Many have heralded work from home as the future of work. This, along with advances in technology, has made it easier than ever to keep in touch. And as hiring has become increasingly competitive over the past decade, employers have responded by expanding services such as work from home to give employees more flexibility.
However, the novel coronavirus outbreak has forced companies to encourage or hire employees to work from home. This unexpected challenge for employers managing remote workforces and for employees staying connected and productive at home can ultimately provide evidence of future work from home.
In this study, we analyze the current state of work from home using a unique set of hundreds of thousands of performance reviews on Glassdoor. We will first examine how many employees have access to work from home today (as of March 9, 2020) and how this has developed over the last ten years. We then examine which types of workers or employers are more likely to be able to access work from home, and examine how access differs according to employment status, industry, occupation and employer size.
With employers and employees alike forced to figure out how to do their work in new ways, it is especially timely to examine the state of work from home and how it has evolved over the years.
Access to work from home has doubled over the past decade
Currently, 54 percent of workers say they have access to home services in the United States, according to Glassdoor data. This represents a significant increase from just 28 percent of workers who reported access to the benefits in 2011. In the graph below, we show that access has risen steadily to today's high every year since 2011.
Satisfaction with working from home has also increased since the early 2010s and is now 4.3 out of 5. This compares with some of the top benefits such as health insurance (3.7 out of 5), vacation and paid time off ( 3.8) and 401 (k) plans (3.8) rate employee satisfaction much lower than the ability to work from home.
Interestingly, 11 percent of workers say they are unsure whether their employers offer work from home or not. This lack of clarity may be due to poorly communicated policies or social pressures not to work from home. Regardless of the reason, this represents a missed opportunity to educate employees about all of the benefits that are available to them.
While home-based benefits have increased rapidly over the past decade, some workers have less access to these benefits than others. While 52 percent of full-time employees stated that they had access to work from home between 2019 and 2020, only 20 percent of part-time and temporary workers stated that they had access to the same service.
Contract workers and freelancers also report a similar prevalence of home work as full-time workers, reflecting the diversity of contract work. While some contract workers are employed in jobs that require physical attendance, there are also many contract jobs in professional white-collar services such as graphic design or copywriting that can be done remotely.
And while part-time workers report far less access to work from home than full-time workers, their access has doubled in the past decade. However, the rapid pace of growth for both part-time and full-time workers has widened the gap in access to work from home. The gap in access to work from home between full-time and part-time workers started the decade of 2011 with a gap of 21 percentage points, which has now increased to 35 percentage points in 2020.
Access varies depending on the industry and profession
Technology and employer motivation aren't the only barriers to working from home. Some jobs and industries inevitably require workers to be physically present to do their jobs. For example, most food services, retail, transportation, and construction work must be done in person, whether it is directly interacting with customers or with goods. The following table summarizes these industries at the very bottom, with fewer than 3 in 10 employees having access to services from home.
In comparison, professional and technical services like information technology and insurance top the list. Almost 3 in 4 employees say they can work from home. Workers in these industries have mostly desk jobs and are less tied to a physical office. The tech industry in particular is known for its pioneering work in new ways of working and has done remote work early on.
Even so, it can be surprising that, for example, 11 percent of workers in the food industry can work from home. The numbers above expectations are due to the difference between industry and work. For example, a marketing manager at Burger King's headquarters works in the grocery business even though he doesn't work in a grocery store.
When comparing occupations, the inequality in access to work from home becomes even greater. In the following table we show the access to services from home for broad occupational groups. While 73 percent of workers in advisory professions say they can work from home, only 5 percent of workers in transport professions can do the same. The stark difference between more mobile desk jobs (e.g., communications, human resources, marketing) and jobs that require physical presence (e.g., healthcare, manufacturing, retail) is even more evident than between different industries.
Some professions don't fit this distinction between desk jobs and manual jobs properly. For example, although legal work is a professional service industry, only 41 percent of legal workers report being able to work from home.
Interestingly, access to work from home for counseling is exceptionally high, a full ten percentage points above the closest occupational group. Advice is, in some ways, the perfect opposite of transportation contracts, which are at the bottom of the list. While both professions involve travel, transport workers transport goods while consultants transport their services. Working from home is not possible when moving goods, but remote working is entirely possible if this is undesirable for consultants who travel frequently from their home office anyway.
For some jobs, the ability to offer work from home is limited by the type of work itself. For example, retail and food services are unlikely to be able to work from home anytime in the near future. Even so, advances in technology have made it possible for education and health workers to work remotely in ways previously thought impossible. These trends are reflected in the table below, which shows that work from home has increased for each occupation, although performance for professional and technical occupations has still increased the fastest.
Smallest employers have an advantage when they work from home
Half of the employees in companies with fewer than 50 employees report that they have access to work from home. While this is lower than that of the largest employers, workers in these small employers in particular report higher levels of satisfaction with their work from home than in medium to large employers, which allows small businesses to offer the best of both worlds: high access to Work from home options and high levels of satisfaction.
While large employers have the infrastructure and the ability to make work from home easier, small employers can benefit from leveraging close relationships to keep productivity and connectivity high when working remotely. Larger employers may also have more social pressures preventing workers from working from home. Medium-sized employers seem to be suffering from pressure from both sides, losing some of the satisfaction benefits of a smaller, tight-knit employer, and lacking the ability of larger employers to offer robust work from home.
How does work from home vary geographically?
Of the 15 states (including Washington, DC) with the greatest access to work from home, the first five – Washington, DC, Massachusetts, Virginia, New York, and Rhode Island – have access to a large urban subway area, characterized by a large concentration of skilled workers.
Interestingly, Washington State and California, which are home to major technology centers, are further down the list. This is likely due to the states' large and diverse economies, which employ workers in a variety of industries with less access to work from home.
However, major tech hubs like San Francisco, Calif., San Jose, Calif., And Seattle, Washington, still offer their employees a great deal of home work opportunities. Large cities, especially those with a high density of professional services, are also high on the list. However, there are a few midsize cities as well, including Raleigh-Durham, NC, Glassdoor's Best City for Jobs in 2020.
According to Glassdoor data, work from home benefits have grown dramatically over the past decade, and employers have doubled access to work from home options for American workers. However, access varies significantly between different professions, employers, industries and cities. While more than half of full-time employees now have access to services from home, only one in five part-time employees has the same access.
Although access to home services has increased in all industries and in the United States over the past decade, the rapid adoption of these policies in response to the coronavirus outbreak will undoubtedly change the way employers and workers view this type of offering . Ultimately, however, the bigger question is whether this disruptive period of time will mean permanent change in the workplace. As more companies are forced to reevaluate their work from home, we may see a broader realignment of the way Americans work.
In our research, we analyze a sample of tens of thousands of benefit ratings collected on Glassdoor. Reviewers will be asked to answer three questions (to see the review flow, click Here): 1) "Rate the service package as a whole." Required on a scale of 1 to 5. 2) "Select which services are offered." Users mark “Yes”, “No” or “Unsure” for at least 10 benefits. And 3) “rate
For this research we use data from 2011 to 2020. The data for 2020 are from the beginning of the year until March 9, 2020. To describe the current status of work from home access as a whole, we use data for 2020 since the beginning of the year. In describing the current state of affairs for different types of workers or employers, we use year-to-date data from 2019 to 2020 to increase our sample size and the reliability of our estimates.