What is your forecast for work-from-home in 2024 and beyond?
Before the pandemic, less than five percent of the U.S. employee workforce worked at home three or more days a week. At its peak, more than 60% were doing so at least weekly. Based on our research, we estimate that 56% of the U.S. workforce holds a compatible job (at least partially) with remote work.
Based on office occupancy data and other sources, the percentage that continued to do so at least weekly stabilized at about 35%-40% in late 2022. On average, those who work remotely do so between two to three days a week. Managers are lobbying for more, employees are lobbying for less. We believe the numbers will stay with they are through 2024 and start to grow in 2024 and beyond for the following reasons.
Here’s why we think hybrid and remote work will continue to grow and on-site work will continue to decline.
We have nailed our forecasts for the growth of remote and hybrid in the past
We have repeatedly nailed our estimates for the growth of remote and hybrid work. In 2020, we forecast 35-40% of the U.S. workforce would be remotely one or more days a week after the pandemic. That estimate was correct.
Increased demand for work-from-home from employees
The demand for flexibility in where and how people work has been building for decades. Before the crisis, surveys repeated showed 80% of employees want to work from home at least some of the time. Over a third would take a pay cut in exchange for the option. While the experience of working at home during the crisis may not have been ideal as whole families sheltered in place, it will gave people a taste of what could be. Study after study now shows between 85-90% of those with remote work compatible jobs want to work from home at least some of the time. The genie is out of the bottle and it’s not going back in.
Reduced fear about work-from-home among managers and executives
One of the biggest holdbacks of remote work is trust—managers simply don’t trust their people to work untethered. They’re used to managing by counting butts-in-seats, rather than by results. That’s not managing, that’s baby-sitting. What’s more, seeing the back of someone’s head tells a manager nothing about whether that person is actually working. When clients ask “How will I know if they’re working?” I ask “How do you know they are working now?” Management experts have been extolling the need to manage by results for over four decades. Micromanagement doesn’t work and neither does “managing by walking around” in this global, mobile world. If people are forced to work at home for an extended period, as it appears they will be, managers will have to learn that it’s results that matter.
When clients ask “How will I know if they’re working?” I ask “How do you know they are working now when they are in the office?”
The research also shows that managers who have worked at home themselves are more likely to endorse it for others. Their worries about lost productivity go away. As they and their people get used to using virtual tools, their worries about not being able to collaborate are proven wrong. And they see for themselves, just how much happier and engaged they are without the stress of commuting, being away from loved ones, workplace interruptions, etc.
Increased pressure for work-from-home for disaster preparedness
Over the past several years, the primary driver of work-at-home programs has been the attraction and retention of talent, but during the last recession, it was largely about saving money. Organizational leaders, desperate to shed costs, found they could do more with less real estate. Since that time, occupancy studies have shown just how inefficient office space was being used. Employees around the globe are not at their desk 50% to 60% of the time! That’s a huge waste of money.
Increased awareness of cost-saving opportunities in work-from-home
Covid-19, and all of the work disruption it caused, will not soon be forgotten by organizational leaders, shareholders, or other stakeholders. Those who were not ready this time will learn what worked and what didn’t work and be compelled—by investors in particular—to close the gaps so they are better prepared in the future.
Employees around the globe are not at their desk 50% to 60% of the time! That’s a huge waste of space and money.
Regardless of whether or not we slide into another recession as a result of Covid-19, the experience will likely cause employers to rethink the “where” and “how” of work.
Increased awareness of the potential impact of work-from-home on sustainability
One of the reasons climate change experts have a hard time getting people to change their habits is that the impact is hard to see. But even in the early days of the global response to Covid-19, we are starting to see a dramatic reduction in traffic, congestion, and pollution. While sadly, sustainability has not been a primary driver of remote work in recent years, being able to actually see the difference it can make may finally flip the switch for employers and employees.
The annual environmental impact of half-time remote work (for those who both want to work remotely and have a compatible job) would be the greenhouse gas equivalent of taking the entire NY State workforce off the road.
The fact is, there is no easier, quicker, and cheaper way to reduce your carbon footprint than by reducing commuter travel.
With ESG reporting and the need for more sustainable practices on the top of shareholder‘s and customer’s minds, they will see there is no easier, quicker, and cheaper way to reduce their carbon footprint than by reducing commuter travel.
Reduced Business Travel
The pandemic experience has caused company leaders to rethink the need for travel to meetings, conferences, etc. They have seen for themselves that while virtual meetings are not perfect or suited for all kinds of meetings, the financial and environmental savings suggest, there are many situations where good enough is good enough.
A typical employer can save about $11,000/year for every person who works remotely half of the time.
Distributed and remote work delivers cost savings for both employers and employees. A typical employer can save about $11,000/year for every person who works remotely half of the time. Employees can save between $2,500 and $4,000 a year (working remotely half the time) and even more if they are able to move to a less expensive area and work remotely full time.
We also estimate work-from-home initiatives will save U.S. employers over $30 Billion dollars a day during the Covid-19 crisis. This may be the tipping point for remote work. Here’s a link to a press release on the topic.
In the event of a disaster, work-at-home can save U.S. employers over $30 Billion a day in what would have otherwise been lost productivity.
About Global Workplace Analytics and Kate Lister
Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics (GWA) is one of the nation’s leading authorities on how holistic workplace strategies can maximize employer, employee, and environmental outcomes. She has helped government agencies, communities, and private sector employers not only transform their workplace strategies but quantify their impact.