Working from Home since COVID — the New Work Experiment
By Lynn Wallis
Oregon Employment Department Workforce Analyst
The nation’s total nonfarm employment has now returned to pre-pandemic levels, even though not all industries have recovered all of the jobs lost during the COVID recession in spring 2020. During the recession, the nation lost 20.7 million jobs from February to April 2020.
Similar to the national trend, Oregon’s pandemic job losses totaled about 286,000 in spring 2020. Although the state has now recovered its recessionary job losses, the pandemic initially shuttered many workplaces, both in Oregon and nationwide, plunging many businesses and organizations into an unplanned experiment of remote work or working from home. Now, nearly two and a half years later, many businesses and organizations have created new work norms that include the remote home environment as an option for workers who can work from home.
Compared with the nation as a whole, Oregon had a higher portion of its workforce working remotely during the past decade. The share was slowly growing prior to the onset of the pandemic, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey. Back in 2012, 6.2% of Oregon’s workforce and 4.4% of the U.S. workforce worked from home. By 2019, the share reached 7.3% of Oregon workers and 5.7% of U.S. workers. From 2019 to 2021, the percentage of remote workers significantly increased by 15.4 percentage points or by nearly 300,000 workers in Oregon, reaching 22.7% of the Oregon labor force. In 2021, there were an estimated 446,000 workers working remotely in Oregon and 27.6 million in the U.S.
Remote Work More Common for Workers with Higher Education and Women
According the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), both gender and educational level seem to make a difference in the number of workers working remotely. In 2021, a higher percentage of women worked from home in the United States. During 2021, 43.5% of women working full-time and 33.8% of women working part-time worked from home, compared with 36.7% of men working full-time and 25.5% of men working part-time.
According to McKinsey & Company’s article Women in the Workplace 2022, only one out of 10 women reported wanting to work mostly at the work site, and many women pointed to remote- and hybrid-work options as one of their top reasons for joining or staying with an organization.
A worker’s educational level also plays a part in determining whether they have the option of working from home or need to report to the workplace. The BLS estimates that more than two-thirds of workers with an advanced degree and over one-half of workers with a bachelor’s degree worked at home in 2021. In contrast, less than one-third of workers with some college or an associate degree, 19% of workers who were high school graduates, and about 6% of workers who had less than a high school diploma worked at home in 2021.
Occupations with Telework Available
Remote work was available to nearly 10% of all workers in the U.S. during 2021 according to the BLS Occupational Requirements Survey. The BLS counted workers as having remote work available if they were allowed to complete critical job tasks from home for an agreed-upon portion of their workweek. The largest share of workers who were allowed to work remotely included legal, computer and mathematical, and business and financial occupations.
Occupations Not Likely to Have Telework Available
Not all types of work can be done at home. The necessity to be at a job site is a major reason why some occupations are less likely to have remote work as an option. According to the BLS, the following occupational groups had high percentages of workers who did not have remote work options in 2021:
- Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance
- Construction and extraction
- Educational instruction and library
- Healthcare practitioners and technical
- Healthcare support
- Installation, maintenance, and repair
- Office and administrative support
- Personal care and service
- Remote Work Now and Into the Future
The work from home experiment created by the COVID pandemic may have changed how we work and expect to work into the future. Working from home is a relatively new experience for a majority of workers with jobs that can be done remotely.
In June 2022, Gallup carried out a national survey of 8,090 remote-capable U.S. full-time employees. They wanted to answer three key questions:
How many remote-capable employees are currently working hybrid or fully remote?
Where do these employees expect to work long-term and where would they prefer to work?
What happens when remote-capable employees do not work in their preferred location(s)?
The results indicated that in June 2022, five out of 10 employees were working hybrid (part of their week at home and part on-site); three out of 10 employees were exclusively working remotely; and two out of 10 employees were working entirely on-site. The percentage of remote and hybrid workers increased by 38 percentage points from the pre-pandemic 2019 level, while the percentage of employees working on-site fell by 38 percentage points.
Where do remote capable employees expect to work in the future? Workers expected the percentage of hybrid workers to grow by 6 percentage points in 2022 and beyond, the percentage of exclusively remote workers to fall by 7 percentage points, and the percentage of on-site workers to remain about the same.
When these employees were asked where they preferred to work, 34% said they preferred exclusively remote work, 60% said they preferred hybrid work, and only 6% said they preferred working on-site.
The Future of Work
Just two years after the onset of the COVID pandemic, about six out of 10 U.S. workers who reported that their jobs could mainly be done from home, were working from home all or most of the time according to the PEW Research Center’s January 2022 survey, COVID-19 Pandemic Continues to Reshape Work in America. The survey showed that the motivation for working from home has shifted considerably since 2020, and more workers who have the option of working remotely report they are working from home by choice rather than necessity. For those who have an on-site option for work, 61% report they are now choosing not to go into their workplace while 37% report they are working from home because their workplace in now closed or unavailable.
It should be noted that the majority of U.S. workers (60%) don’t have jobs that can be done from home, and others who do have remote types of jobs continue to involve some in-person interaction with others in their workplace.
What remote work will look like in the future will depend on whether companies and organizations will continue to embrace remote work in larger numbers and utilize a fully remote model, or adopt a hybrid approach that requires workers to come into the office for a portion of their workweek. The future of this great work experiment will be determined by how both employers and employees respond to the opportunities and challenges presented by more than two years of learning to work differently.