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Why Remote Work Sucks, According To Science

The Planet Money team on GoToMeeting with a goat (Listen to our recent episode, "Making It Work") / Planet Money
The Planet Money team on GoToMeeting with a goat (Listen to our recent episode, "Making It Work") / Planet Money

Editor's note: This is an excerpt of Planet Money's newsletter. You can sign up here.

Like a decent chunk of the American workforce, Planet Money is now working remotely. Every morning, we have an all-staff video conference on GoToMeeting. We use Slack for conversations. We record in closets and use Dropbox to transfer the files. We're making the best of it — we're happy to have the work — but no one really loves it.

Since the birth of the personal computer, futurists have been predicting the death of the office. If we can chat over video and instantly exchange messages and files, they figured, why would we endure stressful commutes in fossil-fuel-burning vehicles just to sit side by side in brick-and-mortar buildings? I mean, we're mostly staring at screens there anyway.

But the office has proven more stubbornly useful than we had imagined. Between 2005 and 2015, despite the spread of high-speed Internet and apps like Zoom, Slack and Dropbox, the percentage of people regularly working remotely increased only between 2 and 3 percentage points. An estimated 37% of American jobs could plausibly be done full time from home — but, before the pandemic, the total percentage of American workers that worked "at least half the time" from home was only about 4 percent.

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