The Third Year In: How Remote Work Has Changed Our Time Use

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE

I’ve been a remote work-at-home professional for 30 years. I’ve never had a traditional brick and mortar office, and I’m the most productive person I know. (That sentence is a bit tongue in cheek.) I was one of the original pioneers of GoToWebinar and was able to use webinars to keep my business going during the 2008-2010 depression. I started using livestreaming in 2017, ahead of it’s time, before people even understood what it was and the difference from a webinar. I’ve hired contractors from all over the world with no geographic constraints to a physical location. I always thought most professionals whose jobs didn’t require a fully human presence would be happier and more productive if they could also work from home virtually. When COVID hit us full force, this began to become reality.

Some researchers claim that in the first year of the pandemic alone, remote work evolved at a rate that would otherwise have taken 10 to 25 years. Suddenly, apps like Slack, Zoom, and Skype became not just useful, but critical, as businesses had to create or expand remote work programs to maintain public safety. Our programs were the silver bullet to many of our client organizations, as we were the only ones who could keep providing education without a hitch, livestreaming our instructors to their employees in their homes.

Hit the Road, Jack

Many people I talk with these days do not want to ever go back to the office, as they realize not only does their work not require it, but they are most productive at home without the barrage of constant interruptions. Others miss the camaraderie and realize they are actually happier around other people. Regardless, the way workers spend their time has definitely changed. Consider these three examples.

  1. No commutes. Many of the experts who believe remote workers are less productive than office workers appear not to have taken all the benefits into account. The elimination of commuting time is one of the foremost. Those who include “zero commute” in their calculations claim remote workers tend to productively work about a half hour longer than their office-bound compatriots each day. Some employees have even proven willing to take pay cuts and use their own office equipment in exchange for working remotely at least a few days a week. This surely increases productivity, all else being equal.
  2. More flexible hours. While some exceptions exist, most remote workers choose their working hours. After all, they have no one to watch them and make sure they punch the clock. As long as they do their eight hours (many do more) and get their work done, when they do the work usually doesn’t matter. Some remote workers must also schedule their work time at odd hours to fit the schedules of others, and many make themselves available after standard working hours to communicate, answer questions, and handle problems. 
  3. More time spent in meetings. When you’re in the same office together, you can physically visit co-workers to get quick answers. This isn’t an option for remote workers. Teleconferencing and videoconferencing have become the standard for getting together on projects, checking information, and the like. Initial difficulties and lack of familiarity with the technology added to communication time at first. Many remote workers still spend longer each day communicating than office workers do, but they find it more efficient to have scheduled meetings versus a series of constant interruptions, as they are better able to schedule their days.


A Remote View

As COVID restrictions eased at the end of 2021 and into 2022, it became clear that a higher level of remote work was here to stay. Workers now understand how to handle it, and many want to continue working from home, because it lets them spend more time with family and take better care of their households while maintaining their productivity. According to some polls, up to half of remote workers claim they would quit their jobs rather than go back to full-time office work. Indeed, in the U.S., the monthly resignation rate has doubled in recent months (to over 4%), especially among Millennials and Generation Z workers. Some observers have referred to this phenomenon as the “Great Resignation.” Clearly, more and more white-collar workers would rather work anywhere but the office, and their productivity figures back up the desire to do it.

© 2022 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.