Employers say remote work will remain in their plans

David E. Altig, Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, Steven J. Davis, Brent Meyer, Emil Mihaylov | Mar 04, 2021

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Collections COVID-19 Crisis

Chances are you recognize the relatively new acronym WFH as “working from home.” In less than a year, WFH has become a ubiquitous, inescapable facet of life for many people, so much so that newswires now ask which cities are best for WFH, and online job boards compile lists of companies that allow remote work on a full-time, permanent basis.

Many people are debating the pros and cons of WFH. For employees, gone are the long commutes and cramped cubicles, but other work-related stresses have emerged. As the pandemic drags on, some workers experience feelings of loneliness and isolation, health problems, and challenges related to work-life balance.

Back in May 2020, the Atlanta Fed’s Survey of Business Uncertainty (SBU) elicited firms’ views on WFH and found that, on average, firms anticipated that WFH would triple to 16.6 percent of paid workdays after the pandemic ends, up from 5.5 percent before it struck. Eight months later, we were curious to see whether and how plans had changed. So, in the January 2021 SBU, we asked two special questions very similar to ones we posed last May. Specifically, to gauge the extent of WFH, we asked, “Currently, how often do your full-time employees work from home?” To assess the future extent of WFH, we asked, “How often do you anticipate that your full-time employees will work from home after the coronavirus pandemic ends?” We asked firms to sort the fraction of their full-time workforce into six categories, ranging from five full days WFH per week to rarely or never.

It turns out that current plans are similar to those in May, with one important exception: firms increasingly favor a hybrid model for the postpandemic economy, walking back plans for the share of staff that will work exclusively from home. The chart below summarizes the responses to WFH questions posed in January’s SBU and compares them to our May results. We also compare the results to statistics computed from the American Time Use Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2017–18, which provides a useful benchmark. Aside from the striking similarity in pre-COVID levels of WFH across the surveys, several findings are worthy of note.

Survey of Business Uncertainty (May 11-May 22, 2020)
What percentage of your full-time employees . . .
(Employment-weighted mean) Share of employees that . . .
  Rarely or never 1 full day per week 2 to 4 full days per week 5 full days per week Paid working days at home as a percent of all working days
. . . worked from home in 2019? 90.3% 3.4% 2.9% 3.4% 5.5%
. . . will work from home after the coronavirus pandemic? 73% 6.9% 9.9% 10.3% 16.6%
Survey of Business Uncertainty (January 11-January 22, 2021)
What percentage of your full-time employees . . .
. . . currently work from home? 63.8% 3.9% 15% 15.4% 25.3%
. . . will work from home after the coronavirus pandemic? 73.1% 6.8% 12.4% 6% 14.6%
BLS’ American Time Use Survey (2017-2018)
Full-Time Workers 89.8% 3.8% 3.8% 2.6% 5.2%

This article is continued at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s macroblog. Click here to read it in full.