Survey shows ups and downs of working from home

UW's COVID-19 Mobility Survey looks at health, transportation impacts

Data from the University of Washington’s COVID-19 Mobility Survey provides a picture of work from home life during an early phase of the pandemic.

The goal of the survey was to find out how well people were adapting. What does it mean to work from home when you’re used to working in an office? 

If people are happy and productive working from home, could that pattern continue and help resolve commuting problems in the region?

The survey collected more than 4,500 responses for six weeks between the end of April to early June. About three-quarters of the respondents, more than 3,400 people, live in the central Puget Sound region. The findings below are focused on this sample of people.

Productivity

For those people who worked away from home prior to the pandemic and have since switched to working at home, a majority reported they were either more productive or had the same amount of productivity working at home. The top reasons included having more time because they weren’t commuting and having less interference from co-workers.

But a significant share (39%) said they were less productive at home. Reasons included having less efficient communications with co-workers and interference from children or family. For people with children at home, more than 80% of them said that interference from children or family was a reason for being less productive.

Shopping and Exercise

Most people reported bulk shopping for food and goods once every one to two weeks.  Households with more people shopped more often. A majority of people reported that they left the house for exercise at least every two days.

More than 80% said they used restaurant takeout more during the lockdown, and only 25% used grocery delivery more. 

 

Daily Activities and Mental Wellbeing

The survey also asked people about their daily activities and how they were feeling mentally and emotionally. People reported more screen time for leisure and less physical activity. More than a third said they were sleeping more, but more than 40% reported a decrease in sleep quality.

 

Close to half of respondents said they felt tense, nervous or fearful frequently. More than half reported feelings of depression or hopelessness at least several days or more during the previous two-week period.

 

The UW survey was self-selecting, meaning the survey sample is not fully representative of the overall population. For example, the age distribution of respondents showed a higher proportion of people 30 to 60 years old. There was also a large skew to female respondents and those with a high level of education.

View the full presentation on early findings from the mobility survey here.

Next Steps

The University of Washington is now working on models that will help better understand reasons why some people are more productive working from home and relate that to health aspects and commute patterns.

For example, if a significant share of these productive workers had previously commuted five days a week by driving, having them continue to work from home could reduce commute trips and congestion.  But if these workers previously were regular transit riders or walked to work, this impact would not be as significant if they switched to working from home.  

PSRC and UW are jointly working on a report that will show the survey findings from all of the questions. This work and other ongoing surveys and data collection efforts will help decision makers learn from the COVID-19 experience and develop policies for improving transportation in the region.

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Comments

While I know that this survey is focused on people's reactions and responses to the pandemic, many of the responses you received may also reflect other concerns that people have at this time, e.g., political environment and upcoming election and the heightened awareness of racial injustice in this country and associated protests. So you may want to consider adding questions that ask try to identify other major stressors, e.g., if COVID 19 is the primary concern, or what % of general concerns are about COVID 19. From my personal experience, my sleep quality at least 2 nights per every 14 days is poorer than prior to COVID, but I would have to say that my concerns divide equally between: COVID, politics, and racial injustice. Likely another major concern is economic well-being of the respondent and his/her family.

Thanks for the feedback. We'll share your comments with staff at PSRC and UW working on this survey.