Studies by Pew Research and the Labor Department show that as work reopens, most employees prefer working from home, especially women. After the pandemic, women lag men in rejoining the labor force, exacerbating our labor shortage. Preference has replaced fear of Covid-19 as the reason for working remotely, and many workers would rather quit than return to the office. Previous studies show that about 70 percent of workers are more productive at home and enjoy their newfound flexibility. However, they are worried about being passed up for promotions.
As companies struggle to hire and retain workers, it is time to get strategic about hybrid work models. Think of them as excellent strategies to accelerate hiring and retention, improve productivity and innovation, and reduce the cost of wasted office space — costs that executives can redirect to strategic business priorities.
The Department of Labor reports that female participation in the workforce is still about a half-million below pre-pandemic levels. If the U.S. were to increase its female labor-force participation rate to the levels of other developed economies, that could boost U.S. gross domestic product by almost $1 trillion over roughly the next decade, according to analysis by credit-ratings firm Moody’s Corp. Offering remote work and hybrid work arrangements is critical to attracting office working women back into the workforce.
According to Pew Research’s Feb. 16, 2022 Report, nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, roughly six-in-ten U.S. workers who say their jobs can mainly be done from home are working from home all or most of the time. The Pew Report included responses from 10,237 panelists in their survey conducted in January 2022.
The impetus for working from home has shifted considerably since 2020. Today, more workers say they are doing this by choice rather than necessity. According to Pew Research, among those who have a workplace outside of their home, 61 percent now say they are choosing not to go into their workplace, while 38 percent say they’re working from home because their workplace is closed or unavailable to them. Earlier in the pandemic, just the opposite was true: 64 percent said they were working from home because their office was closed, and 36 percent said they were choosing to work from home.
Pew Research’s findings match a recent survey by the Labor Department which found that 60.2 percent of workers expect to keep working remotely when the pandemic is over.
If asked to return to the workplace five days a week, nearly 40 percent of women with children under 18 would return and immediately start looking for a work-from-home job, according to a monthly survey of work-from-home arrangements by economists from the University of Chicago and other colleges. That compared with just under a third of men. A further 7.3 percent of women with children under 18 said they would quit outright if asked to come back five days a week, even without another job lined up, nearly double the 3.8 percent of men, also with children under 18, who said the same.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the number of women aged 25 to 54 in the labor force has increased from pandemic lows but was still about half a million below the pre-pandemic February 2020 level last month. This is according to the Labor Department. In contrast, more men were in the labor force last month than before the pandemic began.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond reports that companies are increasingly offering remote and hybrid work arrangements as a perk to hire workers, particularly at larger firms, and women appear to be embracing the flexibility. A February survey of job seekers by hiring platform ZipRecruiter Inc. found that women were twice as likely as men, 26 percent versus 13 percent, to say they were only looking for remote work.
According to Pew Research, for those who do have access to their workplaces but are opting to work mainly from home, their reasons for doing so have changed since fall 2020. Fewer cite concerns about being exposed to the coronavirus – 42 percent now vs. 57 percent in 2020 say this is a major reason they are currently working from home all or most of the time. And more say a preference for working from home is a major reason they’re doing so (76 percent now vs. 60 percent in 2020). There’s also been a significant increase since 2020 (from 9 percent to 17 percent) in the share saying the fact that they’ve relocated away from the area where they work is a major reason why they’re currently teleworking.
Looking to the future, 60 percent of workers with jobs that can be done from home say when the coronavirus outbreak is over, if they have the choice, they’d like to work from home all or most of the time. This is up from 54 percent who said the same in 2020. Among those who are currently working from home all or most of the time, 78 percent say they’d like to continue to do so after the pandemic, up from 64 percent in 2020.
Other finds by Pew Research are the following:
- About half of workers who are working from home all or most of the time and whose offices are closed say they would be comfortable going into their workplace if it were to reopen in the next month.
- Most workers who could work from home but are opting not to say a primary reason is that they feel more productive in the office.
- Most new teleworkers say their current arrangement makes it easier to balance work and personal life.
- The frequency of telework differs by education and income. College graduates with jobs that can be done from home (65 percent) are more likely than those without a four-year college degree (53 percent) to say they are working from home all or most of the time. And higher shares of upper-income workers (67 percent) are working from home compared with middle- (56 percent) and lower-income (53 percent) workers.
- Most workers say their employer doesn’t require Covid-19 vaccination.
- Most workers don’t think their employer should require COVID-19 vaccination.
CEOs should think strategically about remote work and hybrid work arrangements. They are essential to overcoming America’s long-term labor shortage by attracting new talent to your organization, many of whom may be women. In addition, remote work improves worker productivity and morale and can significantly reduce office real estate costs. The savings from reduced real estate costs can be redirected to strategic investments, such as R&D projects.
However, hybrid work arrangements require new team norms, investments in IT, transparency, and assuring equity in promotions among those working from home and the office. It also requires redesigning offices as a place for staying connected to the company’s strategies and culture, meetings, collaboration, building relationships, and training. Learn more about setting up long-term hybrid work arrangements that improve your ability to attract and retain great talent and profitably grow.
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and managing partner of InnovationOne.. He works with companies to transform HR and recruiting, implement remote work, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and innovation cultures. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at www.VictorHRConsultant.com.