More People Work Remotely, BLS Finds

By Aliah D. Wright Jul 6, 2016
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Difficult commutes, dwindling office space and advances in technology are making remote work more prevalent, experts say, and new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) support that conclusion.

According to the American Time Use Survey results, "in 2015, 38 percent of workers in management, business, and financial operations occupations and 35 percent of those employed in professional and related occupations did some or all of their work from home."

The BLS data was based on a survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

People are working more hours remotely, too. The amount of time people spent working from home went up by 40 minutes on days when at least some work was conducted from home, the survey reveals. That includes answering e-mails, working on presentations or engaging in other work-related activity.

Why is that?

"Technology like Slack, Skype and Google Docs all make collaboration very easy for distributed teams to work together seamlessly and be equally if not more productive," Kathleen Smith, founder of the Louisville, Ky.-based marketing consultancy The Content Canvas, told SHRM Online.

Smith added that "I have found that my clients—almost exclusively startups—are very open [to] and comfortable with remote folks as it's become so ingrained in their culture to be open to this type of working."

Remote work "is probably also associated with difficult commutes … and management preferences to reduce office space and have employees work remotely," Liana Sayer, director of the Maryland Time Use Laboratory and a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, told SHRM Online. "The emergence of a gig economy also plays a role," she said, referring to the millions of people working for themselves worldwide thanks to apps like Uber and Lyft or through the demonstration of skills on social media sites like YouTube.

And because Millennials are expected to make up 50 percent of the global workforce in four years, HR professionals are being encouraged to support workplace flexibility to meet their expectations of working where and when they want.

The survey, released in late June, reflects responses from about 11,000 male and female Americans. The Census Bureau conducted the survey by phone daily, including weekends and holidays. Respondents were asked what they did the previous day. Among other things, they were asked how they spent their day, how much time they slept, whether or not they were employed, how they worked (at home or in an office), whether they had multiple jobs, and whether they had children living with them.

Other related findings from the study revealed:

  • The employed worked an average of 7.6 hours per day. People worked more on weekdays than weekends—8.0 hours compared to 5.6 hours.

  • Employed men worked 42 minutes more per day than employed women.

    "This difference partly reflects women's greater likelihood of working part time," the study states. "However, even among full-time workers [those usually working 35 hours or more per week], men worked longer than women—8.2 hours compared with 7.8 hours."

    Added Sayer: "Job discrimination and gendered work and family roles are the two explanations that most scholars believe explain the differences."

  • The share of workers doing some or all of their work at home grew from 19 percent in 2003—the first year the survey was conducted—to 24 percent in 2015.

In an interview with SHRM Online, BLS economist Rose Woods said, "Generally we find that people who are in higher earnings groups and in higher occupations, and those with higher educations, are more likely to work from home."

The survey points out that "employed persons age 25 and over with a bachelor's degree or higher were the least likely to work at their workplace (74 percent) and they were the most likely to do some or all of their work from home (39 percent). By comparison, 94 percent of workers with less than a high school diploma worked at their workplace and 7 percent worked from home."

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