One of the most prominent research initiatives around work from home is led by the University of Chicago, ITAM, MIT, and Stanford University. They do extensive surveys and they publish their results and data for free on https://wfhresearch.com/. In May 2020, they founded the Survey for Working Arrangements and Attitudes (SWAA), and since then they have conducted monthly surveys and published numerous peer reviewed articles about the state of WFH.
The significance of the SWAA is that, since the beginning of the pandemic, it produces a rigorous data-driven status update of the changes in working arrangements (home, hybrid, fully remote). In addition, it also informs us about the intentions and preferences of employees and employers in this matter. This data can help us make informed decisions around employee policy changes and also assess where the future of work is heading.
The latest data is from August 2022, and the SWAA team does a good job summarizing and presenting the results. In this post I want to highlight what I found most interesting from their latest data compilation.
The survey included U.S. residents, ages 20-64 who earned more than $10K/year. The data was collected for employees that could not (e.g. agriculture) and could work (finance, technology) remotely. The surveys have been conducted monthly since May 2020 and more than 100,000 observations have been collected. If you want to perform your own analysis you can download that data from https://wfhresearch.com/.
In the following plot you can see the trajectory of paid work days before and since the beginning of the pandemic. Before the pandemic that was around 5%, and it quickly jumped to 60%. Before the pandemic the WFH days were doubling every 15 years. The pandemic jump was equivalent to 30 years of pre-pandemic growth.
Since then, many companies reopened their physical offices, but a big percentage either switched to fully remote or to a hybrid model. Currently we see that around 30% of working days are at home, and there are several predictions that this figure will stay at that level for the foreseeable future.
It’s interesting that since November 2021, employees have maintained their work arrangement between on-site, hybrid, and fully remote. That means that at this stage most companies haven’t made changes to the policies they had to adjust due to the pandemic. That may change in the following years.
If we zoom into work arrangements for employees that can actually work remotely (i.e., exclude jobs like manufacturing, farming, hospitality) the percentage of employees that had at least some flexibility (hybrid or fully remote) is around 70%. In the following graph you can see that since November 2021 a pretty consistent 30% of employees have been full-time on site. The sum of hybrid and fully remote equals 70%, with some fluctuations between them. I think this is a pretty high figure.
Employees vs. Employers
One of the most common threads of the WFH discussion is that when employers try to bring employees back to the office there is a resistance and this is reflected by the following graphs.
This graph shows the amount of WFH days employees and employers would desire after the pandemic is over. We see that as of August 2022 employers would like to be able to work 3 days remotely, while employers plan to offer around 2.25 days per week.
In more detail, in the following bar plots, we see the same discrepancy on a days-per-week basis for employees that can work from home. The biggest difference is between the percentable of employees that want to go fully on-site (16.3%) and the percentage of employers that are planning to enforce that (26.8%). That shows that there is going to be a clash between the employers that are planning to bring everyone back to the office and their employees, who most likely want to maintain at least 1 WFH day.
This employee-employer misalignment can be measured by how much employees comply with their employers policies. In the left hand side plot, you see that 94.6% of employees complied with their employer’s in-office work mandate. On the right plot, you see that employees, in most cases, come to the office less than half of the days their employer requires them to come. For example, for employers that request 2 days in the office, the employees show up for 0.7 days on average. When they require 5 or more days, the employees show up 3.4 days on average.
Unsurprisingly, WFH is much more common in major cities than smaller ones. That has to do with the type of jobs people do in smaller cities and towns (e.g. farming, construction, manufacturing) that can be done only on site. You can see this reflected in the following graph:
The following bar plot shows the average remote work days per week for different industries and this illustrates why bigger cities have a higher percentage of remote workers. Most of the job functions in information, finance, wholesale and professional and business services sectors can be done remotely, and this is reflected on how many days per week employers work from home.
The SWAA does a great job summarizing and breaking down the results of their surveys, and they have a few more details and graphs on their monthly report. I encourage you to take a look if you want to dig more into what is the current state of WFH and forecast future trends.