Many have heralded work from home arrangements as the future of work. This, coupled with advances in technology, have made it easier than ever to stay connected. And crucially, as hiring has become increasingly competitive over the past decade, employers have responded by expanding benefits like working from home to give employees more flexibility.
However, the novel coronavirus outbreak has forced companies’ hands to encourage or mandate employees to work from home. This unexpected challenge for employers to manage remote workforces and for employees to remain interconnected and productive at home may ultimately offer a proving ground for future work from home policies.
In this research, we analyze the current state of work from home benefits using a unique dataset of hundreds of thousands of benefits reviews on Glassdoor. We first examine how many workers today (as of March 9, 2020) have access to work from home options and how that has evolved over the last decade. We then investigate what types of workers or employers are more likely to have access to work from home options, studying how access varies by employment status, industry, occupation, and employer size.
As employers and employees alike are forced to figure out how to do their jobs in new ways, examining the state of work from home policies and how they have evolved over the years is especially timely.
Access to Work from Home Policies Has Doubled Over Last Decade
Currently, 54 percent of workers report having access to work from home benefits in the United States, according to Glassdoor data. That represents a substantial increase from only 28 percent of workers reporting access to the benefit in 2011. In the chart below, we show that access has steadily increased each year from 2011 to today’s high.
Satisfaction with work from home benefits has also increased from the early 2010s, now reaching 4.3 out of 5. By comparison, some of the most prominent benefits, like health insurance (3.7 out of 5), vacation & paid time off (3.8), and 401(k) plans (3.8), a rate much lower than the ability to work from home in terms of employee satisfaction.
Interestingly, 11 percent of workers report being unsure whether their employers offer work from home benefits or not. This lack of clarity may reflect poorly communicated policies or social pressure not to work from home. Regardless of the reason, this does represent a missed opportunity to educate employees on the full range of benefits they have available to them.
While work from home benefits has increased rapidly over the last decade, some workers have less access to these benefits than others. While 52 percent of full-time workers from 2019–2020 report having access to work from home benefits, only 20 percent of part-time and temporary workers report access to the same benefit.
Contract and freelance workers also report a similar prevalence of work from home options as full-time workers, reflecting the diverse nature of contract work. While some contract workers are employed in jobs that require being physically present, there are also many contract jobs in white-collar professional services like graphic design or copywriting which can be done remotely.
And while part-time workers report far lower access to work from home options than full-time employees, their access has nevertheless also doubled over the last decade. The rapid pace of growth for both part-time and full-time workers, however, has actually widened the gap in access to work from home benefits. The gap in access to work from home benefits between full-time and part-time workers started the decade at a 21 percentage point gap in 2011, which has now expanded to 35 percentage points in 2020.
Access Varies by Industry and Occupation
Technology and employer motivation are not the only barriers to work from home arrangements. Some jobs and industries by necessity require workers to be physically present in order to do their jobs. For example, most jobs in food services, retail, transportation, and construction must be done in person, whether interacting directly with customers or with goods. In the chart below, those industries are grouped near the bottom, with fewer than 3 in 10 employees having access to work from home benefits.
By comparison, professional and technical services like information technology and insurance top the list with almost 3 in 4 employees reporting the ability to work from home. Workers in these industries primarily have desk jobs and are less tied to a physical office. The tech industry, in particular, is known for pioneering new modes of work and has been an early adopter of remote work.
Even so, it may be surprising to see, for example, that 11 percent of workers in the food services industry can make work from home arrangements. The higher-than-expected figures can be attributed to the difference between industry and occupation. A marketing manager at Burger King’s headquarters, for example, works in the food services industry despite not working in a food services occupation.
When comparing across occupations, the disparity in access to work from home policies becomes even larger. In the chart below, we show access to work from home benefits for broad occupation groups. While 73 percent of workers in consulting occupations report being able to work from home, only 5 percent of workers in transportation occupations can do the same. The stark difference between desk jobs that are more mobile (e.g. communications, HR, marketing) and jobs that require a physical presence (e.g. healthcare, manufacturing, retail) is even more obvious than it is between different industries.
Some occupations do not fit cleanly into this distinction between desk jobs and manual jobs. For example, even though legal work is a professional services industry, only 41 percent of workers in legal occupations report being able to work from home.
Interestingly, access to work from home options is exceptionally high for consulting, a full ten percentage points above the next occupation group. Consulting in some ways is the perfect opposite of transportation jobs, which are at the bottom of the list. While both occupations involve travel, transportation workers are transporting goods, whereas consultants are transporting their services. Working from home is not possible when transporting goods, but working remotely is fully possible if not desirable for consultants who may be traveling away from their home office often anyway.
For some jobs, the ability to offer work from home arrangements is constrained by the nature of the work itself. For example, it is unlikely that retail and food services jobs will allow work from home anytime in the near future. Even so, advances in technology have made working remotely possible even for education and healthcare workers in ways previously thought impossible. Those trends are reflected in the chart below, which shows that work from home policies have increased for every occupation group, though benefits have still grown fastest for professional and technical jobs.
Smallest Employers Have an Advantage Offering Work from Home
Half of the employees working at companies with less than 50 employees report having access to work from home options. While this is lower than at the largest employers, workers at these small employers notably report higher levels of satisfaction with their work from home options than medium-to-large employers, positioning small businesses as offering the best of both worlds: high access to work from home options and high levels of satisfaction.
While large employers have the infrastructure and ability to more easily offer work from home arrangements, small employers may benefit from being able to leverage close relationships to keep productivity and connectedness high when working remotely. Larger employers may also have more social pressure discouraging employees from working from home. Medium-sized employers appear to suffer from pressures from both sides, losing some of the satisfaction benefits of being a smaller, close-knit employer while also lacking the capabilities of larger employers to offer robust work from home arrangements.
How Does Work from Home Access Vary Geographically?
Of the top 15 states (including Washington, D.C.) with the most access to work from home arrangements, the first five—Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, Virginia, New York, and Rhode Island—all feature access to a major urban metro area characterized by a large concentration of professional services workers.
Interestingly, Washington state and California, home to major tech hubs, are further down the list. This is likely due to the states’ large and diverse economies, which employ workers across a wide variety of industries that have less access to work from home arrangements.
However, major tech hubs—such as San Francisco, CA, San Jose, CA and Seattle, WA—still provide high levels of work from home options for their workforces. Large cities, especially ones with a high density of professional services, also feature prominently on the list. There are, however, some mid-sized cities as well, including Raleigh-Durham, NC, Glassdoor’s #1 Best City for Jobs in 2020.
According to Glassdoor data, work from home benefits have expanded dramatically over the last decade, with employers doubling access to work from home options for American workers. However, access varies substantially among different occupations, employers, industries and cities. While over half of full-time workers have access to work from home benefits today, only 1 in 5 part-time workers have the same access.
Although access to work from home benefits has grown across industries and the U.S. over the last decade, the recent rapid adoption of these policies in response to the coronavirus outbreak will, without a doubt, change how both employers and employees view this type of offering. Ultimately, however, the larger question is whether this disruptive period of time will mark a permanent sea change for the workplace. As more companies are forced to re-evaluate their work from home policies, we may see a broader realignment in how Americans work.