Opinion: To what extent will you continue to work from home?

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A new working paper from the Becker Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago concludes, based on a series of surveys during 2020 and early 2021, that working from home will play an important role in the future. Older workers seem as eager as others to participate in the work-from-home activity, but are slightly less optimistic about their employers’ receptivity to the idea. The authors surveyed 28,600 people in various waves between May 2020 and March 2021. The target was people of working age (20-64) earning at least $ 20,000 in 2019, that is, people with a strong attachment to the job market. .

The survey included questions about income, education, age, and gender, and the raw responses were reweighted to reflect the US population as a whole. Respondents were asked about their employment situation during the pandemic, their views on working from home, and their perception of their employers’ plans after the pandemic. The responses showed that in May 2020, 40% of those surveyed worked from home, more than those who worked in commercial premises or did not work. As a percentage of salaried workers, the May number was 61 percent. The comparable figure for the pre-COVID-19 period (2017-2018) was estimated at 5%. As for moving forward, survey participants were asked what percentage of the work week they would like to work from home and what percentage of the work week the employer was likely to offer. Respondents wanted to work from home about 40% of the time, about two days, but they thought the employer would offer them about 20%, about one day. Older workers’ preferences are similar to those of their younger counterparts, as are their views on the flexibility of their employers (see Table 1 below).

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Figure 1 (below) brings together the findings described. The proportion of paid days worked from home increased dramatically from 5% before COVID to 60% during the initial shutdown, decreased to 43% in October and is projected to stabilize at approximately 20%, one day out of five, once for the COVID to end.

The authors offer five reasons why work-at-home activity is unlikely to return to its pre-COVID levels. Stigma reduction: working at home is no longer considered “running away from home”. The experiment worked: the pandemic forced companies to experiment, something that companies could not have done on their own, and the results have been better than expected for both companies and workers. Investments made: The average worker has invested 13 hours and $ 660 in infrastructure, and companies have invested in technology and equipment to facilitate working from home. The fear remains: many respondents want to avoid the subway, crowded elevators, etc. even with a vaccine. Innovation stimulated: The pandemic has stimulated a burst of innovation that will make working at home easier. As someone who runs a center, these findings ring true. We can benefit from more flexibility than before, but I’m not sure if we need to do it in three or four days.