by Christos A. Makridis and Adam Ozimek
This excerpt was originally published in City Journal on May 10th, 2022. Read the complete post here.
Analysts debate the proportion of employees that work remotely, but our latest research suggests that it amounts to roughly half of the U.S. workforce.
In late 2020, we launched the Remote Life Survey through Gallup, collecting detailed information about respondents’ employment situation, demographics, and well-being. We found that in October 2020, 31.6 percent of the American workforce always worked from home, while 22.8 percent sometimes or rarely worked from home, for a total of 54.6 percent. These estimates are much higher than those provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey, whose data suggest that, during the same month, the proportion of remote workers was closer to 20 percent—a significant discrepancy. If the gap is accurate, and our figure is closer to the truth, then we might be underestimating the proportion of the remote workforce by more than 30 percentage points—meaning that the figure is closer to 50 percent, which lines up with Gallup’s numbers from this past February.
We investigated some competing explanations for the contrasting estimates. Our primary insight is that the BLS data exclude employees who worked remotely pre-pandemic. If people who already worked remotely continue to do so—and many may have transitioned from a hybrid model to fully remote work—then the BLS measure might underestimate the incidence considerably. Further, by limiting respondents’ answers to either “yes” or “no,” the survey might overlook hybrid and indirect forms of remote work.
Correctly estimating the proportion of remote workers is important for understanding the impact of labor-market policy. Some studies have found that hybrid work has a causal and positive effect on productivity and connectivity in the workplace. Remote work is no panacea for structural problems in organizations; it’s a margin for flexibility, not a tool for turning around broken incentives and processes. Corporate culture and the underlying feeling and mood in an organization still matter most.
To continue reading, view the original publication here.