As Workplaces Assess Reopening, the Remote versus In-Person Work Debate Heats Up Again

By Rachel Puryear

As vaccinations roll out and workforces get immunized, employers all over are weighing policies regarding teleworking (working remotely), versus coming back to in-person workplaces. And of course, the debates over such get heated from multiple angles.

Man sitting at kitchen table with a laptop, looking out the window at a forest outside.

Many employers want to physically oversee their workers, and fear a loss of productivity from teleworkers. Meanwhile, other employers see offering the option of teleworking to their employees as a way to retain valuable workers – as well as to save money on office space. Of course, some jobs lend themselves to remote work and others do not, and it depends on the job.

The majority of employees who have been working from home during the pandemic want to continue to do so at least most of the time. Workers commonly cite better quality of life without a commute, fewer distractions at home leading to better productivity compared with the office, better choices in where to live without being so tied to a geographic location, and child and pet care concerns as some of the big reasons many would like to consider teleworking.

Some employees, though, prefer in-person work; enjoying the social aspect of the office, a psychological separation between work and home life, and may not have enough space or the necessary technology at home to work there.

Here are some stats on teleworking right now, and how workers whose jobs could be done at home view doing such, according to Pew Research:

  • Among those who worked from home during the pandemic (which is about 20% of the employed adult population), 54% said that they wanted to continue to work from home all or most of the time after the pandemic is over.
  • Women and men were about equally likely to want to do so all or most of the time, but women were a little more likely to want to do so all the time than men (31% of women, versus 23% of men wanting to work from home all the time). Answers between genders were similar regardless of whether they had minor children. People across various racial and income groups were similarly likely to want to work from home some or all of the time.
  • Due to the nature of their jobs; low-income workers are much less likely to say their could do their work from home (24%) than middle income earners (37% saying the same), who are in turn less likely to be able to work from home than high earners (56% also saying the same). Accordingly, a clear class divide exists for capability to work at home. While that’s certainly not a reason to prevent anyone from working at home who can, it raises valid questions about how opportunities to work from home could be made more accessible across different income levels.
  • Interestingly, among those without a college degree, 60% want to continue doing so after the pandemic; while only half of similarly situated workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher said the same. This is true despite that lower-paid workers are less likely overall to be able to work from home than higher-paid ones.
  • Parents of children under 18 are more likely to say that they have difficulty working at home without interruption, than people without minor children at home (half versus 20%, respectively). Mothers and fathers responded about the same. Of course, during the pandemic, daycares were also shut down – the reopening of daycares, as well as federal funding coming to help families pay for daycare; should help resolve this problem following the pandemic. And perhaps some of the other half of parents found teleworking to be a way to eliminate the need for daycare altogether.
  • Among those working at home since shelter-in-place; 80% say it has been very easy or somewhat easy to meet deadlines and complete projects on time; with 20% saying that meeting deadlines and timely completing projects has been somewhat difficult or very difficult.
  • Of the same population as above; 65% reported that it was very easy or somewhat easy for them to feel motivated to do their work; while 35% indicated that it was somewhat difficult or very difficult for them to find motivation to work.

These statistics suggest that while teleworking is not for everyone, nor is it feasible for all jobs; it can benefit the majority of workers who can do so. Making working from home an option for workers, where this is feasible, could help them do their jobs better and be more satisfied with their quality of life while working.

And, here’s a kicker: according to a survey recently conducted by Bloomberg Wealth, 39% of employees surveyed said that they would consider quitting their jobs if their employers refused to be flexible about remote working! Presumably, there are even more who would like to quit under such circumstances, but are not in a position to do so.

The most commonly cited reason to want to continue to work remotely was avoiding a commute, thereby saving money and time. Others also wanted to live in locations outside commuting distance from their jobs. Other common responses included: to better meet childcare responsibilities, spend more time with family and pets, and avoid possible covid exposure.

Working remotely also offers people who have disabilities and other medical considerations more employment options. For these workers; the lack of a draining commute, and a more accommodating customized home environment can make all the difference in the world to them.

And of course, for digital nomads who love to work from the road and travel, the ability to work remotely is crucial to our lifestyle. We simply want to see the world while we earn a living, rather than being trapped in an office for most of our short lives.

Whether at least some of that 39% decides to make such a bold move, remains to be seen. However, such a movement en masse could reshape the power play between employees and employers on this issue, and possibly other quality of life issues for workers, too.

Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following and sharing. Feel free to ask me anything you might want to hear about in a future post. Here’s to your making a living with a better quality of life, so you can spend more time doing what you love, and with those you love.

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