6 Things to Know About Remote Work

6 Things to Know About Remote Work

By Julie Norwell

Marc Benioff, multi-billionaire founder of Salesforce, ruffled feathers when he admitted his preference for working remotely at the 21st annual Dreamforce summit in September. He sounded hypocritical because he’d been pressing employees for months to work more days in-person. When asked to elaborate on his views in a recent interview, however, he sounded almost prescient. “Every person’s different, but I think to optimize the workforce, you have to realize it’s not a one-size-fits-all agenda.” 

Like other executives, Benioff is trying to manage the onslaught of new technologies that has changed how employees work. Until 2019, the rate of people working from home had been rising in the U.S. for decades, doubling roughly every 15 years. Then, between 2019 and 2023 it rose five-fold. Although headlines now herald a post-pandemic decline of remote work, it is very much alive and kicking. And it isn’t going away. In fact, remote work is likely to increase going forward. Employers know it, but they don’t yet know what to do about it. How do you determine who should work from home? And how many days per week in-office is the right amount to optimize productivity?

Striking the right balance between remote and in-person work at the management level is important. It’s also important at the personal level. “People need to focus on being happy,” said Benioff. “Some need to spend more time in the office. Some need to spend more time at home.” In other words, what individuals want from their work experience matters.

Remote work continues to evolve, though. What work model works best for you could have unforeseen collateral consequences. For women of young children, for example, remote work has been a godsend. But could it turn out to be a new ‘Mommy Track’? Keeping abreast of the latest information is a must. With that in mind, here are six things to know about remote work.

1. Accurate Estimates of Remote Workers Are…Problematic

To appreciate the full picture of the work-from-home (WFH) phenomenon, it’s useful to know how many remote workers we are taking about. Unfortunately, estimates vary – sometimes considerably. The latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor (BLS), for example, calculates 19.5% of employed people working remotely. Of these people, those working full-time from home and those working a hybrid fashion are roughly equal. 

By contrast, WFH Research, the other go-to source on work-from-home data, provides very different information. WFH Research, launched in May 2020 specifically to study the impact of Covid-19 on working arrangements, is a collaboration of economists from Stanford, MIT, ITAM, and the University of Chicago who conduct a monthly online survey about working arrangements and attitudes. This team estimates that 42% of Americans currently work remotely. That number comprises 12% of employees working fully remotely and 30% working in a hybrid arrangement. 

There is a lot of daylight between the BLS and the WFH Research numbers. The discrepancy, due to differences in data collection, is problematic. Cities and companies need to plan, after all. But when it comes to data trends, we see more consistency – and, perhaps, more relevancy. All sources agree that the work-from-home rate has fallen since its peak during the pandemic. They also agree that the current rate is significantly higher now than the pre-pandemic rate. Most importantly, they agree that it’s permanently elevated

The Pandemic Permanently Increased WFH

Source: https://wfhresearch.com/

2. The Who’s Who of Happy Remote Workers

Here’s a bombshell for you: In 2022, with the pandemic just waning, The Conference Board measured the highest rate of job satisfaction among U.S. workers since it began measuring worker satisfaction in 1987. Why? Flexible working arrangements, of course! (The tight labor market helped, too.)  

“Fully remote, and especially hybrid workers, are…significantly more satisfied than fully on-premises workers,” wrote the authors. They added, “Overall, hybrid workers are the group most satisfied across the components analyzed in our study.”

So, who are these happy individuals? Here are some insights from the BLS:

  • Women were more likely than men to have teleworked (21.6% vs. 17.7%).
  • Asians were more likely to have teleworked (31.2%) than Whites (19.3%), Blacks (15.4%), and Hispanics (9.9%).
  • The telework rate has increased with educational attainment. The highest incidence of telework occurred among those with a bachelor’s degree and higher, at 36.1%.
  • Parents of children under the age of 18 had a higher telework rate than workers with no children under 18 (21.4% compared with 18.7%).
  • People in management, professional, and related occupations were most likely to telework, with a telework rate of 34.6%. 
  • By industry, the highest rates of telework were in information (47.5%), financial activities (46.0%), and professional and business services (41.5%). 
  • Federal government workers had a higher telework rate (28.6%) than workers in state government (20.7%) and local government (8.8%). 
  • The telework rate for self-employed workers was 27.6%.

