Beyond BLS briefly summarizes articles, reports, working papers, and other works published outside BLS on broad topics of interest to MLR readers.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 drastically changed not only the nature of work but also expectations as to where work would be performed. Because the pandemic has moved to a more endemic state (the virus is somewhat contained), employers have moved to bring workers back into the office. Many of these employees, however, would prefer to continue working from home.
In a recent article from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City (Economic Review, “The shifting expectations for work from home,” second quarter 2023), economists Jason P. Brown and Colton Tousey examine this gap using a fairly new data source, the Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes (citation in main article). Brown and Tousey find that before early 2020, only about 15 percent of workers worked full workdays at home. The spread of the pandemic led to a sharp increase in that number—nearly 40 percent of employees shifted to remote work to try to slow its spread. As the pandemic has waned, employers have attempted to return workers to the physical worksite but, in many cases, have been met with resistance from employees who would rather continue working from home at least part of the time. The authors note that because of record-low unemployment, businesses have felt obliged to continue offering flexible work arrangements while preferring a larger physical presence in the office. This finding has resulted in a gap between workforce desires and employer expectations in terms of how much work will be performed at the employee’s home or otherwise outside the office.
The authors investigate which employees work from home more often and how work-from-home preferences have changed for both workers and employers since the onset of the pandemic. They discover that employees who worked the most days at home live in urban areas and have faster home internet connections and longer commutes. After COVID-19, employees reported a desire for more work-at-home days than their employers preferred to provide. Brown and Tousey determine that over the past 2 years (January 2020 to December 2022), the gap in work-from-home expectations has narrowed, although not evenly across all workers and in all geographic locations.
Brown and Tousey also find that workers’ and employers’ work-from-home preferences are more closely aligned—that is, the expectations gap is narrower—among higher-income workers living in urban areas. Their analysis further indicates that the expectations gap could close altogether within the next 3 years if current trends continue.