Working from home has become commonplace during the pandemic, and is likely to remain popular in the future, even when working in person does not pose a health risk. This trend is in many ways a positive one, with working from home creating happier employees, fewer carbon emissions, higher productivity, and a better lifestyle for working parents. Not everyone will have the opportunity to receive these benefits, though; telecommuters are still expected to be the minority of workers in a post-COVID world. Here, we take a deep dive into who can currently work from home, and who expects to in the future. We’ll be looking specifically at those who report the opportunity to work from home, regardless of whether or not this opportunity is accepted.
The ability to work from home likely has a lot to do with a worker’s job characteristics. Here, we examine the relationship between ability to work from home and field of employment, as well as part-time/full-time status.
Most with the option to work remotely are non-essential workers. The majority of our survey respondents who worked in fields such as medical, grocery, and delivery/postal service reported that they are not currently able to telecommute. The roughly 2/3 of respondents to our survey who have this option largely worked outside these industries. Transportation workers were an exception, as the majority of employees in this essential field had the ability to work from home.
Full-time employees are also more likely to have the opportunity to work from home. While more than 50% of both part-time and full-time employees had the option, the majority was slim for part-time workers (around 55%). Over 70% of full time workers had the ability to work from home.
In addition to job characteristics, we also investigated whether a respondent’s personal preferences about working from home were associated with the ability to do so. One might not expect this to be the case, since ability to work from home should be under the control of an employee’s superior rather than the employee. However, it’s possible that some companies may require initiative from those desiring to work remotely – for example, employees may have to submit a request to move to online work before this option is available to them. Alternatively, those who enjoy remote work may have gravitated towards companies who offered this option, even before the pandemic. Our survey provides some evidence that those most inclined toward remote work are also those who are most often able to work from home.
For attitudinal statements such as “I like working from home” or “Videocalling is a good alternative to in-person business meetings,” a greater number of respondents reported having the ability to work from home at higher levels of agreement (or disagreement, in cases where the statement indicated a dislike of working from home).
Those who responded neutrally were surprisingly unlikely – sometimes the least likely – to have the option of working from home for many questions. This may be because strong opinions on working from home are less likely to be formed among those who cannot consider it as a possibility.
Finally, we considered the impact of demographics on ability to work from home. Men were slightly more likely than women to have the ability to work from home. This could be attributable to many different factors, including the high numbers of women working in essential industries such as the medical field. The percentage of respondents reporting the ability to work from home also generally increased in higher income brackets. Likely because of correlation with income, being a home owner (rather than a renter) was associated with a greater likelihood of being able to work from home. Another metric closely related to income, higher levels of education were associated with working from home being an option for greater numbers of respondents. Finally, we found that non-Hispanic Asian respondents were most likely to have the option of working from home, followed by non-Hispanic white and mixed-race respondents.
One important question that has guided much of our research on COVID-19 has been stickiness: will pandemic-induced changes persist as COVID-19 itself subsides? In addition to asking about whether respondents were currently able to work from home, we also inquired about whether they expected to have this option in the future. We analyzed the results to this question by the same suite of potential explanatory variables considered above, and present meaningful differences below.
Overall, fewer respondents expected to be able to work from home in the future than had the option at the time of the survey. This expected result indicates that while some companies are permanently planning to move their employees online, many are considering remote work as a temporary solution to an immediate public health concern.
Personal attitudes appear to play a larger role in future expectations than they do for current remote work ability. While the nature of the relationship between attitudes and remote work ability is similar (respondents with a greater affinity for remote work are likely to expect this option in the future, “neutral” answers to questions are associated with low expectations of work from home ability), the relationship is much stronger for some questions. For example, 77% of those who strongly agree with the statement “I like working from home” expect to have the option of remote work in the future, while only 17% of those who strongly disagree anticipate being able to work from home. This contrast in expectations between people with different attitudes is much greater than the contrast in current ability to work from home. One explanation for this trend is that those who have discovered an affinity for working from home during the pandemic are planning to seek out jobs with this opportunity more in the future, while those who did not find themselves well-suited to remote work will purposefully avoid jobs that require this.
Most demographics were associated with future ability to work from home in a similar manner to their association with current ability to work from home. The difference in work from home ability between home owners and renters was noticeably smaller for future expectations than for current conditions. Around 20% of employees who were renters were also students in our sample. Perhaps because many are expecting to graduate and obtain jobs where remote work might be more available, this group is noticeably more optimistic about future opportunities to work remotely than the general population. Educational attainment also appeared to have a smaller impact on future expectations than present conditions, although there was still a correlation between education level and expectations about future ability to work remotely. Non-Hispanic Asian respondents were still the most likely to expect to have the ability to work from home in the future, but non-Hispanic white, black, mixed-race, and native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander respondents were roughly similar in expectations of future remote work opportunities.
Overall, it seems that ability to work from home is not equally attainable for all. Full-time, nonessential workers who are well disposed to remote work are most likely to have this option. Furthermore, non-Hispanic white or Asian men who own their home and have high incomes and educational attainment seem to have this opportunity more often than others. While many of these trends carry through to future expectations about ability to work from home, some important differences emerge. Personal attitudes appear to play a larger role in future expectations, while the impact of demographics seems lessened. This is an optimistic result, since it indicates a greater ability for those who actually enjoy remote work to “self-sort” into jobs where this opportunity is available, and fewer barriers to some groups who are seeking out remote jobs.