The Covid-19 pandemic utterly transformed the world of work. But while employees across the globe have adapted to conducting business from their living rooms, CEOs and business leaders have struggled with this seismic shift, openly voicing their concerns about the impact of remote work on productivity, employee engagement, and corporate culture.
Some business leaders have come out strongly against working from home. “Remote work virtually eliminates spontaneous learning and creativity, because you don’t run into people at the coffee machine,” said Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase. Others are more optimistic: “People are more productive working at home than people would have expected,” said Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. And still others remain cautious: “Working from home makes it much harder to delineate work time from personal time. I encourage all of our employees to have a disciplined schedule for when you will work, and when you will not, and to stick to that schedule,” said Dan Springer, CEO of DocuSign.
But what do the data actually say? I recently released a paper, “Quiet Quitting or Noisy Leisure? The Allocation of Time and Remote Work, 2019-2022,” which documents trends by drawing on the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey (ATUS).
Since there is no direct measure of fully remote, hybrid, or fully in-person work arrangements in the ATUS, I focus on an index, introduced in 2020 by the University of Chicago’s Jonathan Dingel and Brent Neiman, that measures the degree to which tasks within an occupation can be done remotely. The index also happens to do a good job of identifying what sorts of jobs people are probably working remotely in—with the caveat that an employee at a company in Texas could differ in their work arrangement from a New York worker with the same occupation but a different employer.
I discovered three things. First, remote workers allocated roughly 50 minutes less per day to work activities and 37 more minutes per day to leisure activities in 2022, relative to 2019. Time allocated to home production, such as chores and caring for other household members, did not change.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, these declines are concentrated among males, singles, and those without children. In fact, single males over the age of 45 working remotely spend more than two hours less per day in work activities in 2022, relative to 2019. If anything, college-educated females are the ones who have increased their time at work slightly.
Third, changes in the allocation of time cannot be explained by job-search activity or declines in well-being. If these declines in labor hours were driven by “quiet quitting,” then remote workers would be spending more time searching for other jobs or would feel worse about life overall.
These findings underscore the complexity of the remote-work revolution. It is not merely a binary shift from the office to the home but a complex reordering of our daily lives with far-reaching implications. For businesses, understanding these changes—and especially recognizing the challenges that different demographic brackets are struggling with—is critical for managing workforce expectations and productivity. As we navigate this new landscape, it’s essential to look beyond the surface-level changes and grapple with the deeper shifts in how we allocate our time.