An Upside of WFH for Employers
- July 07, 2023
- CBR - Remote Work
Forty percent of the commuting time that people saved in 2021 and 2022 by working from home went back into their jobs, according to researchers including Chicago Booth’s Steven J. Davis. In previous research, Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology’s Jose Maria Barrero, Stanford’s Nicholas Bloom, and Davis found that working from home boosts the productivity of many American workers, partly because they put much of their time savings back into their jobs.
Using their Global Survey of Working Arrangements, Barrero, Bloom, Davis, and their collaborators queried 19,000 full-time employees in 27 countries in 2021 and 2022. They asked respondents about how long it took them to travel to their employer’s premises, how often they worked from home instead of commuting, and how often they would do so after the pandemic ended. With the resulting data, they calculated how much time people saved by commuting less. They also asked respondents how they used their time savings.
The 27 countries included the world’s biggest economies—the United States, China, Japan, Germany, and India. The average daily time savings when working from home was 72 minutes in the total sample. It was 100 minutes or more on average for workers in China and Japan, while US workers saved an average of 55 minutes working from home.
When factoring in the number of WFH days per week, the researchers estimate that working from home saved two hours per worker per week in 2021 and 2022, and that it will save about one hour per worker per week after the pandemic ends.
“For a full-time worker, that amounts to 2.2 percent of a 46-hour workweek (40 paid hours plus six hours of commuting),” the researchers write. “That’s a large time savings, especially when multiplied by hundreds of millions of workers around the world.”
On the basis of a series of surveys in 2021 and 2022, researchers estimate that workers around the world saved 72 minutes in commuting time per day, on average, by working from home. Most of the time saved went back into jobs and leisure activities.
Respondents were asked to allocate their saved time across six categories: work on a primary job; work on a secondary job; childcare, homeschooling, or caring for other relatives; home improvement, chores, or shopping; indoor leisure; and exercise or outdoor leisure.
The researchers lumped the first two categories together to determine that 40 percent of the saved time went to work. Respondents used 34 percent of their time savings for the two leisure categories and 11 percent for caregiving activities.
“These results suggest that much of the time savings flows back to employers, and that children and other caregiving recipients also benefit,” they write.
Time saved from commuting is only part of the story, of course. Workers also save money, plus benefit by using less time for grooming and otherwise getting ready for a day at work. Finally, as the researchers put it, “working from home offers more flexibility in time use over the day and greater personal autonomy.”
The researchers uncovered some gender-specific patterns, although they describe these differences as “modest.” For example, men reported using more of their time savings for work, but only 2.4 minutes more per day than women. In households with children under 14, women devoted an extra 11.4 minutes of their daily time savings to caregiving, while for men the figure was 9 minutes.
Commute times were consistent across demographics, but the ability to work from home and avoid a commute rose with education and earnings, the study finds.
The researchers find that on average people expect to save one hour a week on an ongoing basis. Applying those estimates to after-tax wages offers a “reasonable benchmark for the private value of commute time savings,” the researchers say.
Attitudes and expectations about remote work have shifted globally.Infographic: How the WFH Picture Varies around the World
Economist and former US senator Phil Gramm argues that inequality in the US is being measured incorrectly.Capitalisn’t: Poverty and Inequality in America (Part 1)
Economic history hints at how migration induced by climate change might differ from that caused by other forces.What Can the 1930s Tell Us about the Coming Climate Migration?
We want to demonstrate our commitment to your privacy. Please review Chicago Booth's privacy notice, which provides information explaining how and why we collect particular information when you visit our website.