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Tech Culture

Remote Work Is Great but Far from Universal

Mar 12th, 2020 7:00am by
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In response to COVID-19 worldwide pandemic, large swathes of the world are temporarily being asked to avoid travel, commuting and working in the office. Advocates of telecommuting and remote work have the world’s attention, and data describes the pros and cons of working at home. The results of many surveys show that people want work-life balance. They believe that flexibility in where they work provides work-life balance but are not en masse seeking 100% remote jobs.

Reality check: Only 5% of workers in America primarily work at home according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That figure skyrockets if we think more broadly about business travel, co-working facilities and other reasons employees are separated from co-workers. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, 43% of employees work away from their team members at least some of the time.

In 2019, a 1,000+ survey of US workers conducted by Owl Labs, which sells videoconferencing equipment, 62% work remotely at least part of the time. That study found that offering remote work opportunities influences decisions about changing jobs, but only up to a point. While 45% of on-site workers would take a 5% pay cut to work remotely, that figure drops to a mere 13% if the proposed cut was 10% or more.

Source: “The Dice 2020 Tech Salary Report”.

Focusing more narrowly on the IT sector, 60% of the 12,000+ survey of Dice (a tech job search site) work remotely at least a few days a month. If their companies allowed remote work for their job role, 79% would prefer to work remotely at least one day a week; however, much fewer (22%) want to be 100% remote. Indeed, work-life balance and remote work options are cited as the top two “motivators” provided by employers. In fact, 51% of technologists dissatisfied with their employer never work remotely, while only 33% of the satisfied cohort never work remotely.

Now, let’s take a look at The Remote Work Report by GitLab, which is based on 3,000 adult professionals who either work remotely or have the option to do so AND are in job roles that have “digital output.” Although 36% of their employers have policies that permit 100% remote work, only 16% actually do so.

If the ability to work remotely was taken away from them, 36% of GitLab’s respondents would actively search for a new job or seek to be self-employed. Furthermore, 43% of remote workers feel it is important to work for a company where all employees work remotely. Since the study’s sponsor markets itself as a 100% remote company, we are cautious about over-interpreting the finding. How important is it, and how would this type of policy impact employment decisions?

Overall, the study confirms the findings of the other research we’ve analyzed and validates the reasons why remote work is popular. The data shows why remote work is a net-positive, but the report spent too much time trying to knock down rhetorical straw men.

Source: The Remote Work Report by GitLab.

Additional Takeaways

Many remote employees happily work long hours. Forty percent of remote workers work more than 40 hours a week because they enjoy what they do, and 71% of remote workers are happy in their job. In stark contrast, only 38% of on-site workers take on more than 40 hours a week for the joy of it, and 55% are happy with their jobs. Source: Owl Labs’ “State of Remote Work 2019.”

Remote and flex options are considered important, but many employees do not have this benefit. However, training and education may be a bigger unmet need as 43% of tech employees consider this to be an important but do not currently receive this benefit. Source: “The Dice 2020 Tech Salary Report.”

Promoting coworking as a new benefit may not dramatically increase the amount of people that use a coworking locations. Although 28% of respondents’ employers at least partially cover a coworking membership, 19% say that is one of the top two places to work. Based a question not included in this chart, only 7% primarily operate out of a coworking space and another 12% say it is their second most commonly used location. Source: Buffer, and AngelLists “2020 State of Remote Work”, which surveyed 3,500 remote workers, of which 57% do so all the time.

54% of the enterprise IT workforce are full-time in an office, while 14% are full-time remote according to Flexera’s “2020 Digital Transformation Planning Report,” which surveyed 302 CIOs and senior IT executives at companies with more than 2,000 employees. Although the study was fielded before the COVID-19 outbreak, 55% were still expecting to increase staffing investments in remote work, with only 8% expecting a decline.

Author’s Note

The apparent economic slowdown we face highlights a stark digital divide between white-collar and blue-collar professions, and between services that can be delivered electronically versus the rest of the economy. There is an immense amount of academic and other high-quality research on the subjects covered in this article. However, we also came across a plethora of not-so-credible articles, many of which cite similar statistics, which upon further review are over 15 years old.

Feature image by Screamenteagle from Pixabay.

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TNS owner Insight Partners is an investor in: Census.
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