[Survey] Even Before COVID-19, Remote Workers Were Putting in Long Hours from Some Unusual Places

Experienced remote workers dish on what it was like working from home before COVID-19.
Last updated Apr 27, 2020 | By Lindsay Frankel
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The coronavirus crisis has forced millions to work from home, and that new normal has required some adjustment for workers. It’s created awkward video conferences featuring co-workers’ cats, phone calls with wailing children in the background, and a new dress code that’s all business on top with sweatpants on bottom.

Those who can work remotely are the lucky ones; millions have been laid off or furloughed without pay. In fact, more Americans are concerned about paying their bills than they are about contracting COVID-19.

But before businesses temporarily closed and companies told their employees to stay home, a fleet of full-time remote workers already had a handle on work-from-home life. If you’re an in-office worker, you may have enviously pictured these remote employees sipping a frozen beverage on the beach while clicking away on a laptop. But the remote work lifestyle comes with its own unique challenges.

To see what daily life is really like for people who work from home, FinanceBuzz conducted a survey of 500 full-time workers who work remotely all or part of the time.

Key Findings

  • Three-quarters (75%) of remote workers report having a dedicated home office space.
  • Woof! Almost half (47%) have had a video meeting interrupted by a pet, while 39% have been interrupted by a delivery person, and 32% have been interrupted by their spouse or partner.
  • The top perk of remote work? 31% said it's the flexibility of schedule and another 29% said it's the flexibility to work from anywhere.
  • Remote workers have taken advantage of the flexibility of their jobs by working from all kinds of places in the past year:
    • While traveling: 69% worked from a hotel, 61% at the airport, 46% on a plane, and 14% on a train
    • Outdoors: 21% worked while at a beach or pool and another 20% worked from a park or other outdoor space
    • On the road: 42% worked while in a moving car and 39% worked from a parked car
  • Working from home doesn't mean easy work — 78% say they work more than 40 hours/week and 68% report they've had difficulty maintaining boundaries between work and their personal life now or in the past.

A dedicated home office space doesn't stop disruptions.

While three-quarters of remote workers have a dedicated home office space, even people working at desks behind closed doors aren’t impervious to interruptions from the various happenings of their home life.


Common disruptions during video meetings include:

  • Pets (47%)
  • Delivery people (39%)
  • Partner/spouse (32%)
  • Children (21%)

Other strange occurrences have disrupted survey respondents as well, from a scorpion to intruding in-laws to maintenance workers and even a fire alarm.

If you work from home long enough, these kinds of distractions are inevitable. For many parents, school closures have created an especially disruptive home environment. Even a closed office door won’t keep little ones from their curious ways; my sister has resorted to issuing one-time use entry tickets to her son in order to limit his appearances during her work meetings. And no matter where I locate myself during a video call, my dog thinks my lap is available to her. For millions, these guest appearances from pets, children, spouses, and others have become a new normal.

The top perk of remote work is flexibility and remote workers are taking advantage of the flexibility to work from some unusual places.

If you could work anywhere at any time, might you settle on a park bench in the early morning to crank out some emails while you watch the sunrise, spend time intermittently people-watching at a local coffee shop, or work on your projects while surrounded by sloths at the local zoo?

The opportunity to have a flexible schedule and location were cited by respondents as the top perks of working remotely. 31% named schedule flexibility as the top benefit, and another 29% reported that the flexibility to work from anywhere was their favorite part of working remotely. 23% appreciated the time they saved by skipping a daily commute.

Before the pandemic hit, remote workers had plenty of opportunities to travel while working. A whopping 83% reported sometimes working outside their home city, including 13% who worked two or more months outside their home city. The scheduling flexibility even made it possible for remote workers to travel abroad while working.

Remote workers make the most of the flexibility to work in some interesting and unusual places. In the past year, they’ve worked:

  • While traveling: 69% worked from a hotel, 61% at the airport, 46% on a plane, and 14% on a train
  • Outdoors: 21% have worked at a beach or pool and another 20% said they've worked at a park or other outdoor space
  • On the road: 42% have worked in a moving car and 39% have worked from a parked car
  • While eating or drinking: 58% have worked at a coffee shop, 30% at a restaurant, and a thirsty 16% have worked from a bar
  • From a co-working space: Only 29% reported using this option

These days, remote workers can’t exactly bring their laptop to happy hour or fly to Europe on a whim. But they might be more desperate than ever to get out of the house, where their families are ever present. Even those who have a home office free from distraction could be going a little stir crazy by now.

As a result, remote workers are getting creative. Some are working in parking lots where they can find WiFi, and others are taking advantage of discounted rates at hotels, using the rooms as private offices (we suggest booking a room with a view and a minibar for when 5:00 rolls around).

That flexibility doesn't mean remote workers are slacking

While some remote workers might have the opportunity to take extended afternoon naps and binge Netflix while they are supposedly “working,” that’s not an accurate picture of how remote workers handle their jobs. In fact, 78% of respondents said they work more than 40 hours per week, including 12% who said they work more than 55 hours per week. Less than a quarter of respondents work less than 40 hours per week.

Long work hours for remote employees may be causing work responsibilities to bleed into their personal time. 68% of respondents said they’ve had difficulty maintaining boundaries between their professional and home lives now or in the past.


It seems that regularly working outside the office makes it difficult for remote workers to enjoy their time off as well. When you’re accustomed to answering emails at all hours of the day, it can be difficult to curtail that behavior when you take time off. Only 32% of remote workers said they can fully unplug while on vacation, and 4% said they never take vacation at all.

Whether you’re just getting used to working from home or you’re a fully remote worker who’s accustomed to the challenges, it’s important to have time to decompress from work. To maintain a healthy balance between your professional and personal life, consider:

  • Setting a work schedule
  • Using a separate computer for personal use
  • Taking small breaks throughout the day for your mental and physical health
  • Working in a separate space from where you live
  • Turning off email and Slack notifications during off-hours (or setting up filters so you’re only notified about urgent messages)
  • Planning activities (entertainment, hobbies) for off-hours
  • Using stress management techniques to clear your mind of work at the end of the day

A new normal for many

For many Americans, working from home may only be temporary. But experts say that the era of social distancing could have a long-term impact on the future of work. As businesses learn to manage workflow under these new conditions and employees learn to be independently productive, remote work may become more common. While you’re hunkered down in your home office, use the opportunity to learn how to manage the challenges of remote work. And take advantage of the flexibility so you can enjoy your time both on and off the clock.

Methodology

FinanceBuzz surveyed 500 remote workers who have a full-time job where they work remotely all or part of the time. The survey was conducted in March and April 2020.

A bit more about the respondents:

  • 61% of respondents work remotely all the time
  • 20% work at a company where everyone works remotely
  • 30% work at a company with fewer than 50 employees and 32% work at a company with more than 1,000 employees