Published: 12:16, September 15, 2020 | Updated: 17:18, June 5, 2023
US remote workers bank US$90b savings
By Belinda Robinson in New York

People walk past a replica of a roman statue at the Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino as the city continues to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic on Sept 13, 2020, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

Workers in the United States have collectively saved US$90 billion by not commuting to the office by car and working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report.

A survey by the IBM Institute for Business Value found that the proportion of people who want to continue working remotely was 80 percent in July but fell to 67 percent in August

The change in the daily routine for millions of employees since mid-March has allowed them to save US$758 million per day as a group or US$2,000 each, a report by freelancing platform Upwork found.

"One of the most significant benefits of remote work is the lack of commute," Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork, wrote in the report. "From both a time-saving and productivity standpoint, a lack of commute can improve a person's overall happiness and work-life balance."

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In 2018, the average worker in the US spent 54.2 minutes commuting per day. This equates to 4.6 hours a week, 18.4 hours a month and 9.5 full days a year commuting. For many, the time spent traveling to the office has been getting much longer when compared with 1980, Upwork found.

An Upwork survey of 1,000 people currently working from home found 31 percent were working remotely due to the pandemic and 15 percent had begun doing so before the outbreak.

On average, those who worked from home due to the virus saved an average of 49.6 minutes a day (or four days since March) on commuting, and those who were working from home before the pandemic saved 51 minutes a day, Upwork said.

In March, when state governors started to mandate that people stay at home to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, many believed the situation would last for a few weeks or months.

Six months later, after more than 190,000 people in the US have died from COVID-19 and more than 6.3 million have been infected, some states have reopened their economies, allowing workers to go back to the office if they adhere to social distancing guidelines.

A survey by the IBM Institute for Business Value found that the proportion of people who want to continue working remotely was 80 percent in July but fell to 67 percent in August.

Options differ

At least 50 percent said that they wanted to work from home permanently, down 15 percentage points from July. And 28 percent said they would prefer to continue working remotely exclusively while 22 percent said they would like to work remotely with occasional visits to their workplace.

Alex Turnbull, founder and chief executive officer of Groove, a customer support app for startups and small businesses, said: "Successfully working from home is a skill just like programming, designing or writing. It takes time and commitment to develop that skill."

Scott Berkun, a best-selling author of eight books on design, creativity and public speaking, added: "The option to work from home when needed, or to try a different lifestyle without having to change jobs, is a win for everyone."

It's not just employees who have saved money. Employers can save" US$11,000 a year for every person who works remotely half of the time", according to Global Workplace Analytics.

The biggest US technology companies have led the way by announcing a flexible approach to their employees working from home. Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said his employees could work from home well into 2021. He even floated the idea of paying workers less if they work remotely and live in a cheaper location away from the office.

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Google has extended its employees' work-from-home policy until the end of the year. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey emailed employees in May to announce that they could work from home permanently.

But Reed Hastings, chairman of Netflix, an online streaming giant with 8,600 employees, believes that working from home "has no positive effects".