COVID-19 and remote workThe COVID-19 pandemic played a catalytic role in the widespread emergence of remote work in the United States. By May 2020, the number of remote workers in the U.S. had accelerated to 48.7 million additional employees working from home, not including those who worked remotely prior to the pandemic. This sudden change forced companies and employees to quickly adapt to large-scale, remote work. Employees had to be equipped with office supplies, furniture, equipment and adequate technology. Additionally, companies were required to swiftly implement tools for virtual collaboration such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. As of 2022, there were an estimated 270 million daily users of Microsoft Teams worldwide. This was a drastic increase from 2017, when there were an estimated two million users.
Despite the steep learning curve and sudden change, many employees around the U.S. have grown accustomed to working from home. The advancements made toward improving virtual collaboration and increasing efforts to digitize office culture have contributed to making remote work a sustainable and long-term option for many. As the spread of the pandemic has eased, employers and employees alike have had to face the future of remote work. Among companies transitioning back to on-site work, more than half have planned to implement permanent remote options for appropriate roles.
As of 2022, those working arts, design, entertainment, sports and media positions spent the most time working remotely, with an average of 3.9 days per week. The average amount of days working remotely across all professions was three days per week. While many businesses have been conducive to shifting from office to home, many occupations require employees to be in person. In 2022, 54 percent of all workers in the United States worked exclusively outside of the home. Of those remaining, 22 percent worked exclusively at home, and 17 percent worked hybrid.
Adjusting to home officeWhen asked what their biggest struggle was with working remotely, one quarter of the employees reported that it was the inability to unplug. The rapid expansion of remote work due to the pandemic met many people unprepared. Those who had previously worked in an office suddenly had to find a space in their homes that could be fashioned as an office, as well as manage additional distractions that likely surfaced from being in the comfort of their homes. Generation Z was self-reportedly the least likely to be as productive working virtually, with only 23 percent stating they were just as productive remotely as they were when working in an office. Baby Boomers were the most confident in their remote work, with 65 percent having claimed no change in productivity when working from home. Millennials yielded split results, with nearly half of the respondents reporting no changes in productivity.
When looking ahead, it appears that hybrid work may be the preferred model among remote employees. In 2020, nearly 50 percent of people working from home during the pandemic said that, following the outbreak, they would prefer a combination of working from home and returning to office. As for companies, a main driver for transitioning to a fully remote or hybrid workforce was confidence in their employees’ performance when working remotely. In 2021, more than 40 percent of companies worldwide reported that their management had gained full confidence in their remote workforce. Employers have also reported that, when considering employee preference, the majority of have been in favor of home office.