Remote Work: A Win-Win-Win for Employees, Employers, and the Economy

The pandemic-induced 50-year acceleration in the shift to remote work has now firmly taken root as a win-win-win for workers, businesses, and the economy. 

For workers, it offers the chance to access distant opportunities, save time and money, lower the risk of contracting Covid, escape gas price inflation, work from anywhere, and spend more time with family. For businesses, it provides access to a wider and more diverse talent pool, reduces real estate and overhead costs, and increases labor productivity while reducing absenteeism. And on a national scale, it may help us avoid a wage-price spiral.

To be sure, the shift to remote work presents challenges, many of which are only just starting to receive serious attention. For example, there are concerns that deserted cities may no longer be able to maintain their budgets and services, and that buildings in central business districts may sit vacant for decades, given the barriers to converting commercial property for residential use.

But it is increasingly becoming clear that remote work is here to stay. This report explores the latest remote work trends in job search and hiring, drawing on data from the ZipRecruiter marketplace and from ZipRecruiter surveys. 

Sections

Who Wants Remote Work

The Majority of Job Seekers Want Remote Work

Overall, job seekers express a strong preference for remote work, with more than 60% of respondents in each of our monthly surveys in 2022 saying that they hope to find remote opportunities. About 20% say they only want to work remotely, and about 40% say they would prefer to work remotely most of the time, even though they are open to accepting other arrangements. Job seekers’ overall preferences for remote work have remained remarkably stable1 since the start of the year.

1. ZipRecruiter monthly Job Seeker Confidence Survey based on an online sample administered by Qualtrics on behalf of ZipRecruiter to 1,500 job seekers between the 10th and 16th each month of 2022 and weighted to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. Respondents may be employed, unemployed, or not currently in the labor force, but must reside in the United States and have indicated a desire to find a new job "in the next six months" in order to be included in the sample.

Many job seekers have become enthusiastic about remote work after first experiencing it early during the pandemic. About 13% of job seekers surveyed in May said they were able to keep working for the same employer but switched to working remotely during the pandemic. When we surveyed U.S. residents who had been hired in the prior six months, 14% of job switchers said they had gained the ability to work remotely through their job move2.

Among employed job seekers surveyed in August, 11% said they are dissatisfied with their current job and looking for an alternative because they want to shift to working from home. Among unemployed job seekers who had already quit their previous job as of August, about 8% said they had quit because they wanted to work from home.

2. Nationally representative survey of 2,000+ U.S. residents who are currently employed and started their jobs in the prior 6 months, conducted by ZipRecruiter, Inc. and fielded February 9–February 21, 2022.

For Job Seekers, Remote Work Means Opportunity, Mobility, Health, Wealth, Work-Life Balance

The reasons job seekers provide for wanting remote work have changed substantially over the course of the year, however. Health and safety concerns were a key consideration for nearly half of all job seekers in January at the peak of the Omicron surge in Covid cases, but have since tracked the pattern in Covid infections. Only 1 in 3 cited them as a major motivation in June, July, and August.

Commuting costs were an important concern for half of respondents in January, when the average retail gasoline price nationwide was under $3.503, but were an important concern for nearly two in three respondents in July, when the average retail gasoline price nationwide was around $4.75. Commuting costs have become more salient as companies have called workers back to offices and as the costs of gasoline and cars have risen. 34% of job seekers surveyed in July said gas price inflation had made them more likely to look for remote work.

3. U.S. Energy Information Administration, at https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_pri_gnd_dcus_nus_w.htm.

On average, current job seekers say that they would be prepared to take a 14% pay cut to work remotely. Perhaps surprisingly, younger workers say they would be prepared to forgo a larger share of their earnings than older workers. Job seekers with young children under the age of six years value the opportunity to work remotely most highly, and equate it to receiving a 20% pay cut.

Job seekers value the flexibility to work remotely more highly as their incomes rise. Job seekers earning more than $115k a year say they would take a 20% pay cut to work remotely. While a larger share of women say they would prefer remote work, there is no gender difference in the monetary value they place on the opportunity.

