Jul 12, 2022 - Economy

Welcome to remote work's equilibrium point

Share of U.S. employees teleworking because of the pandemic in 2022 monthly
Data: BLS; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

The share of Americans working remotely because of COVID-19 is leveling off, per new government data.

Why it matters: The pandemic has been a once-in-a-lifetime chance for many people to reimagine their relationship with their jobs, unchaining them from the need to be at a particular desk under a particular set of fluorescent lights at a particular time every day.

  • WFH life opened new possibilities for people who couldn't relocate for work, or who struggle in office environments because of physical or mental disabilities.

By the numbers: Just 7.1% of American workers teleworked because of the pandemic in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest report, down from 15.4% in January.

  • That figure has been hovering around 7%-8% since April, suggesting we've hit an equilibrium point.

Remote work rates vary significantly based on industry.

  • A whopping 20% of "information" workers, 19.7% of those in finance/insurance, and 17.6% of those in "professional and technical services" worked from home last month, per BLS.
  • Compare that to just 2.2% in construction, 2.7% in transportation and warehousing, and 3.6% in retail (obviously, all fields that don't have a ton of remote-friendly roles).

Yes, but: BLS tracks whether people are working from home specifically because of the pandemic.

  • People who worked remotely before the pandemic aren't included in the figures.
  • Nor are people who started working remotely during the pandemic and came to love it, but may no longer consider COVID the primary factor keeping them home every day (hi!).
  • Another report, from WFH Research, shows that people are working from home about 30% of the time — and, like the BLS data, that figure hasn't changed much in months.

The intrigue: Diehard return-to-office bosses have had trouble recalling workers in this hot labor market because people who want to stay remote have little trouble finding new, WFH-friendly gigs.

  • But the tables may turn at breakneck speed if there's a recession and workers suddenly find themselves hunting for a job, any job.

Of note: The latest COVID variants may scare people into staying home — slowing or reversing the back-to-the-office trend.

Alex's thought bubble: I'm as big a work-from-home fan as you'll find, but even I miss office life sometimes for reasons both personal and professional. Ever try gathering 'round the watercooler with your cats? They're not great conversationalists.

The big picture: For many workers, remote work looks like it's here to stay — but early pandemic-era prognostications about the impending death of office life were greatly exaggerated.

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