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The Impact of Remote Work on Commute Times in the U.S.

by Point2 Staff
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4 min. read

During the pandemic, the way we work went through a significant change. Jobs that had long been restricted to the office were suddenly being carried out in the comfort of the employee’s home in a move that would see more workers than ever before switching to remote work.

While the future of flexible work remains uncertain, the benefits this system has introduced are clear. One of the largest advantages is a reduction in total commute times.

To find out just how much things have changed for those still traveling to work, CommercialCafe has conducted a new study. In their report, they compared data from 2019 and 2021 to see to what extent the increased number of remote workers led to a decrease in commute times. Below are the main findings.

Nationwide: Average Commute Time Drops as Remote Workforce Grows

On a national level, there has been a clear decrease in average commute times. Data from 2019 show that Americans spent 55.2 minutes commuting daily (27.2 minutes each way), while in 2021, the figures had dropped to 51.2 minutes (or 25.6 minutes each way). This reveals a 7% decrease nationally, resulting in around 17 hours saved over the course of a year.

National commute time changes

During the same time frame, the remote workforce grew by 12 ppt (percentage points) nationwide, rising from just under 6% in 2019 to almost 18% in 2021. That’s roughly an increase of 18.6 million remote workers in 2021, up from 9 million in 2019 to 27.6 million in 2021. In other words, around 18.6 million people who were commuting in 2019 were no longer doing so in 2021.

Even with this increase in remote workers, around 82% of the workforce continued to commute regularly to their place of work, down from 94% in 2019. The result, nationally, is that those who continue to commute have been able to shave 4 minutes off their daily journey time on average.

Regional Breakdown: Local Factors Impact Individual Markets

While the figures are relatively clear-cut at the national level, things are slightly different when looking closely at individual markets. This is because a wealth of local factors can impact both commute times and the likelihood of employees opting for remote work. They include city size, public transit infrastructure, local economy and major industries, and much more.

Western Markets See Steepest Drops in Commute Times

Western states, particularly Californian markets, reported the largest commute time decreases by a fair margin. San Jose took pole position. After the number of remote workers in the city grew from 4% of the workforce in 2019 to 30% in 2021, the average commute time decreased by almost 15 minutes, or 7.3 minutes each way. Over the course of a year, this resulted in 61 hours saved.

Western markets commute time changes

Oakland followed second after seeing commute times drop by over 12 minutes daily. Over the same period, the percentage of remote workers in the city grew from 7% in 2019 to 33% in 2021. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s non-remote workers reported that their average commute time had decreased by 16%, saving them 46 hours of work-related travel time over the year. This was after the number of remote workers grew from 7.4% in 2019 to 45.6% in 2021, an increase of 38.2 ppt.

Southern Markets Not Far Behind

Several Southern markets also reported significant decreases in commute times between 2019 and 2021.

Southern markets commute time changes

Most notably, commuters in Baltimore saved around 35 hours of commute time over the year after the number of remote workers in the city grew by 19.6 ppt. Washington D.C. commuters also enjoyed a welcome drop in total travel times, shaving 7 minutes off per day. This goes hand in hand with an increase in remote workers from 7.4% to a whopping 48.3%, or just under 41 ppt.

Philadelphia Leads the Northeast

Commuters in Philadelphia saved 27 hours of commute time over the year, with the daily commute being 3.2 minutes quicker each way after the percentage of remote workers grew by 19.2 ppt.

Northeast markets commute time changes

In third place for the region, NYC saw its remote workforce go up 19.5 ppt., with journey times decreasing around 4 minutes daily in 2021 compared to 2019.

Midwest Sees Smallest Commute Time Decreases

While the Midwest overall witnessed smaller decreases than other markets in the country, commuters in Chicago saw a drop of 6 minutes in their daily commute times after the number of remote workers grew by almost 21 ppt.

Midwestern markets commute time changes

For an overview of the office and shared spaces market in some of the areas mentioned in this report, visit the links below:

Office space for rent in Chicago
Office space for rent in Minneapolis
Office space for rent in Columbus
Coworking in San Francisco
Coworking in D.C.
Coworking in Boston
Coworking in NYC
Coworking in Chicago

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