Welcome to remote work's equilibrium point

The share of Americans working remotely because of COVID-19 is leveling off, per new government data.

The pandemic has been a once-in-a-lifetime chance for many people to reimagine their relationship with their jobs, unchaining them from the need to be at a particular desk under a particular set of fluorescent lights at a particular time every day.

  • WFH life opened new possibilities for people who couldn't relocate for work, or who struggle in office environments because of physical or mental disabilities.                                Just 7.1% of American workers teleworked because of the pandemic in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest report, down from 15.4% in January.
    • That figure has been hovering around 7%-8% since April, suggesting we've hit an equilibrium point.

    Remote work rates vary significantly based on industry.

    • A whopping 20% of "information" workers, 19.7% of those in finance/insurance, and 17.6% of those in "professional and technical services" worked from home last month, per BLS.                                                 
    • Compare that to just 2.2% in construction, 2.7% in transportation and warehousing, and 3.6% in retail (obviously, all fields that don't have a ton of remote-friendly roles).
    • BLS tracks whether people are working from home specifically because of the pandemic.

      • People who worked remotely before the pandemic aren't included in the figures.
      • Nor are people who started working remotely during the pandemic and came to love it, but may no longer consider COVID the primary factor keeping them home every day (hi!).                                        
      • Another report, from WFH Research, shows that people are working from home about 30% of the time — and, like the BLS data, that figure hasn't changed much in months.
      •  Diehard return-to-office bosses have had trouble recalling workers in this hot labor market because people who want to stay remote have little trouble finding new, WFH-friendly gigs.

        • But the tables may turn at breakneck speed if there's a recession and workers suddenly find themselves hunting for a job, any job.

         The latest COVID variants may scare people into staying home — slowing or reversing the back-to-the-office trend.      

        I'm as big a work-from-home fan as you'll find, but even I miss office life sometimes for reasons both personal and professional. Ever try gathering 'round the watercooler with your cats? They're not great conversationalists.

        For many workers, remote work looks like it's here to stay — but early pandemic-era prognostications about the impending death of office life were greatly exaggerated.

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