and workers over what the new norm should be. While workers claim to be as productive when working from home, most business leaders don't trust their remote workers and want them back in the office. It's led to senior execs getting "productivity paranoia", which threatens the future of hybrid work, according to Microsoft.     

Some employers are now raising alarm bells about "over employment", where workers are taking on two or more full-time roles. On the other hand, the number of sick days has fallen for many companies because WFH has raised the bar for what counts as being sick, as The Economist recently reported.  

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But these most recent findings also mean workers will likely bargain hard to retain the benefits of flexible work arrangements discovered during the pandemic. Bosses, particularly those having trouble filling vacancies, will need to consider if they plan to force workers back in the office and back to daily commuting. 

"Our results show important relationships in the substitutability of time use. The findings lend credence to the various reports on employees' preferences for flexible work arrangements, given that cutting the commute enables people to spend their time on other activities, such as childcare or leisure. This added benefit of working from home – for those who want it – will be an important consideration for the future of flexible work arrangements," writes Dam.

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