Before the pandemic, about half of American workers were working from home — more than double the fraction who worked from home at least occasionally in 2017-18. While some jobs just can’t be done at home, the pandemic accelerated the trend to telecommuting, and the change may be permanent.
If our new work-from-home culture sticks, the pandemic will have dramatically accelerated it. Already, nearly one in five chief financial officers surveyed say they plan to keep at least 20% of their workforce working remotely to cut costs.
Although telecommuting has been slower to take hold than many predicted when remote work technology first emerged, it’s probably due to our ingrained work culture as well as employers’ lack of interest in investing in the technology and management practices necessary to operate a tele-workforce.
There are pros and cons to more telecommuting. On the plus side:
- Workers tend to prefer working from home.
- Telecommuting reduces air pollution and office costs.
- Telecommuting helps people balance work and family roles.
- Many workers are more productive when telecommuting.
The downside includes:
- Managing a telecommuting staff can be difficult.
- Professional isolation can have negative effects on well-being and career development.
- The effects on productivity over the long term and in a scaled-up system are uncertain.
Those who can telecommute tend to be higher-paid professionals. Just under half of working Americans in the top 25% of the earnings distribution did some paid work from home in 2017 and 2018, compared with 4% in the bottom quartile. About a third of people in the top quartile worked from home at least once a month, the equivalent number from the bottom quartile was too small a sample to meet the reporting standards of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But telecommuting skyrocketed this month as many workers across the country were compelled to stay home, though disparities remain. Higher-income workers are much more likely to be working from home during the pandemic and much less likely to be unable to work at all, which has been the case for lower-income workers.
Among all possible employee-friendly alternatives, working from home has been the most valued. The average applicant is willing to take an 8% hourly wage cut to work from home, according to a study from 2017.
The pandemic has forced more people to learn how to use remote technology, a shift that’s changing our habits. The question: Will it last?
It’s clear that the pandemic has changed our lives in many ways, from how we walk outside to how we work. When medical professionals get a leg up on this virus and we turn the corner, will everything just go back to the way it was?
The number of remote job postings on LinkedIn has increased 13% since the beginning of March 2020. And economists think this will be a lasting change. More employers are looking to hire remote workers on a permanent basis rather than just offering working from home as a perk or something nice to do once in a while. Practically overnight, it has become standard operating procedure; benefits to companies include cost reductions in operations and utilities.
Obviously, not every job can be remote, but a major increase in telecommuting may change the template for the workforce as a whole. Both employers and employees should prepare themselves for the change.