“Working from Home” Revelations

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 20 April 2021 00:00

Pre-pandemic, “earning the big bucks” involved donning traditional business attire and heading downtown to the office every day. Not now.

During the pandemic, moving up in the business world means having more and more freedom not to look or act like you’re part of the traditional business world.

These days, “going to the office” may mean merely rolling out of bed and heading to anywhere in your home you’d like to work or to where you last left your computer or phone. Jokes about “dressing traditional from the waist up” for Zoom-like office meetings focus on the superficial aspects of this workplace re-write.

For decades, employers equated “working from home” with employees “slacking off.” This productivity misconception meant advances in technology like WiFi and mobile computing did not spawn anticipated widespread teleworking or working over phone lines:

• Even tech industries creating the remote-work software and bolstering the internet kept their employees coming to the office. Giants like Apple and Google built monuments to their genius to captivate their thousands of workers on site.
• The real estate and development industries were dedicated to helping workers live as physically close to work as was affordable.
• Real estate value was tied to work proximity and convenient commutes.

Then the pandemic kicked in during the spring of 2020 and that traditional thinking came under attack.

More than a third of US households working from home report the shift to staying home is more common during the pandemic than before. According to Working from Home During the Pandemic, authored by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Journey to Work and Migration Statistics Branch, “those who switched to telework have higher income, education, and better health.”

This socio-economic pattern proves that the pandemic theme “we’re all in this together” is a misconception. 

Beyond medical inequalities, the pandemic is not, financially, socially, or work-wise, affecting everyone in the same way or to the same extent:

• Many industries and their must-go-to-work employees have been devastated by the pandemic. Real estate, on the other hand, is flourishing and not just because interest rates are low.

• Many individuals, families, and small businesses see the pandemic through the lens of a recession: lost income, lost jobs, homelessness, failure to pay expenses like rent or credit card debt, struggles with food insecurity…. Many of those who can work from home have earned more and saved more during the pandemic than before Covid hit. Their discovery that “you can work from anywhere” drives these home buyers out of major urban areas and condominiums to find their spacious “dream home.”

• Households with members who teleworked more frequently reported “higher levels of income and education and better health than those in which no one changed their typical in-person work in response to the pandemic.” Renovations to incorporate home office demands are a common result.

• All this means that skyrocketing real estate demand for “live anywhere” housing, up-grading square footage, and space-generating renovations does not include everyone.

Since August 2020, the Census Bureau has asked participants in the Household Pulse Survey*: “Did any adults in this household substitute some or all of their typical in-person work for telework because of the coronavirus pandemic, including yourself?”

Figure 1.  

Census Bureau findings include the following statistics, which are reflected in Figure 1:

• Among those surveyed between Aug. 19 and Dec. 21, 36.9% answered “yes.”

• Of those in poor health, 4 in 5 (79.9%) reported that no one in their household switched to telework or changed their telework habits, compared to just over half (52.4%) of those in excellent health.

• In the highest-earning households—those with annual incomes of $200,000 or more—73.1% switched to telework. This is more than double the percentage (32.1%) of households with incomes between $50,000 and $74,999, a range that includes the 2019 median U.S. household income ($65,712).

• Lowest-earning households were less likely to switch to telework. Only 12.7% of households earning under $25,000 reported teleworking in lieu of in-person work.

• Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher were more than three times as likely as those with a high school education or GED only to have an adult in their household substitute in-person work for telework: 61.7% compared to 19.1%.

• How respondents described their health status (as excellent, very good, good, fair or poor) also related to teleworking patterns. Those who reported excellent health were more than twice as likely as those who reported poor health to have had an adult in their household substitute in-person work for telework (47.6% versus 20.1%, respectively).

The public outcry to keep each other safe from the virus has put many on their best behavior. Employers are now often as intent on having employees shift to working from home as employees are themselves. This combined, and often collaborative, effort has improved work flexibility and established creative virtual solutions.

“However, even outside of the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, income, education, and health are closely correlated and their relationship to telework is one of a wide array of social and economic outcomes of interest to researchers and policymakers,” reports the Census Bureau statisticians, who may be among many teleworking in these challenging times.

Will pandemic telework patterns persist post-pandemic?

• “Work from anywhere” also means anyone in the world could take your job.
• Companies actively pursuing AI and machine learning may need fewer and fewer workers.
• When the Covid-19 spotlight is off them, employers may lower compensation for teleworkers claiming it’s cheaper and more fulfilling for them to work from home.


Resource Alert:   * Household Pulse Survey: Household Pulse Survey Public Use File (PUF)

Microdata files contain individual responses to survey questions. They can be used to create custom tabulations and allow users to delve further into the rich detail collected in the Household Pulse Survey (HPS). All weekly HPS microdata files are released two weeks after the Household Pulse Survey Data Tables. Each of the weekly releases include a Public Use Data File (PUF), a replicate weight data file, and a data dictionary.

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PJ Wade —       Decisions & Communities

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