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California Workers Gained Back 11.6% of Their Work Week by Working From Home

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, commuting was a daily habit for most American workers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans spent an average of 4.5 hours per week on their commute in 2018. Although the amount of time that the average person spent commuting had been steadily increasing, the predominant shift to remote work in 2020 is reversing this trend—possibly for the long-term.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the amount of time that an average person spends commuting has been rising. In 2018, the average travel time to work was 27.1 minutes, compared to 25.3 minutes in 2010. While the difference might not seem like much, it amounts to 18 extra minutes each week or 16 hours per year.

Additionally, the total number of people commuting by car has grown over the past ten years, reaching almost 118 million in 2018. Before COVID-19, about three-quarters of workers drove to work alone—the mode of transportation that is perhaps least conducive to multitasking.


Apart from the time concerns, studies have shown that commuting can have negative effects on health and well-being. Workplace research from Gallup found that workers with longer commutes are more likely to suffer from physical ailments such as back pain, high cholesterol, and obesity, as well as higher reported levels of stress.


Commuting also comes with economic costs. The 2019 Urban Mobility Report released by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found that the average American commuter spends nearly seven full working days per year in traffic delays, incurring over $1,000 in personal costs. For those who drive alone, long commutes and especially traffic delays can be detrimental to productivity.

Due in part to the inconveniences of commuting, remote work has been gaining steam for years. According to Gallup research, 39 percent of employees worked remotely at least some of the time in 2012, and that number increased to 43 percent by 2016. Now, as a result of COVID-19, working remotely has become the new norm for many workers. Not surprisingly, the transition to remote work means that fewer workers are commuting. Prior to COVID-19, the average total time spent commuting and working was 43.4 hours per week. When calculating the average number of hours spent commuting (4.5 hours) compared to the average number of hours spent on work and commuting (43.4 hours), newly-remote workers nationwide have gained an average 10.4 percent of their workweek back.


However, some locations are more likely to have gained significant time back from their commutes than others. Remote workers in coastal states like New York, California, and Maryland gained the most time back, while those in central states like Wyoming, South Dakota, and North Dakota are likely saving less time.

To find out which states are gaining the most time back from not having to commute, researchers at CoPilot, a car shopping app, analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau and calculated what percentage of the average workweek was spent commuting to and from work prior to the pandemic.


The analysis found that California workers spent 11.6% of their workweek on their commute prior to the pandemic. Among workers of all U.S. states, California workers have gained the 5th most time back from their commutes by working from home. Here is a summary of the data for California:

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 11.6%

  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 5.0 hours per week

  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 43.3 hours per week

  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 73.8%

For reference, here are the statistics for the entire United States:

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 10.4%

  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 4.5 hours per week

  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 43.4 hours per week

  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 76.3%

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