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UW study reveals changes in work, leisure habits during pandemic

Jun 2, 2021, 5:23 AM
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(Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

A study by the University of Washington that sampled hundreds of people in the Puget Sound region last year revealed people working from home felt more productive without a commute, with fewer interruptions from co-workers, and with a flexible schedule.

What didn’t help were challenges while communicating with colleagues, family needs, and demands around the house.

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The COVID-19 Mobility Survey included more than 4,500 people in King County and surrounding counties, and was administered once in the spring of 2020 and again in the fall of 2020. It asked questions about work and transportation habits, and lifestyle changes. More than three times as many people answered the survey in the spring, when the pandemic was relatively new.

“This was a natural experiment,” said Anne Vernez Moudon, professor emeritus of urban design and planning at the UW, and a co-author on the survey. “Our transportation system works fairly well, except during commute times, in cities around the world. So what happens when all these commuters are forced to be at home, which we can’t do in normal times?”

Survey results showed fewer people in the fall (29%) said they felt less productive working from home than in the spring (39%). However, the people who felt more productive also reported working more hours in the fall (43%) than the spring (35%).

More than half (58%) said they were less physically active than before the pandemic by the fall. Only half said so in the spring.

About 87% of the respondents in the fall said they had ordered takeout, as compared to 81% in the spring. And 59% in the fall said they ordered takeout more often during the pandemic, versus 48% in the spring.

Researchers attributed a lot of the changes from spring to fall to the passage of time and a person’s ability to adapt to changes brought on by the pandemic. They believe people felt more productive in the fall because they had established routines.

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In this particular study, 60% of the respondents were women, more than 80% had four years or more of college, and about half had a household income of more than $90,000 per year.

Researchers hope to next target essential workers to study their experiences as they continued to commute to work during the pandemic. They want to better understand why they switched from transit to driving during the pandemic.

Researchers hope the study will help employers think about their employees as they might be planning for their return to work.

“Good work productivity is related to other things in people’s lives,” Moudon said. “Life is not just work.”

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UW study reveals changes in work, leisure habits during pandemic