Survey: Remote workers are working about 1/3 of the time

A recent study by ExpressVPN reveals that online shopping, job hunting, and streaming are some of the most common activities during work hours at home, all while using company devices.
Privacy news
6 mins
  • Some remote workers are wasting 1,400 working hours each year.
  • Four in 10 respondents said they gambled on their company-issued devices instead of working.
  • 42% of Americans we surveyed admitted to watching porn on their work computer, compared to 24% of Britons.
  • Men spend, on average, three hours less per week on work tasks compared to women.
  • Verbal warnings, training, and termination are listed among the top consequences. 

As the world continues to shift towards a more flexible work culture, many of us have found ourselves working from home more than ever before. While this change brings many benefits with it, such as avoiding hectic commutes and having a more relaxed work environment, it also blurs the lines between work and personal time.

To better understand how employees spend their time while working remotely on company-issued devices, ExpressVPN surveyed 2,000 U.S. and UK employees who work hybrid or completely from home.

Together, this group provides a glimpse into how some remote workers are using (and in some cases, abusing) their employees’ technical devices, the consequences it has for both parties, and what precautions can be taken to protect everyone involved.

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Some remote employees waste 67% of their workweek doing non-work tasks

We’ve all been there. Something is affecting your personal life, you didn’t get enough sleep, or you just can’t get yourself to focus, so you find ways to pass the time—usually by wasting it. It’s human nature to get distracted. 

However, when remote workers continue to be unproductive for long periods, it can be increasingly detrimental to companies everywhere. In fact, questions surrounding remote worker productivity has given rise to employee surveillance software, which we previously found to be widely used by companies.

Of the people we surveyed, over two-thirds said they wasted time in some form using their company-issued devices. Respondents only spent an average of 13 hours of their 40-hour work week on professional tasks, using large chunks of the rest of the time visiting non-work-related websites—all while using their work-provided devices. Shockingly, this adds up to over 1,400 working hours wasted per year per employee.

So, what exactly are remote workers using their workplace tech for if it’s not to do the work tasks at hand?

Two-thirds of workers admitted to checking and responding to personal emails, averaging four hours per week, while 64% of respondents said they use the same amount of time to read the news or conduct general research. 

While this may seem harmless enough, 59% of those surveyed said they also use their work week to shop online—averaging three hours per week doing so—with 54% admitting to using the time to browse social media. More than half also said they use their WFH time to make restaurant or holiday bookings. Even more surprising, 44% of workers also said they spend time streaming TV series and movies on their company-issued devices instead of working, and it averaged two hours a week.

Perhaps one reason some employees are spending so much time being unproductive when working remotely is because they’re unhappy in their current roles—49% of workers confessed to looking for new jobs, spending an average of three hours a week doing so. 

42% of U.S. employees admit to watching porn on their company computers during work hours while working remotely.

Alarmingly, some remote workers admitted to behavior that not only might violate company policies but also poses significant risks to both the employee and the organization.

Four in ten respondents said they gambled on their company-issued devices instead of working, averaging three hours a week, while 37% said they spent a similar amount of time buying crypto, and 33% searching the dark web. 

Of our U.S. respondents, 42% admitted to watching porn on their work computer, averaging 196 contracted work hours a year among them. This figure is much lower in the UK—with 24% of those surveyed reporting viewing adult content on their company devices, and the number of hours per year reaching 97 for each worker. 

This is concerning because not only is this improper use of company time but accessing porn sites can also increase the risk of malware infections and cyber attacks, as such websites are often used as vectors for malicious software.

Men spend less time working while at home than women do 

When it comes to porn during remote work hours, we discovered that men were more guilty of it than women. Porn-watching male respondents in the U.S. averaged five hours per week watching adult content on their work computers, compared against female respondents’ two hours. 

In the UK, men who watched porn on company time averaged an hour more each week watching porn compared with their female counterparts. But the theme of men using their company-issued devices to engage in non-work activities is, in fact, reflected throughout the study. 

It’s shocking enough that workers admitted to using only one-third of their workday doing work tasks. But men are the worse offenders of time wastage. Findings show that women waste slightly less time than men when working remotely on company-issued devices. Female respondents said that they spend an average of 15 hours per week on professional tasks compared to the 12 hours per week spent by men. 

The study also found that people in the 35-44 age range were the most likely to engage in personal activities during work hours, as were those who are C-level executives. 

With so many productive working hours being thrown to the wayside, are these workers’ bosses catching on to the fact that they aren’t fully dedicated to their roles? According to a handful of our respondents, yes.  

The consequences of getting caught

With the rise of remote work, various monitoring tools have emerged to ensure that staff members are actually working when they’re not in the office, and that they’re indeed following company policies. This might include installing employee monitoring software on company-issued devices that keeps track of all emails, calls, messages, and videos—as well as web safety filters that block users from visiting any untoward websites. 

When we asked employees if they’ve ever been approached by their company for using their company tech for non-work activities, many said yes. And while they didn’t specify exactly how their employers discovered their behavior, they did disclose that these were the top five activities that got them caught:

  • Using the dark web (81%)
  • Buying crypto (79%)
  • Watching porn (78%)
  • Gambling (77%)
  • Gaming (75%)

Improving productivity and employee well-being 

While there are many reasons why some remote workers may choose to spend their working hours doing other tasks on their company-issued devices, the pressure among remote workers to work outside normal hours could be a significant contributing factor to this trend. 

When we asked senior managers if they expect their employees to undertake work tasks outside of working hours, 78% said yes compared with 11% of managers who said they didn’t have such expectations. 

This was echoed by 45% of respondents who said they were expected to carry out work tasks outside of working hours, with more men (68%) than women (41%) doing so. 

When work hours are not strictly observed, the lack of boundaries may bleed into the use of work devices for personal activities. Clear guidelines surrounding work devices and work hours would be a straightforward solution for both employers and workers,  encouraging employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance while also ensuring that work devices are primarily used for work purposes.

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