Remote Workers vs. Non-Remote Workers

You don’t gotta go to work, work, work, work
Work, work, work
But you gotta put in work, work, work, work
Work, work, work

—Fifth Harmony

One of the best (and sometimes the worst) things that technology allows is the ability to work anywhere at any time.

Based on 2016 data from the American Time Use Survey, about 27 percent of full-time workers did at least some work away from the workplace on a non-holiday weekday. In 2006, it was a few percentage points lower at 23 percent.

While not a major shift, the amount of time people work remotely increased more so. Below shows the cumulative percentages for 2016 against 2006.

Busy While Away

Between 2006 and 2016, it grew more common to work more hours somewhere other than the workplace.

Percentage of full-time, remote workers who…

100%

80%

60%

In 2016, about 27% of full-time workers did at least some work outside the workplace. Of those, 40% worked at least 4 hours away.

40%

In 2006, 23% of full-time workers did some work outside. Of those, only 30% worked at least 4 hours away.

20%

0%

0

2

4

6

8

…logged at least this number of hours on a work day.

Busy While Away

Between 2006 and 2016, it grew more common to work more hours somewhere other than the workplace.

Full-time, remote workers

100%

80%

In 2016, about 27% of full-time workers did at least some work outside the workplace. Of those, 40% worked at least 4 hours away.

60%

40%

20%

In 2006, 23% of full-time workers did some work outside. Of those, only 30% worked at least 4 hours away.

0%

0

2

4

6

8

Hours at least on a work day

How does time usage differ between remote and non-remote workers? I looked at the workday schedules for about 15,000 full-time workers between 2012 and 2016. A remote worker is defined as someone who only did work away from the workplace, and a non-remote worker is defined as someone who only worked at a workplace that was not home.

The biggest difference, as you might guess, is travel time. The bulk of minutes are spent on the commute to and from work.

Traveling

As expected, the biggest time use difference between remote and non-remote workers is commute. This activity includes non-work-related travel, but the contrast is clear.

Median, 0 minutes

Remote Workers

Commuting from the kitchen to the home office is nice, 29% of remote workers agree.

However, many still have long commutes.

Median, 35 minutes

Non-Remote Workers

Despite often hearing about long commutes in big cities, most travel an hour or less.

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

110

120+

Minutes

Traveling

As expected, the biggest time use difference between non-remote and remote workers is commute. This activity includes non-work-related travel, but the contrast is clear.

Remote Workers

Non-Remote Workers

Minutes

0

Median,

0 min.

Commuting from the kitchen to the home office is nice, 29% of away-from-workers agree.

10

20

30

Median,

35 min.

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

110

However, many still have long commutes.

120+

Remote workers don’t have to commute nearly as much as non-remote workers. The median for the former: 0 minutes. In contrast, non-remote workers reported a median of 35 minutes of travel time. (Add that up over a year or an entire career and the minutes add up to days.) Notice the cluster for remote workers around zero.

Time spent with personal care, which includes grooming, bathing, and dressing, surprised me at first. Although as someone who works from home, I probably shouldn’t have been that surprised.

Personal Care

Including activities such as grooming, bathing, and dressing, it was common for non-workplace workers to spend little to no time here. Because why not?

Median, 30 minutes

Remote Workers

These people spent two hours or more.

These people chose to forego grooming.

Median, 45 minutes

Non-Remote Workers

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

110

120+

Minutes

Personal Care

Including activities such as grooming, bathing, and dressing, it was common for non-workplace workers to spend little to no time here. Because why not?

Non-Remote Workers

Remote Workers

Minutes

0

These people chose to forego grooming.

10

20

30

Median,

30 min.

40

Median,

45 min.

50

60

70

80

90

100

110

These people spent two hours or more.

120+

Again, there’s a cluster around the zero mark for remote workers. This brings down the median to 30 minutes. Compare this to the non-remote median of 45 minutes. Save the remote workers who forego personal care, the spread of the distributions look similar for the two groups.

If you take the difference between medians so far, remote workers gained about 50 minutes from not having to commute and/or groom. The relationships between activities is more complex than this, but I think we can agree there’s a net gain of minutes for remote workers.

The extra minutes tend to go to eating and drinking.

Eating and Drinking

While the common time usage in the middle looks similar for both groups, people who worked outside of the workplace used a a wider range of time.

Median, 1 hour, 5 minutes

Remote Workers

Many of the extra minutes saved not commuting were spent here.

Median, 1 hour

Non-Remote Workers

0

20

40

60

80

100

120

140

160

180

200

220

240+

Minutes

Eating and Drinking

While the common time usage in the middle looks similar for both groups, people who worked outside of the workplace used a wider range of time.

Non-Remote Workers

Remote Workers

Minutes

0

20

40

60

Median, 1 hour

Median, 1 hour, 5 min.

80

100

120

Many of the extra minutes saved not commuting were spent here.

140

160

180

200

220

240+

The main sections of the distributions, from 0 to 120 minutes, look similar for both remote and non-remote, but the range for remote workers stretches longer. This seems to suggest flexibility in schedule.

Flexibility in schedule is most evident in the actual work hours for full-time workers. The 0 to 400-minute range varies more for remote workers, whereas the distribution for non-remote workers peaks expectedly at 8 hours.

Work

For those who worked a full day, the hours fall within a familiar range. However, working while away often provides flexibility in hours, as reflected by those in the lower end.

Median, 7 hours, 47 minutes

Remote Workers

The hours for away-from-work workers show more variation at this end than their at-work counterparts.

Median, 8 hours, 20 minutes

Non-Remote Workers

0

100

200

300

400

500

600

700

800

900+

Minutes

Work

For those who worked a full day, the hours fall within a familiar range. However, working while away often provides flexibility in hours, as reflected by those in the lower end.

Remote Workers

Non-Remote Workers

Minutes

0

Hours for remote workers show more variation at this end than their non-remote counterparts.

100

200

300

400

Median,

7 hours,

47 min.

500

Median,

8 hours,

20 min.

600

700

800

900+

Notice that the median for remote workers is less than the median for non-remote workers. At face value, this might suggest that remote workers work fewer hours. However, it’s also worth noting that the distribution around the eight-hour mark for remote appears appears higher. So some remote workers work longer hours.

The main point is that remote hours vary a lot more.

The relationships between all of the activities is too complex for any one chart to capture, but the variation in the above activities seems to suggest greater flexibility for remote workers. They are able to allot time to all of the other activities not shown here, such as sports and exercise, caring for others, and home upkeep.

At the end of the day, remote work (for me at least) is less about time gained and more about this flexibility.

Time useA Day in the Life of Americans

I used data from the American Time Use Survey to simulate an average day for Americans.

Notes

Chart Type Used

Beeswarm

It emphasizes individual points in a distribution instead of binning them like a histogram.

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