The world of work is always changing, but 2020 has brought unimaginable shifts in where and how many of us do our jobs.

Although only 8% of employees worked remotely full-time prior to COVID-19, this number quadrupled to 35% by May 2020. So what have we learned from this massive experiment in working from home and how can these remote work insights shape the future of work?

To find out, Indeed surveyed approximately 800 full-time employees currently working remotely due to the pandemic. They shared their biggest struggles and hacks for successfully working from home as well as what they miss most (and can do without) from pre-coronavirus office days. Forget the image of lounging in pajamas. In real life, remote workers tend to work longer hours, take fewer breaks and stay at least as productive as they did in the office.

Our respondents shed new light on the reality of remote work during COVID-19. The good news is workers have found new routines at home: spending more time with loved ones, saving money and arguably working harder than before. But situations aren’t equally rosy; working parents, in particular, are struggling to balance professional responsibilities while supporting their kids.

Here, we offer a window into workers’ newly remote daily lives — and insights that push us to rethink what working from home means.

Starting the day: sleeping in, saving money and working harder

For workers who were in the office pre-pandemic, morning routines are now very different. Gone are the days of dressing for the office, sitting in traffic and chatting with colleagues while strolling into the building.

Those working from home due to COVID-19 find themselves with more time on hand — time they’re using wisely. Nearly half (48%) report getting more sleep and 35% report using those precious extra minutes in the day for exercise — smart moves to boost productivity, energy and health. Approximately one-third spend that extra time with their children (35%) or significant others (33%), something they couldn’t always do during the pre-pandemic morning flurry of getting everyone out the door.

50% of workers are surprised to report that they miss their commutes.

Speaking of morning rushes, who would have guessed people would miss trekking to work during peak travel times? In fact, 50% of workers surveyed are surprised to report they actually miss commuting. This is especially striking given that 95% report saving money on gas and 76% on parking, and three-fourths no longer buy their daily breakfast or coffee. Despite the extra savings, workers focus on commuting perks they perhaps hadn’t previously noticed.

47% of workers feel they would listen to more news if they were still commuting.

Two-thirds agree their commute offered a clear transition between home and work life, marking a distinction between the two. Nearly three-fourths previously used their commute time to listen to music or the radio; however, less than half do this now.

As a result, 42% say that, without their drive time, they’re not as up to date on the news. And almost half (47%) feel they would listen to more news — and feel more prepared to vote in the 2020 elections — if they were still commuting. 

Instead, Indeed’s respondents now measure commutes in feet instead of miles, since 91% are working from home (WFH).

This doesn’t mean remote employees are sitting in bed with a laptop all day: 90% have a dedicated workspace. The WFH office is a new development, with nearly half (48%) of respondents creating space used specifically for work during COVID-19 by converting a spare room or carving out a workstation of sorts elsewhere in the home.

How virtual workers paid for their home workspaces.

Though a WFH office cost an average of $600, only 55% of respondents had to foot the whole bill; 27% received partial assistance from their employers and a lucky 18% were reimbursed in full.

While this company expense can add up, the ROI is clear: without a set workspace, employees are 140% more likely to say their WFH performance has suffered. Those employers who are able to provide support by contributing toward home office expenses reap big returns. 

Midday meals and more: parents struggle to balance work and virtual school

Though work days have changed, 73% still maintain a daily routine and three-fourths take breaks for meals. With nearly 56% of parents reporting kids in virtual school, lunch can provide time to get together and connect during these packed days at home.

72% of workers anticipate needing to reduce work hours to accommodate children's remote learning.

After a relaxing lunch break, the whole family can get back to their tasks and enjoy a productive, focused afternoon, right?

Unfortunately, life in 2020 isn’t so simple — especially for working moms and dads. Seven in 10 parents report that balancing their work with their kids’ online learning is especially challenging. Mothers bear the educational brunt, with 70% saying they’re the lead parent with virtual schooling.

In fact, many parents are concerned about the long-term impact of juggling work with school. Nearly three-fourths (72%) anticipate possibly reducing their work hours to accommodate their children’s remote learning, and a whopping 42% say they might need to quit their jobs altogether. 

During these challenging times, employer programs like flexible schedules, reduced workloads or even temporary leave can make all the difference for working families.

74% of workers say remote work makes it harder to maintain relationships with peers.

Employers and managers can also support remote workers by providing time to connect — and not just around their jobs. Remote work skeptics might assume productivity drives the need for people in the office, yet Indeed’s data suggests social and emotional benefits are the biggest draw. For example, only 45% of workers miss in-person work meetings, which are now easily held over video; however, a majority (73%) miss casual, impromptu office chats.

68% of workers say remote work makes it harder to maintain a relationship with their manager.

Similarly, nearly three-fourths (74%) say working from home makes connecting with peers more difficult, and 68% say maintaining a relationship with their manager has been harder than usual. These statistics suggest that casual office conversations — what used to be called “water cooler talk” — are more important than most of us realized. In fact, they might even help people work better.

The human side of work is central to employee happiness: we are social creatures by nature and easily feel disengaged or disconnected from teams or even employers without this important element. So during stressful times like the current pandemic, teams should prioritize fun activities like video coffee breaks, walk-and-talks, happy hours or other casual online get-togethers to nurture their relationships from afar.

Carving out time for fun also helps employees stay happy and connected, and even prevent burnout — a priority, since over 60% of workers say they’re taking fewer breaks. Supporting these work-based social bonds improves wellbeing, which, in turn, makes people better workers

At the end of the day, remote work is working well

When the workday is done, what have we learned? Forget the pre-pandemic notion that people aren’t really working unless they’re at the office: nearly half of Indeed’s respondents say they work more hours remotely.

Though this pandemic will not last forever, the future of work will never be the same.

Looking back on their months at home, around 80% of these remote employees say they’ve adjusted well and 63% found the transition easier than anticipated. Whether missing their commute or juggling kids at home, employees have tweaked their daily routines to meet the needs of the moment — and their hard work shows.

For most, their biggest challenges are unique to the pandemic, including kids at home, general stress and lack of access to their usual fun hobbies or activities. This means remote work would likely look much different outside of a pandemic. Though the post-COVID future remains uncertain, it’s important to stay the course. Remote work is going well — and maintaining successful, productive teams means staying focused on nurturing relationships and encouraging employee wellbeing. Be mindful of outside stressors, such as caregiving responsibilities or general anxiety about the pandemic, and offer employees the flexibility they need at home to do their jobs best. And managers, this also means leading by example: everyone is in this together, but we are each finding our way.

To be sure, the daily grind has experienced growing pains, but 2020’s experiment with virtual work brings a big lesson: this massive shift toward working from home has been a success for many employers — and, under less stressful circumstances, could be even better for employees. Though this pandemic will not last forever, the future of work will never be the same.