New data shows a broad shift to remote working during the pandemic

The number of Americans working remotely more than tripled in 2021 from 2019, according to new federal data, and the trend is showing signs of persisting this year.

In 2021, 27.6 million people reported working primarily from home nationwide, up from 9 million in 2019, according to new estimates from the 2021 American Community Survey released Thursday by the Census Bureau. In percentage terms, this translated to 17.9% of employees working primarily remotely in 2021, compared to 5.7% in 2019. The vast majority of these are likely in white-collar jobs; in many professions such as those involving face-to-face customer interactions or the use of machinery, remote working is not an option.

Some metropolitan areas have seen a much larger share adopt remote work than the national average. Over 30% of workers in Boulder, Colorado subways; the San Francisco Bay Area; Washington D.C.; Austin, TX; Raleigh, North Carolina and Seattle said they were working primarily from home. In some small towns, the share of remote workers was lower than the national average. For example, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Bakersfield, Calif., and Wichita, Kan., less than 10% of employees were working from home.

Transportation habits have also changed slightly, as workers have become accustomed to the new pandemic normal. Nearly 105 million people drove to work in 2021, compared to 119 million in 2019. The number of people using public transport to get to work fell by more than half, to 3.8 million in 2021. Other modes of travel, including carpooling, cycling or walking — has also fallen in popularity, with one exception: in 2021, some 2.3 million people took a taxi, motorbike or other means to get to work, up 4.1% from 2019.

Overall, the average commute time to work for those not primarily at home fell by two minutes, to 25.6 minutes.

Research by economists using another survey shows that the adoption of remote work has persisted in 2022, despite a wide opening of the US economy after the most acute phase of the Covid pandemic.

From April to August 2022, about 30% of days were worked from home, compared to less than 5% before the pandemic, according to a study by economists Jose Maria Barrero of the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, Nicholas Bloom of Stanford and Steven J. Davis of the University of Chicago. This share has steadily declined since May 2020, when more than 60% of working days were remote. However, the figure has remained stable since the spring of 2022, Mr Bloom said, despite recent campaigns by many employers for staff to work more often from the office.

“A few high-profile companies are talking in the media about pushing for a greater return to the office after Labor Day, but the data shows no overall impact,” he said. He added that post-Labor Day pressure for a return to the office in 2020 and 2021 has failed to reduce that share — and that, so far, this year looks no different.

“Labor Day 2022 seems to be completely flat,” Bloom said. “It’s 3-0 for employees against employers in the battle to continue working from home.”

Private sector data also points to a new balance between remote and in-person work. Office occupancy in 10 major U.S. cities was 43.4% of March 2020 levels, on average, in early September, according to data from security provider Kastle Systems, which tracks badge scans.

Searches for jobs involving remote work on Indeed.com accounted for 9.1% of all searches in August, nearly five times the share in February 2020. About 8.8% of jobs on Indeed.com last month advertised remote work, up from 2.7% previously. on average, in 2019.

“The factors that drove the immediate mass adoption of remote work have receded, but we still see remote work sticking around,” said Nick Bunker, director of economic research for North America at Indeed Hiring. Lab. remote to hybrid, but the remote positions offered are still quite numerous.”

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Maria D. Ervin