For the millions of Americans working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, the time for a “new normal” may have passed. After months of remote work and telecommuting, adjusting to life outside of the office may simply feel normal at this point. For a closer look at some of the most common work-from-home habits Americans may be developing — and the little white lies they might be telling their bosses or co-workers — we surveyed 958 people who are currently working remotely.
With more than 60% of employed Americans working from home at some point during the pandemic, and many continuing to do so with no real end in sight, it’s possible employees are starting to pick up new habits in their professional lives. By normalizing conversations around mental health and wellness, employers and employees alike are thinking about their emotional state of mind in a new way. From the amount of sleep people are getting while working from home, to making sure they unplug at the end of the day or take breaks when they need them, striking a genuine work-life balance is more important now than ever before.
Read on as we explore how many people are multitasking on the job — including drinking or online shopping — to whom they might be lying about their actions, and how much freedom employees feel they have when they aren’t reporting to the office anymore.
Even if your daily responsibilities don’t change, working from home is nothing like working from the office. You may not have to worry about hitting rush-hour traffic on your way into work anymore, but it can also be harder for some people to stay focused. Separating work from life can get much more difficult when your “office” overlaps with near-constant distractions you’re used to being isolated from. More than 1 in 10 employees polled (12.6%) acknowledged they didn’t have a dedicated workspace while working remotely.
70% of employees working from home admitted to distractions like multitasking during the workday, followed by too much screen time (58%), checking their phones continuously (50%), skipping meals (36%), and struggling to adapt to remote technology (35%). With so many people and industries being plunged into remote work environments for the first time, acclimating to the technology — including an increase in conference calls, emails, and video chatting — can further compound the struggle of working from home. Taking breaks, eating throughout the day, and asking questions about new technology can help to minimize stress and maximize productivity.
While less common, 24% of people admitted to overeating while working remotely, and 22% indicated they’d adopted poor personal hygiene. With remote employees having to resist the temptation of easing back on cleanliness as they remain working from home, it’s nice to know the majority of our respondents admitted to maintaining good personal hygiene.
Bad Remote Office Habits
A majority of the work-from-home employees we surveyed admitted to spending nine hours a week doing other tasks instead of working while they were technically “on the clock.” The most common distracting behaviors included cooking (59%), watching TV (55%), doing laundry (52%), and online shopping (47%). As some experts have identified, working from home can be particularly difficult for women, who more commonly feel the added pressure of maintaining the home or child care while simultaneously working remotely.
Reports suggest one of the most important things employees working from home should be doing is taking breaks to recharge and decompress throughout the day. On average, employees indicated it was acceptable to be away from their computers for 23 minutes at a time without letting someone know what they were doing.
While 74% of employees felt stressed if they signed off for the day early without getting permission, 96% also admitted to doing non-work related activities during the workday. 46% of people signing off early said they felt obligated to make up the lost time, in addition to 44% of employees who started work late, and 41% who took time away from work to eat. There’s no single, proper way to take a break during the work day, but what’s undisputed is how important it is for your productivity and mental health to prioritize your down time. Research shows we work better when we’re adequately rested, with breaks in between bursts of focused work.
Seeing the Silver Lining
Overwhelmingly, the freedom to take breaks during the day was the most positive experience impacting 42% of surveyed employees while working from home. Another 30% indicated working less regular hours as a positive change from working remotely, followed by being more well-rested due to a lack of commute. Employees without children at home were 17% more likely to report feeling refreshed by ditching the drive to work. In contrast, employees with kids at home were 15% more likely to indicate appreciating the freedom to take breaks.
More than half of people polled reported their work-life balance got better since working from home during the pandemic, while 38% said this balance was the same, and 10% felt their work-life balance had gotten worse. 68% of employees also expressed somewhat or strongly agreeing that their productivity had increased working from home versus working at the office, while just 13% of employees disagreed with that sentiment. Both employees over the age of 40 (10%) and those with a dedicated working space at home (20%) were more likely to experience a boost to their productivity. Additionally, 68% of employees somewhat or strongly agreed that their efficiency at work also increased while working remotely compared to working in the office.
Fudging the Facts
While working remotely, some employees have been skating around the truth with their bosses and co-workers. 83% of employees admitted to telling a “white lie” while working from home. The most likely to commit these little lies were executives (92%), managers (90%), and junior-level employees (79%). One in three employees who acknowledged having lied to someone they worked with also admitted they were caught doing so.
Nearly 2 in 5 employees reported having missed a deadline or a meeting at work because they were unproductive while working from home. The most common lies employees used involved telling someone they were working on a project when they weren’t (45%), fabricating connection issues to avoid a meeting (40%), and using technology as an excuse not to enable their camera in a meeting (37%). Roughly 1 in 3 employees also admitted to lying about being busy in order to avoid a call or meeting (36%) and pretending to pay attention in a meeting while doing other things (33%).
People blaming their technology when they didn’t want to turn on their camera were the most likely to be caught (52%), followed by people who said they were too busy to attend a meeting (49%). For many people, the onslaught of video meetings while working remotely can be exhausting — often referred to as Zoom fatigue — which is why it’s recommended to opt for email when possible and make social events optional.
Seeing Your Work-From-Home Mood
While 64% of employees reported feeling equally trusted by their employers while working from home as they did while they were in-office, 28% also said their employers were more trusting of them now that they were working remotely. 57% of employees also admitted to noticing a decrease in their co-workers’ productivity, and equally as many acknowledged talking to their peers about their co-workers’ productivity.
Not changing out of your pajamas might seem like a perk of working remotely, but it can be possible to be too casual. While 27% of employees said they didn’t care at all what their co-workers were wearing during the day, 38% reported caring to a moderate extent, while 16% were largely cognizant of their co-workers’ appearances. One in five managers polled also said they still care what their employees look like while they’re working from home.
Making the Most Out of Working From Home
Millions of Americans across the country have experienced a radical shift in their daily work life, and many may continue working remotely for the foreseeable future. Even though some employees may have picked up some morally ambiguous habits along the way, including fudging the truth about what they’re doing or dodging meetings, many also reported feeling trusted by their bosses, being more productive, and having a better work-life balance than they did at the office.
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We surveyed 958 Americans identifying as current full-time employees and working from home.
When looking at how many hours people spent doing things, we set a maximum of 40 hours to adjust for outliers.
The breakdowns on employee level are important to note: there were 117 entry-level employees and 97 executive respondents.
There are limitations that come with these data, as they rely on self-reporting. Respondents may have exaggerated their answers or avoided answering questions in ways that may reflect negatively on them. The data presented haven’t been weighted and should be considered for exploratory purposes only.
Fair Use Statement
Know someone working hard from home, or hardly working? Feel free to pass this article along for any noncommercial purposes. We just ask that you link back to this page so that people can explore our full study and methodology.