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Working From Home: Has The Future of Work Arrived?

May 17, 2020
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Many have heralded work from home arrangements as the future of work. This, coupled with advances in technology, have made it easier than ever to stay connected. And crucially, as hiring has become increasingly competitive over the past decade, employers have responded by expanding benefits like working from home to give employees more flexibility. 

However, the novel coronavirus outbreak has forced companies’ hands to encourage or mandate employees to work from home. This unexpected challenge for employers to manage remote workforces and for employees to remain interconnected and productive at home may ultimately offer a proving ground for future work from home policies. 

In this research, we analyze the current state of work from home benefits using a unique dataset of hundreds of thousands of benefit reviews on Glassdoor. We first examine how many workers today (as of March 9, 2020) have access to work from home options and how that has evolved over the last decade. We then investigate what types of workers or employers are more likely to have access to work from home options, studying how access varies by employment status, industry, occupation and employer size. 

As employers and employees alike are forced to figure out how to do their jobs in new ways, examining the state of work from home policies and how they have evolved over the years is especially timely. 

Access to Work from Home Policies Has Doubled Over Last Decade

Currently, 54 percent of workers report having access to work from home benefits in the United States, according to Glassdoor data. That represents a substantial increase from only 28 percent of workers reporting access to the benefit in 2011. In the chart below, we show that access has steadily increased each year since 2011 to today’s high. 

Satisfaction with work from home benefits has also increased from the early 2010s, now reaching 4.3 out of 5. By comparison, some of the most prominent benefits, like health insurance (3.7 out of 5), vacation & paid time off (3.8) and 401(k) plans (3.8), rate much lower than the ability to work from home in terms of employee satisfaction.

 

Interestingly, 11 percent of workers report being unsure whether their employers offer work from home benefits or not. This lack of clarity may reflect poorly communicated policies or social pressure not to work from home. Regardless of the reason, this does represent a missed opportunity to educate employees on the full range of benefits they have available to them.

 While work from home benefits have increased rapidly over the last decade, some workers have less access to these benefits than others. While 52 percent of full-time workers from 2019–2020 report having access to work from home benefits, only 20 percent of part-time and temporary workers report access to the same benefit.

 

Contract and freelance workers also report a similar prevalence of work from home options as full-time workers, reflecting the diverse nature of contract work. While some contract workers are employed in jobs that require being physically present, there are also many contract jobs in white-collar professional services like graphic design or copywriting which can be done remotely. 

And while part-time workers report far lower access to work from home options than full-time employees, their access has nevertheless also doubled over the last decade. The rapid pace of growth for both part-time and full-time workers, however, has actually widened the gap in access to work from home benefits. The gap in access to work from home benefits between full-time and part-time workers started the decade at a 21 percentage point gap in 2011, which has now expanded to 35 percentage points in 2020.

 

Access Varies by Industry and Occupation

Technology and employer motivation are not the only barriers to work from home arrangements. Some jobs and industries by necessity require workers to be physically present in order to do their jobs. For example, most jobs in food services, retail, transportation and construction must be done in person, whether interacting directly with customers or with goods. In the chart below, those industries are grouped near the bottom, with fewer than 3 in 10 employees having access to work from home benefits. 

By comparison, professional and technical services like information technology and insurance top the list with almost 3 in 4 employees reporting the ability to work from home. Workers in these industries primarily have desk jobs and are less tied to a physical office. The tech industry, in particular, is known for pioneering new modes of work and has been an early adopter of remote work.