Is the Remote Work Boom Busting?
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During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the sudden shift to remote work for many launched a wave of think pieces about whether the trend would keep up once the threat of the coronavirus was less imminent. Now, as the Biden administration plans to end the public health emergency come May, recent federal data has the answer: Sort of.
Remote work spiked during the pandemic starting in March 2020, but new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that boom is winding down. The majority of private establishments — 72.5% — did not offer partial or full remote work from August to September 2022, compared with 60.1% from July to September 2021, according to a March 22 report by the BLS, based on its 2022 Business Response Survey.
This government data suggests that employers that offered remote work earlier in the pandemic are now pulling some workers back into offices. From July to September 2021, the percentage of establishments with some (but not all) employees teleworking was 29.8%; during the period from August to September 2022, that percentage dropped to 16.4%.
Remember that most positions can’t be done remotely, as evidenced by a November 2020 analysis of 2,000 tasks and 800 jobs in nine countries by McKinsey & Co., a global management consulting firm. This analysis found that more than half the workforce has little or no ability to perform duties remotely.
The decline in remote work from earlier in the pandemic is just one piece of the story. From another angle, there are still more remote workers than before the pandemic. BLS data shows that, in February 2020, just 23.3% of private establishments had employees working remotely some or all of the time. From August to September 2022, those establishments had 27.5% of their employees teleworking some or all of the time.
It’s also worth pointing out that even if companies are pulling back some of their fully remote workers, a slightly higher percentage of private companies offered remote work full time in 2022 compared with 2021. In the period from July to September 2021, 10.3% of companies surveyed by the BLS offered remote work full time. From August to September 2022, about 11.1% companies offered this ability.
Which industries still offer remote work?
As expected, the companies employing the highest percentage of remote workers were in white-collar industries, the BLS data from August to September 2022 shows:
Professional and business sectors: 49%.
Educational services: 46%.
Wholesale trade: 39%.
Where are employees working remotely?
The BLS data shows that the states with the highest percentage of employees remotely working all the time during the August to September 2022 period were:
Washington, D.C.: 23.6%.
Rhode Island: 15.8%.
The states with the lowest percentage of employees remote working all the time during the same time period were:
North Dakota: 5.4%.