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BLS: For Many Employers, Some Remote Work Expected to Last

A man working at his desk in his home office.

​About one-third (34 percent) of private-sector employers expanded remote-work options for workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and about 60 percent of those organizations intend to keep those policies in place, according to a new report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The report is based on data from 82,000 private-sector employers surveyed last summer. The sectors with the most employees working remotely were reported in education, information, professional and business services, and financial activities.

A further breakdown of the BLS data showed that 60 percent of respondent organizations—accounting for half of the U.S. workforce—rarely or never allow employees to work remotely. 

Almost 30 percent of private-sector employers, making up most of the other half of the U.S. workforce, allow some work outside the office. The remaining 10 percent of employers—and 3 percent of workers—are completely remote.

The percentage of employers offering at least some remote work is up to 40 percent from 22 percent in 2019, before the pandemic began.

"Health and safety concerns initially drove that growth," said Catherine Hartmann, managing director of the global work, rewards and careers practice at WTW in Ojai, Calif. "But once people do something for a couple of years, it becomes more difficult to go back to the way things were. Certain contingents of workers have since built their lives around remote and flexible arrangements, so employers are now considering whether they should lean into the hybrid work model. The big question is how to allow in-person connection time that some people are longing for and at the same time allow flexibility so people can enjoy a work/life balance?"

Return to the Office

Employers once again delayed their return-to-the-office plans at the start of the year as omicron cases soared and are now wrestling with when and how to bring workers back and how much flexibility will be allowed going forward.  

Toni Frana, career services manager at FlexJobs, a Boulder, Colo.-based jobs site for flexible work, explained that most employers that built strong flexible- and remote-work programs during the pandemic are planning to retain them going forward, but a certain number of organizations are still interested in returning to pre-pandemic work practices.  

"This approach is often rooted in two ideas which were largely nullified because of our extended remote-work period during the pandemic—that there is a certain collegiality, spontaneity and creativity that comes from working physically in the same space that cannot be replicated in more-flexible work environments, and that it's hard to trust employees when you can't physically see them working at their desks."

On the other hand, Frana said, job seekers have spoken clearly on the issue: Hybrid options are far preferable to returning to the office full time with no chance to work remotely.

According to a recent FlexJobs survey about what kind of work arrangement respondents would prefer post-pandemic, 58 percent said they want a fully remote job, 39 percent prefer a hybrid arrangement and only 3 percent want to return to full-time in-person work.

An increasing number of job seekers, especially in the professional, creative and high-tech sectors, view remote-work options as essential for their next opportunity.

Hartmann said that given the current difficulties in hiring, employers must be very thoughtful about attraction and retention, and remote work has to be a part of their calculations.

"There are people who prefer remote work and others prefer to work onsite," she said. "That's why the idea of hybrid work has gained momentum. Employers must understand where remote, hybrid and onsite work makes sense, and marry that with individual attraction and retention drivers. People want personalization."

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The Future of Remote Work

The permanent impacts of the pandemic-induced shift to remote work are still uncertain, but experts believe that many of the employers that can offer remote work will adopt some form of hybrid work arrangement, where employees have more flexibility to decide where they work.

"Most of the surveys and data collected recently suggest that both employees and managers view remote work as beneficial and productive, and the vast majority of people want to continue using it in some capacity," Frana said.

There's a lot of interest in hybrid work models right now, Hartmann said. "We don't know when the next watershed moment could happen, and employers want to build resilient and sustainable organizations that can adapt very quickly to seismic changes. At the same time, the humanization of the workplace will continue, including the personalization of total rewards, and providing flexibility to adapt to individual life stages and needs."


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