This story originally appeared on Business Insider.
“The quality of the work-life balance is unbeatable. It’s truly unbeatable,” Timothy Done, a millennial who left his job rather than return to an office nearly 600 miles away, previously told Insider of his pivot to a full-time remote role.
Though it’s a much lower percentage of workers than those going into the office, a solid chunk of Americans are still clocking in from their houses. According to the most recent data on teleworking from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at least 3% of the workforce is working completely remotely as of September 30, 2022. That means about 11.1% of companies across the country are allowing it — a bump from 10.3% in 2021. A separate Government Accountability Office analysis of American Community Survey data found that in 2021, about 18% of workers primarily worked from home during the week.
But even as the number of firms offering any form of telework has plummeted, the when and where of work remains a constant push and pull. Several workers Insider spoke to said they’ve left jobs — and even took pay cuts — to stay at home. As office mandates stack up, it’s a battle that’s far from over.
So who are the remote workers of America? They’re likely to be more educated, run errands during the day, and are willing to do whatever it takes to stay at home.
Remote workers save up to 80 minutes a day by not going into the office — and many use it to work more.
Remote workers are doing anything but work in the afternoons. Elena Noviello/Getty Images
While there’s a stereotype that remote employees work less, many are putting their extra time into working more.
Remote workers in the US rack up 55 minutes a day in “time savings” from being at home and cutting out commuting and other activities like grooming, the researchers Cevat Giray Aksoy, Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, Steven J. Davis, Mathias Dolls, and Pablo Zarate found in their analysis of the Global Survey of Working Arrangements. Across the world, younger workers are likely to reap the most time savings, with remote workers under the age of 30 getting back nearly 80 minutes a day.
In the US, workers are putting 42% of that extra time toward working. And that’s fairly consistent across the globe, with 40% of time savings spent on work.
Felicia, a 53-year-old administrator in Arizona who quit her six-figure job over a return-to-office push, previously told Insider that she found she “got a lot more work done” when she was at home. When she went into the office, “I was going home and working four hours because I couldn’t get the work done,” she said.
They earn more, are more educated, and are more likely to work in tech or similar industries.
Getty via BI
A good rule of thumb for access to remote work: If you make more money, you’re more likely to be at home. The GAO analysis of American Time Use Survey data found that in 2021, nearly 60% of workers in the top 25% of earners did some work from home. In comparison, about 15% of workers in the bottom quartile of earners did some work from home.
The August 2023 iteration of the Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes found that about 13% of 30- to 39-year-olds and 50- to 64-year-olds work remotely full time, the two age groups with the highest percentage of full-time remote workers. However, 66% of 50- to 64-year-olds worked fully on-site, the highest percentage among the age groups, followed by about 60% of 20- to 29-year-olds.
Establishments with all employees teleworking all of the time by industry
Chart: Juliana Kaplan/Insider Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
According to the GAO, women were more likely to primarily work from home than men. About 28% of Asian Americans worked primarily from home, the highest percentage among Americans of different races, compared to 19% of white Americans and 15% of Black Americans.
And Americans working from home are more likely to hold college degrees. Research from the Washington State University economist Benjamin Cowan found that college graduates spent more time working from home compared to non-college graduates. In the “post-pandemic era” of August 2021 through December 2022, the amount of time college graduates spent working at home increased by 78 minutes compared to 2015 through 2019 levels, according to Cowan’s analysis of Census data.
“The vast majority of jobs that are easy to transition to home work are held by highly educated college-graduate people,” Cowan told Insider. Not only are college graduates more likely to work from home, according to Cowan, but “it’s one of the most important predictors of not only who works from home, full stop, but who has transitioned to more home work.”
Indeed, remote workers are more likely to be found in white-collar, knowledge positions such as the information sector, which includes tech, digital-publishing, and data-processing jobs.
Remote workers are living a little like college students.
Johner Images via Getty Images via BI
Working from home means that breaks aren’t just reserved for scrolling on your phone or chatting with a coworker. Remote workers are using their downtime to exercise, run errands, do chores, or read.
“The way I see it is work from home is much more like the student lifestyle,” Nick Bloom, a Stanford economist who helped spearhead research on work-from-home time use, previously told Insider. It means that remote workers aren’t necessarily working straight through from nine-to-five, but knocking out chores in the afternoon and logging back on later.
Indeed, Bloom and his researchers found that with the rise of remote work, more people were hitting the golf course on weekday afternoons, especially on Wednesdays at 4 p.m.; the researchers said that time is probably being utilized for other leisure activities as well.
That’s led to what The Wall Street Journal called a work “dead zone” — the hours between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m, when workers log off early to pick up their kids and complete other errands and then log back on later in the day.
Remote workers are willing to do whatever it takes to stay remote — including taking a pay cut.
A man reads a book during an uptown subway ride January 13, 2022 in New York City. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images
Staying at home is valuable to workers — so valuable, in fact, they’re willing to lose out on pay to work remotely.
Jay, an elder millennial, took a $35,000 pay cut and step down in seniority to live and work where he wanted to. In his old position, he had to live closer to the office, despite working remotely.
“I just kind of wish that employers would realize that talent doesn’t just live within a certain radius of an office,” he told Insider. Jay is not alone: 55% of 188 fully remote workers surveyed by The Washington Post and Ipsos said they’d take a lower-paying job if it meant they could stay at home. And even workers who are unhappy with their remote roles don’t want to leave because they don’t want to risk giving up working from home.
Done, the millennial who left his role rather than return to the office, spent five months without a job. He finally ended up in a role that paid more, but he said making the decision to leave was one of the scarier moments in his life.
And Felicia, the administrator who left a six-figure job because of her company’s back-to-office push, said flexibility makes up for lower pay.
“The payoff is the driving and the traffic and the stress of being on the road five days per week versus being able to do the very same work and more from the convenience of the hybrid option,” she said.