The remote work revolution is already reshaping America

Residents of the 100 Van Ness apartments in San Francisco work in the building's common area, the city's largest office-to-residential conversion.  Vacancies in office buildings have increased as more companies allow their employees to work from home permanently.
Residents of the 100 Van Ness apartments in San Francisco work in the building’s common area, the city’s largest office-to-residential conversion. Vacancies in office buildings have increased as more companies allow their employees to work from home permanently. (Gabrielle Lurie/San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images)

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The coronavirus pandemic has sparked a shift to remote and hybrid work that is quietly reshaping America’s economy and demographics.

As the women and men of America’s statistical agencies still struggle to measure this astonishing transformation, a host of academics and other experts have rushed to fill in the data gap.

They have found that remote work has declined significantly since the peak of pandemic shutdowns in 2020, when nearly two-thirds of work was done remotely. But it has since stabilized at an extraordinarily high level: about a third of work was done remotely in the United States in 2021 and 2022, according to economists José María Barrero (Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico), Nicholas Bloom (University from Stanford) and Steven Davis (University of Chicago).

Other data points support this observation and suggest that remote workers are moving to a hybrid schedule. A new poll shared with The Post by Gallup found that 29% of remote workers worked full-time from home in June – up from 39% in February – while the share of hybrid schedules rose by a comparable amount.

Not all sources show the same decline, and it’s hard to say anything definitive about remote work until our friends in the US government produce some solid data. But “there is no doubt that it has increased significantly from 2019 and will remain well above pre-pandemic levels,” Davis said.

In particular, the wave of remote work has rattled so-called knowledge industries such as finance and news, a category that includes everything from journalists to search engine developers. There, 3 out of 5 workdays are now done from home, according to Barrero, Bloom and Davis.

Within each industry, certain categories of jobs are more likely to be performed remotely. For example, managers in most industries work from home more often than the people who report to them.

Highest rates of remote work appear among technology, communications, professional services and finance and insurance workers, according to data from more than 200,000 companies using the payroll and benefits provider Gusto. These data also show that remote work is growing at all levels.

“There are different industries’ exposures to remote work, but remote work exposure as a whole is universal,” said Liz Wilke, the company’s senior economist. “Every industry has seen an increase.”

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Of course, the remote work landscape is very different for restaurant or warehouse workers. In these industries, workers are working on average one in five remote workdays – although this likely reflects people in sales, office and management roles.

Available data limits how deep we can dive in specific sectors and geographies. But we can estimate the geographic effects of remote work by assuming that the industries and occupations present in each county have adopted remote work at the national rate.

Places with the highest remote work rates in the country include the dense urban cores of Manhattan, DC, and San Francisco, as well as much of northern Virginia’s suburban core, including Arlington, Falls Church, Alexandria and Loudoun and Fairfax counties. The Federal Science Center in Los Alamos County, New Mexico, and the affluent lakeside enclave of Forsyth County, Georgia, northeast of Atlanta, also made the top 10.

“Many workers in urban areas continue to enjoy the advantage of not being tied to a certain postcode and moving to more affordable suburbs, whether to be closer to family and support structures or to “get more for their money” and experience a different standard of living with the same salary,” said Yvette Cameron, Oracle’s senior vice president of human resource management software.

Admittedly, our rankings are rough estimates based on simple assumptions. Until government data improves, remote work will be difficult to observe directly. Perhaps our best bet is to measure it indirectly, like a collapsing star or a primordial galaxy, by tallying up the destruction in its wake.

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The Census Bureau’s latest population estimates reveal seismic disruption as Americans spread through rural, peri-urban and suburban areas at rates we haven’t seen in at least a decade, according to the Economic Innovation Group. August Benzow. Whites are leading the exodus from the country’s major urban centers, but they are not the only ones to leave.

Notably, two of the counties with the furthest eligible jobs, Manhattan (New York County) and San Francisco, experienced the fastest population loss of any county with more than 10,000 residents from 2020 to 2021. Each has given its working-age population. decrease by almost 10%.

“What we’re definitely seeing is a shift away from those top 10 cities and toward mid-sized and smaller metropolitan areas — and actually a pretty big jump for rural employment,” Wilke de Gusto said.

The maps show a similar pattern across urban America, with the core deepening as growth surges in long-distance telecommuting enclaves hours away. House prices and rents show similar trends.

“Population losses were greatest in large urban counties which, before the pandemic, had a high share of jobs that could be done remotely, high housing costs, and many people commuting,” Adam said. Ozimek, chief economist of the economic innovation group and telecommuting specialist. “All of this is very consistent with the fact that remote work is a significant driver of pandemic population shifts, and the effect extends beyond San Francisco and New York.”

But until we have better federal data on who’s working remotely and where they’re doing it, we can’t produce the detailed analyzes needed to understand the winners and losers of the remote work revolution — and to make in the face of the inevitable fallout.

The Census Bureau has long tracked how people move around, producing a high-quality, albeit narrow, measure of remote work. But the most recent data is based on the average from 2016 to 2020: keen observers of the news might note that a lot has changed since then. It will take years to have a good measure for the current period. And it may be even longer before our friends at Census can collect and publish specific new data remotely.

“Going forward, the Census Bureau is considering long-term updates to work-from-home questions in at least one of our major surveys,” the agency said in a statement to the Data Department. “But – writing a question to accurately capture data is a science and any additions or changes require extensive testing and review over many years.”

Meanwhile, quick-thinking census staff added a question on remote work to the current population survey. But this question, added at the start of the epidemic, asks people if they should “working from home for pay DUE TO THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC.” This greatly limits its value now that remote work seems to be settling in for the long haul.

“That qualifier changes everything for this question, and indeed for most questions,” Bloom said. “If I asked you, ‘Who do you think you’re voting for in the next election?’ the answer can be very different if I add “because of the coronavirus pandemic” at the end.

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