3. Fully Flexible Companies Outperform on Revenue 

Here’s a new point to convince your employer that you should work from home. About a year ago, many employers began pressuring employees to return to the office. Their rationale was that in-person work was more productive than remote work. But a new report turns that reasoning on its head. According to research by Scoop, a hybrid management startup, fully flexible public companies outperformed peer companies with more restrictive work-from-home policies on revenue growth between 2020 and 2022. And not by a small amount – by 16%!

This dramatic finding, which surprised even the researchers, underscores a clear message: flexibility in work arrangements isn’t just beneficial to employees, it’s a driver of business growth. The finding is also sure to fuel the debate about the pros and cons of remote working. (In the report, “fully flexible” means that employees decide their own working conditions.)

4. Remote Work Is Highly Uneven Across the U.S.

Geography apparently matters when it comes to remote work. A recent study found that remote workers are most common in the Northeast, the Pacific Northwest, and Northern California. Colorado, Utah, and Minnesota are hotspots, too. In fact, Colorado and Maryland are the top states, each boasting more than 37% of people regularly working at home. But one locale is even higher. Washington DC – with 54% remote workers – has the highest percentage in the nation.

States with the lowest percentage of remote workers – all under 16% – include North Dakota, Arkansas, Wyoming, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Mississippi has fewer than 12% remote workers.

Remote workers tend to concentrate near big cities and centers of technology or finance – wherever you might find knowledge workers. (Knowledge workers are typically desk workers.) But as remote work technology is adopted by a growing body of workers in lower tech types of jobs, we should expect to see rates of remote workers rising elsewhere in the future.

Highest and Lowest Remote Worker Share

Source: SelectSoftware Reviews

5. Hybrid and Fully Remote Work Are Quite Different

You might be wondering why remote workers congregate near knowledge hubs when they could live anywhere. After all, they’re remote, right? Well, it seems that the extent to which people work from home produces different migration and economic patterns. In other words, hybrid and fully remote work are not uniform.

A recent study shows that hybrid work is, in some ways, more like fully in-person work than it is to fully remote work. In hybrid work, workers still see colleagues in person periodically. And they still must live within a commutable distance, albeit a greater distance than for fully in-person work. By contrast, fully remote workers “can sever the connection between individuals and their local labor markets.” 

Whereas hybrid working has increased migration rates to suburbs surrounding knowledge centers, full-remote work impacts long-distance migration rates. 

For municipalities, the impact of this trend is significant – for better and for worse. Cities, for example, are seeing their populations shrink, particularly families with young children. The overall population in large urban areas declined by 0.9% between April 2020 and July 2022. The under-five population in such counties fell 6.1%. In some of the country’s largest counties, like New York and L.A., the decline was a whopping 10% or more. The declines have led to weaker housing demand in urban areas. 

Meanwhile, “Zoom towns” – towns that offer both appeal and low cost of living – have put some towns on the map. Real estate marketers now regularly publish lists of newly popular places, like Olathe, Kansas, to entice remote workers with big city jobs. (In case you’re curious, South Jordan, Utah is currently the number one Zoom town.) Not surprisingly, Zoom towns are experiencing stronger housing demand. 

6. A Persistent Trend Towards Flexibility

The return-to-office trend is not as prevalent as the media coverage would have you think. In fact, Scoop reports that it has stalled. Requirements surrounding hybrid work haven’t changed since the beginning of 2023. Meanwhile, about one-third of U.S. companies do not require office time. 

Perhaps that isn’t terribly surprising. The genie is out of the bottle. Remote work has changed the work landscape, and it will continue to evolve. A persistent trend towards flexibility in the workplace will usher in shifts in organizational culture and employee expectations over time. 

Remote work, with its challenges and opportunities, demonstrates that the future of work is not about a one-size-fits-all solution. As it continues to shape our professional lives, the traditional office-centric model may no longer be the default. If you are among the majority of workers who would prefer to work from home at least part of the time, be proactive in communicating your needs and preferences to your employer. Be sure to embrace the tools and skills necessary for effective remote work. And, lastly, be open to making career changes as needed to find the balance that suits your lifestyle.

Read next: Should Women Job Hunt Like Men?

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