Full-time office work is 'dead': 3 labor experts weigh in on the future of remote work

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The pandemic-era trend of working from home remains a key feature of the U.S. job market — and is likely to stay entrenched as a permanent perk for a broad swath of the American workforce, according to labor economists.

The pre-pandemic baseline of going into an office five days a week "is dead" for many workers, said Nick Bunker, an economist at job site Indeed.

"Remote work is here to stay," Bunker said.

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In 2019, about 5% of full-time work was done from home. The share ballooned to more than 60% in April and May 2020, in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, said Nicholas Bloom, an economist at Stanford University who has researched remote work for two decades.

That's the equivalent to almost 40 years of pre-pandemic growth virtually overnight, his research shows.

The share of remote work has steadily declined (to about 27% today) but is likely to stabilize around 25% — a fivefold increase relative to 2019, Bloom said.

"That's huge," he said. "It's almost impossible to find anything in economics that changes at such speed, that goes up by 500%."

Here's how a more permanent hybrid work equation will impact NYC
Here's how a more permanent hybrid work equation will impact NYC
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Initially, remote work was seen as a necessary measure to contain the spread of the virus. Technological advances — such as videoconferencing and high-speed internet — made the arrangement possible for many workers.

Both employees and companies subsequently discovered benefits beyond an immediate health impact, economists said.

Employees most enjoy the reduction in commute, less time getting ready for work and a flexible schedule that more easily allows for doctor visits and picking up kids from school, Bloom said.

Some workers have shown they're reluctant to relinquish those perks. Companies such as Amazon and Starbucks, for example, recently faced a backlash from employees after announcing stricter return-to-office policies.

Employers enjoy higher employee retention and can recruit from a broader pool of applicants, said Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter. They can save money on office space, by recruiting from lower-cost areas of the country or by raising wages at a slower pace due to workers' perceived value of the work-at-home benefit, she said.

It's almost impossible to find anything in economics that changes at such speed.
Nicholas Bloom
economist at Stanford University

For example, job seekers polled by ZipRecruiter say they'd be prepared to take a 14% pay cut to work remotely, on average. The figure skews higher — to about 20% — for parents with young children.

Twitter recently shut its Seattle offices as a cost-cutting measure and told employees to work from home, a reversal from an earlier position that employees work at least 40 hours a week in the office.

"The benefits for employers are pretty substantial," Pollak said.

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