Remote Work Can Help Companies Recruit and Retain Women, Minorities, and Most Educated Workers

Women consistently value remote work opportunities more highly than men do, and cite multiple reasons for preferring it. For example, they are more likely to be concerned about workplace risks to health and safety than men are. They are also more likely to want the ability to balance work with caregiving responsibilities, and to value the ability to multitask and conduct household tasks during the work day.

In recent months, as the pandemic has become less salient for many people, the share of women who say they would prefer remote work has ticked downwards, but it remains well above 60%. Remote work can therefore be a valuable tool for businesses that want to improve their recruitment and retention of women.

Minority job seekers are generally more likely than whites to say they want remote work, for a host of different reasons. Black respondents are most likely to cite commuting costs as a motivation for wanting remote work; Asian respondents are most likely to cite health risks; and Hispanic respondents are most likely to cite childcare and elder care responsibilities.

That is just one reason remote work can help companies meet their diversity goals. The other reason is that allowing employees to work from anywhere allows companies to recruit from anywhere. If a company is located in Palo Alto, CA, for example, and requires employees to come to the office every day, it is confined to recruiting in one of the most expensive cities where African Americans and Hispanics are vastly underrepresented. If, instead, it recruits remote workers, it can reach out to candidates anywhere to in the U.S..

Finally, preference for remote work is positively associated with educational attainment. The most highly educated workers are more likely to say they prefer remote work because it makes them more productive. Remote work can therefore be a valuable tool for recruiting scientists, engineers, lawyers, and other highly educated candidates who thrive on autonomy and flexibility.

There Remain Some Unfortunate Misalignments Between Job Seekers' Remote Work Preferences and Opportunities

The most highly educated workers are both more likely to say they prefer remote work and to be employed in the occupations and industries where remote work opportunities are most prevalent. While job seeker preferences and labor market conditions are aligned along some dimensions, such as education, there is considerable misalignment along others.

For example, while women and minorities tend to value remote work most highly, they are overrepresented in occupations and industries where remote work is scarce, such as nursing, teaching, retail, food preparation, food service, housekeeping, and personal care services.

Who is Offering Remote Work

A Growing Share of Jobs Offers Remote Work

The share of job postings offering remote work was slowly growing before the pandemic, thanks to the rise of technologies such as cloud computing and video conferencing, but the trend accelerated at the start of the pandemic, and has continued to build. While about 12% of job postings overall now explicitly state that employees may work remotely, there is considerable variation across industries, with less than 1 in 50 job postings offering remote work in transportation and storage (unsurprisingly), but more than 1 in 4 job postings offering it in the technology sector.

In some industries, such as technology, employees and employers have largely benefited from the pandemic-induced remote work experiment, and continue to expand upon it. In other industries, such as education, remote work was a temporary measure with limited success. And in other still, it was a non-starter, due to the nature of the tasks required.

Where remote work is limited

About 37% of the jobs in the U.S. economy can feasibly be performed remotely, according to a study that analyzed the tasks involved in various occupations. But the rest—such as jobs concerned with passenger or freight transportation, storage, restaurants, and brick-and-mortar stores—simply cannot. Without the ability to provide their goods and services virtually, businesses in low-remote industries lost the most employees and revenue during the pandemic, and faced some of the toughest challenges restaffing once business resumed.

Where remote work is in reverse

In other industries that are poorly suited to remote work, many organizations were nevertheless forced to adopt it as a temporary measure during pandemic lockdowns, but are now returning to in-person operations. In education, for example, the research is unambiguous: distance learning led to less teaching and poorer academic outcomes. After two years of virtual workouts, for example, many Americans are only too happy to return to gyms.

Where remote work has plateaued

In another set of industries, remote work opportunities expanded earlier in the pandemic but have since leveled off. Many office jobs in these industries are now performed remotely, but other jobs must still be performed in factories, at open houses, and at concert venues.

