Aug 29, 2020 - Economy

The many benefits of commute-free remote work

Data: Upwork and U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

After years of U.S. commutes growing longer and longer, the pandemic has kept millions of office road warriors at home — and the financial benefits are significant.

Why it matters: Commuting was costing American workers an increasing amount of time, money and life satisfaction. After a glimpse of life without the daily slog, workers may not want to go back to normal, which could have major effects on cities around the country.

By the numbers: In a survey released Thursday, the freelancing platform Upwork found that those who were working remotely because of COVID-19 were saving an average 49.6 minutes a day because they were no longer commuting.

  • For the majority who commuted by car, staying off the roads has saved $758 million a day in time, fuel and health costs, which adds up to more than $90 billion since mid-March.

Background: This change comes after years of ever-lengthening commutes, which had increased by an average of almost 11 minutes a day since 1980, or two full days a year.

Be smart: Those savings are one reason why many surveys — like this one from the New York Times — have found that most workers are quite satisfied with working from home.

  • "Now that many have seen what it can be like without a commute, I don't anticipate most [workers] are eager to rush back to the office," says Adam Ozimek, Upwork's chief economist.
  • While workers in outer-orbit bedroom communities like East Stroudsburg, Pa., have saved the most time, Ozimek sees expensive housing areas like the New York and San Francisco metros — which also average long commutes — being hit hardest by the remote work shift.

The bottom line: If workers can save time and companies can save money by abandoning the central workplace, offices may not be coming back soon.

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