Where Employees Have Most to Gain from the New Normal

Where Employees Have Most to Gain from the New Normal
By Richard Barrington

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Now that vaccines are finally being rolled out, Americans and their employers are wondering what the post-pandemic work environment will be like.

One thing the past year has demonstrated is how productive working from home can be for some people. Productive enough that working from home may be part of the new normal for many jobs, at least some of the time.

After all, this represents a potential win-win for companies and their employees.

Companies may be able to reduce the amount of office space the need, and save on rent as a result.

Employees could be spared the time and drudgery of commuting to work. If that allows them to put in more time on the job, it could translate to higher earnings.

This has the greatest value in areas which combine high wages with long commute times.

So, if the new normal is working from home at least some of the time, who has the most to gain?

To answer that, MoneyRates.com looked at the difference between working from home and commuting in terms of both time and money.

Where Working from Home is Like Extra Vacation Time

If you work in or around a major U.S. city, you're probably all too aware of how much time your daily commute takes. But have you ever added up how much of your life it's actually using up?

The median commute time in U.S. cities is nearly 25 minutes each way. So that's close to 50 minutes a day, or 350 minutes a week.

Over the course of a year, even after accounting for vacations and other time off, that would add up to the equivalent of 24 eight-hour work days. In terms of time saved then, working from home is generally worth over a month of extra vacation time.

That's extra time you could spend doing something fun or productive - not stuck in traffic or waiting for the train to come.

Even if American businesses took what they've learned during the pandemic and allowed their employees to work from home just one day a week, the time saved would really add up.

Here are the ten U.S. metro areas where workers can save the most time by working from home:

1. New York, NY/Newark/Jersey City, NJ.

Given the cost of living in New York City, many people have to commute from pretty far-flung areas. The average amount of time spent commuting round trip each day is 1 hour and 20 minutes. Over the course of the year, you could save over 39 8-hour work days' worth of time by working from home. Just working from home one day a week would be worth over 8 work days a year.

2. Washington DC/Arlington/Alexandria, VA.

Commuting to the nations capital takes an average of 1 hour and 16 minutes a day. That would make working from home worth over 37 work days a year.

3. San Francisco/Oakland/Hayward, CA.Commute times in the Bay Area average an 1 hour and 15 minutes a day, or the equivalent of more than 36 work days a year.

4. East Stroudsburg, PA.

This name may not be as familiar as some of the other metro areas on this list, but as a city that is roughly equal in distance from Manhattan and Philadelphia, it has a lot of long-haul commuters. About one out of every five workers in this city commute at least two hours a day round trip. The average is 1 hour and 14 minutes, or the equivalent of over 36 work days a year.

5. Vallejo/Fairfield, CA.

Bay area real estate costs have sent workers pretty far afield in search of affordable housing. That's why residents of this metro area commute an average of 1 hour and 13 minutes a day round trip, or the equivalent of just under 36 days a year.

6. Stockton/Lodi, CA.

Though the distances are a little lengthy, residents of this area can commute to either the Bay Area or Sacramento. That's the likely explanation for an average commute time of 1 hour and 12 minutes a day round trip, which would eat up the equivalent of more than 35 work days a year.

7. Riverside/San Bernardino/Ontario, CA.

The sprawling Los Angeles area is the reason for many long commutes, including those from this community. The average daily round trip commute is an hour and 10 minutes, or the equivalent of over 34 work days a year.

8. Boston/Cambridge, MA/Nashua NH.

Boston is another sprawling hub for long commutes. The median is close to 1 hour and 10 minutes a day, or more than 34 work days a year.

9. Chicago/Naperville/Elgin, IL.

Commuters in and around Chicago average more close to an hour and 10 minutes a day commuting round trip, or about 34 work days a year.

10. Atlanta/Sandy Springs/Roswell, GA.

Atlanta's notorious traffic leads to typical daily commute times nearly identical to Chicago's: nearly an hour and 10 minutes a day round trip, or around 34 work days a year.