Where remote work is expanding

There may be substantially more potential for remote work ahead. Theoretically, 85% of tech jobs could potentially be performed remotely, economists say, and yet fewer than 30% are explicitly advertised as remote on ZipRecruiter. In fact, across multiple industries, there is substantially more potential for jobs to become remote.

The chart below shows the share of jobs currently advertised as remote on ZipRecruiter and the remaining share that could potentially be remote, according to economists Jonathan Dingel and Brent Neiman.

Whether more jobs should become remote is still being hotly debated, with professional associations, unions, and other stakeholders still weighing in. For example, a committee in the House of Representatives has voted to advance legislation expanding federal government workers’ access to telework. Doing so would help level the playing field with private sector employers and give the government a better chance to recruit and retain top talent, particularly in fields like cybersecurity where agencies are chronically understaffed and private-sector pay tends to be higher.

The American Bar Association published guidelines on remote law practice in 2021, and ever more law firms are now reducing their office footprints. Remote work is also becoming more widespread in engineering and scientific research.

As remote work becomes an institutionalized norm in these industries, recruiting practices are evolving, and so are candidate expectations. As law students see ever more major law firms hire remote associates, for example, their career plans and goals are changing accordingly. The upcoming generation of young lawyers will likely have a very different experience of firm life than the generations before them.

Top 20 remote-friendly organizations in 2022

Some companies have already fully embraced remote work. Airbnb, for example, has publicly declared that employees may live and work from anywhere. The company has also made supporting remote work a key part of its brand and product offerings.

Below is a list of companies that posted the largest numbers of remote jobs on ZipRecruiter in 2022 to date. Given the continuing expansion of remote roles in healthcare, it’s unsurprising to see some of the largest healthcare companies topping the list of remote-friendly organizations.

How Remote Work is Improving the Labor Market

Remote Work Leads to More Matches, and Better Matches

Before the rise of remote work, it was well-known that people’s proximity to employment opportunities mattered tremendously for their chances in any hiring process. Transportation is time-consuming and costly for workers, with long commute times known to cause stress, unhappiness, and attrition. So employers routinely redline candidates for in-person roles who live more than about 45 minutes away.

Converting in-person roles to remote roles immediately expands the available talent pool by several orders of magnitude. Remote jobs on ZipRecruiter attract 2.6 times as many unique clicks as those for in-person jobs. They also attract higher-quality applicants, with employers significantly more likely to be satisfied with job applications submitted for remote roles than for in-person roles. Remote jobs account for an outsize share of job posting views and job applications received on ZipRecruiter.

Even after job seekers find a remote job and work there for several months, they tend to be happier with their jobs and expect to stay in their roles longer, according to surveys conducted by ZipRecruiter. In a recent ZipRecruiter survey of U.S. residents who started new jobs in the prior six months, those in remote roles were more likely to say that they felt satisfied with their new job and expect to stay in the role long-term.

A National Spillover Benefit: Reduced Wage Growth Pressure and Inflation

By mid-year, inflation topped the list of concerns facing Americans, and the Federal Reserve was warning that reducing inflation would likely cause pain for households and businesses. But the problem would likely be even more severe without the pandemic-induced shift to remote work.

According to recent research4, remote work has lowered wage growth by 2 percentage points over the course of the past two years. ZipRecruiter data clearly show that it is the industries with the highest shares of remote job postings that have seen the lowest wage growth over the past year.

Not only do job seekers and employees say in surveys that they would be willing to take a 14% pay cut, on average, to be able to work remotely. They do appear to accept slower wage growth in practice. Remote work may, then, have been just the relief valve the economy needed during the pandemic to avoid more severe overheating.

4. Barrero, J. M., Bloom, N., Davis, S. J., Meyer, B. H., & Mihaylov, E. (2022). The Shift to Remote Work Lessens Wage-Growth Pressures (No. w30197). National Bureau of Economic Research.

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