Upwork examines the impact of remote work on socialization

The post-pandemic landscape will include plenty of options for professionals to interact outside the home, a new report finds.

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Upwork's Economist Report: Remote Work And Socialization

Image: Upwork

The freelancing platform Upwork wanted to find out where workers would be perched post-pandemic and to determine the impact remote work has had on professionals as it relates to socialization. Its economist, Adam Ozimek, tweeted the question behind his new report released Wednesday, "Is remote work going to cause problems because everyone will be socializing less?"

"Remote work doesn't mean you are stuck at home in the basement, it means you have control over how much you socialize," Ozimek said in his thread. "You can still decide to have a very social work environment once the pandemic is over."

"To start," he added, "it's important to avoid the mistake that so many keep making: Working remotely during the pandemic is not the same as working remotely in normal times! There is a constant conflating of pandemic problems with remote work."

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According to his report for Upwork, data from Gallup shows that as of March, nearly half of Americans are still avoiding public places and small gatherings. 

Because social distancing involves avoiding public places and close contact with others, the 33% of Americans who are working remotely today are likely working from their homes, the Upwork report said. "It is this working from home experience over the past year that creates the impression that remote work means social isolation. However, this will not always be the case. When the pandemic ends, working remotely does not necessarily mean working at home."

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Image: Upwork

Upwork said it conducted two surveys, one of 1,000 Upwork remote freelancers and another of 1,000 individuals who will be working remotely after COVID-19. It used the results of those surveys plus other data points to illustrate where people plan to work after the pandemic and to better understand how remote work and working in the office affect socialization.

It found that 22% plan to work outside the home sometimes after the pandemic, in a variety of different places, from coffee shops to parks and other outdoor places, Ozimek said. Among Upwork freelancers who were remote before the pandemic, 37.1% worked somewhere outside the home sometimes.

Upwork found that of those who will work outside of their homes, 26% are planning to work in co-working spaces and another 24% plan to work in a coffee shop, restaurant or cafe. "These places are bustling with socialization," per the report. 

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When it comes to socialization, Upwork said its analysis shows that it is inaccurate to say that the move to remote work will result in a reduction in socialization for everyone. "In actuality, the shift to remote increases the amount of control that people have over their level of social interaction," according to the report.

What's more, it found, remote professionals, on average, would have an additional four hours and 15 minutes per week, without a commute, to spend with family or friends. 

It also suggested socialization in the office is not always positive: "While socialization has benefits for individuals and businesses, it can also lead to favoritism and discrimination, which is largely beneficial for men in the workplace," the report said.

Ozimek cited a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, "The Old Boys' Club: Schmoozing and the Gender Gap," which found "that men are more likely to be promoted when they have male managers, that socialization is the driving cause of this and that this increases the gender pay gap by 40%."

"While some may intuitively feel that working from home causes them to be less likely to get ahead at the office, they should consider whether this perceived advantage arises from exclusionary and discriminatory schmoozing," Ozimek tweeted. 

One unexpected positive outcome of remote work is that 44% reported fewer distractions during the day, according to Upwork's survey of hiring managers. "One person's ability to pop into someone else's office for a quick chat is another person's interruption from concentration. The ability to concentrate better is one likely reason why productivity goes up when workers go remote."

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By Mickey Meece

Mickey Meece is a freelance editor and writer. She's edited for The New York Times, Axios, Insider Louisville and TechRepublic. She has contributed articles to the NYT, the New York Post, Insider Louisville, TechRepublic and Considerable.