Firms remain divided about the value of the office for “office” workers. Some firms think that their employees are more productive when working from home. Others believe that the office is a key place for investing in workers’ skills. In this post, which is based on a recent working paper, we examine whether both sides could be right: Could working in the office facilitate investments in workers’ skills for tomorrow that diminish productivity today?
The enormous increase in remote work that occurred during the pandemic was a response to a temporary public health crisis. Now that the pandemic has passed, just how much remote work will persist and how much are businesses comfortable with? Results from our August regional business surveys indicate that more than 20 percent of all service work and 4 percent of all manufacturing work is currently being done remotely, nearly identical to what was reported a year ago, and this amount of remote work is expected to persist in the year ahead. However, on average, service sector businesses would prefer that about 15 percent of work be done remotely. Indeed, nearly a quarter of service firms have increased requirements for employees to work on-site over the past year and about one in six plan to make further adjustments toward in-person work next year. Ultimately, the degree and persistence of remote work will largely depend on the tightness of the labor market, as businesses report that while remote work does have its downsides, it has been particularly helpful for attracting and retaining workers.
Though some offices have re-opened as the pandemic has receded, many workers have continued to work from home. Recent survey data suggest that workers would like more remote-work days than firms want to supply—a pattern that was evident even before the pandemic. Why have firms been so reluctant to offer remote work? And what will the recent seismic shift in remote work mean for the economy?
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the way Americans spend their time. One of the most enduring shifts has occurred in the workplace, with millions of employees making the switch to work from home. Even as the pandemic has waned, more than 15 percent of full-time employees remain fully remote and an additional 30 percent work in hybrid arrangements (Barrero, Bloom, and Davis). These changes have substantially reduced time spent commuting to work; in the aggregate, Americans now spend 60 million fewer hours traveling to work each day. In this post, we investigate how people spend this saved time on other activities. Using detailed data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), we find that employed individuals allocate their saved commute time toward leisure activities and sleeping, while reducing overall work hours.
When the pandemic hit in early 2020, many businesses quickly and significantly expanded opportunities for their employees to work from home, resulting in a large increase in the share of work being done remotely. Now, more than two years later, how much work is being done from home? In this post, we update our analysis from last year on the extent of remote work in the region. As has been found by others, we find that some of the increase in remote work that began early in the pandemic is sticking. According to firms responding to our August regional business surveys, about 20 percent of all service work and 7 percent of manufacturing work is now being conducted remotely, well above shares before the pandemic, and firms expect little change in these shares a year from now. While responses were mixed, slightly more firms indicated that remote working had reduced rather than increased productivity. Interestingly, however, the rise in remote work has not led to widespread reductions in the amount of workspace being utilized by businesses in the region.
The coronavirus pandemic abruptly changed the way we work, in meaningful and potentially lasting ways. While working from home represented a small share of work before the pandemic, such arrangements became unexpectedly widespread once the pandemic struck. With the pandemic now being brought under control and conditions improving, workers have begun to return to the office. But just how much remote work will persist in the new normal? The New York Fed’s June regional business surveys asked firms about the extent of remote working before, during, and after the pandemic. Results indicate that before the pandemic, the average firm in the region conducted just a small share of its work remotely, a figure that currently stands at around a third among service firms but well below 10 percent among manufacturers. Once the pandemic is fully behind us, service firms expect double the amount of remote work than before the pandemic, though that figure is less than the share being done currently, while manufacturers expect the amount of remote work to return to where it was before the pandemic.