About 29% of workers have the option to work from home and 57% have flexible schedules in which they are able to vary the times they work, according to data released today by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data come from a supplement to the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), which was fielded in 2017-2018.
The questions were newly redesigned, so it is difficult to track changes over time. But viewing the survey alongside other data sources suggests a clear upward trend towards more flexible and remote work over the past five years.
The American Working Conditions Survey (AWCS), for example, found that only 38% of workers could adapt their working hours within certain limits in 2015, far fewer than the 57% who said so in the 2017-2018 ATUS supplement. The 2015 AWCS also found that presence in the workplace was a requirement for 78% of workers, with the option to telecommute only available for a smaller minority of workers.
The increase in flexible and remote work reflects changing work norms, facilitated by the diffusion of technologies like videoconferencing and office chat apps. It is particularly good news for three groups of workers: working parents, semi-retirees, and displaced workers.
1. Working parents, especially mothers, are more likely to exercise the option to work from home to coordinate their work schedule with family needs, according to the ATUS data. As telecommuting becomes more widespread, mothers could come to face fewer disadvantages in the workplace.
2. Many older workers are remaining in the workforce beyond retirement eligibility, and retirees are “unretiring” and coming back to work. Flexible schedules and work-from-home opportunities are particularly popular among this group of workers.
3. Displaced workers in towns that have lost their major industry, be it a coal mine or car factory, often find it extremely challenging to find new jobs–let alone jobs that pay as well. And for many, moving to a place with more job opportunities is not an option, due to family ties and differences in the cost of living. As working from home or remotely becomes more of an accepted norm, living in a town that experiences economic disruption may no longer cut one off from career opportunities.