Time is Money: Where Working from Home is Worth Thousands of Dollars a Year

Now think of the dollar value of the time you could save by not commuting. MoneyRates.com calculated this by multiplying the median hourly wage in each U.S. metropolitan area by the amount of time spent commuting in those areas.

Purely in terms of time, among U.S. metropolitan areas the median value of not having to commute every day is worth $3,361 per year. And that doesn't even count the money saved on gasoline, tolls, parking, train or bus tickets, etc.

In several cities, the potential savings are more than twice that, as you can see from this list of the ten U.S. metro areas where the time saved by working from home would have the greatest monetary value:

1. Washington DC/Arlington/Alexandria, VA.

The second longest average commute time and the fourth highest median hourly wage combine to make this the metro area where working from home would have the greatest financial value. Time spent commuting is worth $34.42 a day, which projects to $8,088.42 over the course of a year.

2. San Francisco/Oakland/Hayward, CA.

Another area where long commutes and high wages make working from home a natural solution. The time saved would be worth $34.28 a day, or $8,055.34 a year.

3. California/Lexington Park, MD.

California already makes frequent appearances on these lists, but this California is a Maryland exurb of Washington DC. A combination of the highest median wage of any metro area and long commute times make working from home worth $32.75 a day, which comes to $7,695.15 a year.

4. San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara, CA.

Silicon Valley is a sprawling area of high wages, making it very worthwhile to work from home if possible. The time saved by not commuting would be worth an average of $32.18 a day, or $7,561.95 a year.

5. New York, NY/Newark/Jersey City, NJ.

The longest average commute time combined with high wages make this a great place to work from home. The value of the time saved would be worth $31.44 a day or $7,387.78 a year.

6. Boston/Cambridge, MA/Nashua NH.

Time saved by working from home in this area would be worth an average of $29.85 a day, or $7,015.08.

7. Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue, WA.

Given the high median wage, working from home could save you $28.94 worth of time every day, or $6,801.23 per year.

8. Bridgeport/Stamford/Norwalk, CT.

You could trade your commuting time for the opportunity to earn an extra $28.20 a day in this community, or $6,627.57 a year.

9. Trenton, NJ.

You could commute to either New York City or Philadelphia from here. Or you could work from home and save time worth $25.94 a day, which would come to $6,096.45 a year.

10. Vallejo/Fairfield, CA.

Given the area's relatively high wages, the extra time you could put in by working from home could be worth $25.87 a day, or $6,080.39 a year.

Methodology: Calculating the Value of Working from Home

To do this study, MoneyRates.com used 2019 U.S. Census data on commute times, so as to measure what commuting was like before the pandemic.

383 metro areas were ranked according to their average commute times. Then the median hourly wage for each area was applied to these commute times, using wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Daily figures were projected over the course of a year assuming 235 workdays, given some time for vacation and national holidays.

What to Do with All That Extra Money

The time saved by not commuting could be used to work extra hours to earn more. If nothing else, cutting out travel expenses should amount to a substantial savings.

Here are some ideas of what to do with that extra money:

  1. Pay down student loans.

    It's uncertain what type of relief the government will provide for student loan debt, if any. In the meantime though, working from home instead of schlepping to the office every day could put some extra cash in your pockets to make those payments easier.

  2. Pay off credit card debt.

    If student loan debt is a burden, credit card debt is even worse because of the high interest rates it entails. Working from home could save you the money you need to pay down your credit card debt, and make it easier to avoid racking up debt in the future.

  3. Build up your emergency fund.

    Given that the past year has been one long emergency, the need for an emergency fund is obvious. Try to keep enough for at least 6 months' worth of basic expenses in bank savings.

  4. Save for retirement.

    Not having to commute could provide you with some extra money to put towards retirement. Make the most of matching opportunities in your employer's 401(k) plan, or start your own IRA at a bank or brokerage firm.

Even if it isn't practical to eliminate commuting altogether, the past year has shown many businesses and their employees how to at least cut down on it. That's the rare development that could be good for both your wallet and your lifestyle.

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