Survey captures feelings about work-from-home life

We’re split on whether telework is more productive, but definitely getting takeout

How are people in the region adapting to work-from-home life? In a recent survey, a quarter of respondents felt like they’ve been more productive since working from home. At the same time, 29% felt less productive.

The University of Washington and PSRC have been working together to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting our daily schedules, lifestyle choices, and mental well-being.

Together, UW researchers and PSRC staff have conducted two waves of the COVID-19 Mobility Survey in 2020, first in the spring (April-June) and second in the fall (October-November).

People seemed to feel more productive in the fall than they did earlier in the pandemic. In the spring 2020 survey, four out of 10 people (39%) said they felt less productive working from home than in the office. But in the fall, that number dropped, with 29% feeling less productive.

People across the state and country filled out the survey, but most were residents of King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish counties.

The survey was self-selecting, meaning the survey sample is not fully representative of the population. For example, there was a higher proportion of 30- to 60-year-olds in the survey than in the central Puget Sound region. There was also a large skew to female respondents and those with a high level of education.

For people who felt more productive working from home, a key reason was not having to commute (82%), followed by less interference from coworkers (78%). Another basis for more productivity was working more hours (43%)—which was a jump from what people reported in spring 2020 (35%).

People living with a partner were more apt to say they felt more productive at home (33%). Those living with roommates, friends, or relatives (including children) tended to feel less productive (41%).

Not surprisingly, interference from children or family members was frequently listed as the cause of being less productive at home (33%). But the main reason was having less efficient communication with coworkers (66%).

Many respondents said they’re less physically active than they were before the pandemic—over half (58%). That’s higher than in spring 2020, when 50% said they were less active.

At the same time, 41% of respondents spent less time outdoors visiting parks and nature. Interestingly, almost the same number increased their time outside (39%).

Compared to the spring, people in the fall survey spent more time on their screens for leisure (58%) and more time on social media (46%). The October/November 2020 survey coincided with a presidential election and civil rights protests, so responses could have been affected by these events.

Shopping and dining habits changed after COVID, but few people gave up takeout.

The vast majority of respondents ordered restaurant food to go (87%). And curbside pickup from restaurants—somewhat of a novelty before COVID—was adopted by almost half the survey takers (46%).

Other new grocery and meal services became more popular in 2020 (compared to data from the 2019 Puget Sound Household Travel Survey), but they were still used at relatively low rates, especially for this highly educated and well-resourced sample of respondents.

Although there are many stories about people picking up and moving during the pandemic, the survey suggests most people expect to stay put. About four-fifths of respondents (79%) didn’t move during the pandemic and had no plans to do so.

For those who did move, the most common reasons given were a desire for more space (55%) and access to open space (31%). Almost half the survey respondents who moved permanently during the pandemic were between the ages of 18 and 29 (46%).

Next Steps

PSRC staff and University of Washington researchers are working on models that will help better explain why some people are more productive working from home and how that may have evolved as people spent more time away from their workplaces.

Findings from this work may help planners consider different scenarios in the future where some portion of the region’s workforce regularly work from home on a full- or part-time basis.

For more information, visit the survey web page.