COVID-19 Reveals How Many Actually Can Work From Home
Study: 34% can and nearly half could in some cities
Working from home? The world’s in a miserable and frightening pandemic right now, but try for a moment to think of only this: Do you prefer working from your home, skipping the commute and the time wasted at the office?
If so, give yourself a side project in the weeks and months ahead when so many of us are sheltering in place and won’t be going to the office or other workplaces: Document for yourself, and possibly your employer, your time saved, improved productivity, better life balance and personal wellbeing. All difficult to separate out amid a crisis that has many worried, literally, about staying alive. But when the dust settles from COVID-19, you may be armed with the information to show to a newly flexible boss that coming to the office isn’t so important.
And that could have an enormous impact on your happiness, your personal finances and your health. And it’s entirely possible that the long-expressed resistance of companies and individual bosses to WFH arrangements will decline markedly after they see how well the arrangement has worked during this emergency.
Now, some news: In March, Researchers at the University of Chicago, analyzing government data on employment, incomes and industries, concluded that 34% of U.S. jobs can “plausibly be performed at home.” The jobs tend to be higher-skilled and professional, though not all, and are most concentrated in metropolitan areas heavy with technology employers. Thus those 34% of all jobs represent 44% of all wages in the U.S.
The San Jose, California, area is No. 1 on the list, with an estimate that 48% of its jobs can be done at home. Just 75 miles away, in Stockton, where incomes and education levels are lower, a national low (among the 100 largest metro areas by employment) of 26% of jobs can be done at home, the study estimates.
Rounding out the top five are the Washington, D.C., area (46%); Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina (43%); Austin-Round Rock, Texas (43%); and San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward (42%).
The link to the University of Chicago study has a nice map showing the concentration of workable-from-home occupations across the country, and one might surmise that these areas, already outperforming the national economy in many cases, could snap back from the COVID-induced recession faster and also have greater long-term prosperity.
A full list of the 100 metro areas and a ranking of occupations by work-from-home plausibility can be found here: https://github.com/jdingel/DingelNeiman-workathome
All right, back to your situation. As you’re stockpiling ammunition to argue for a WFH arrangement, you might ask yourself a further question: If I could truly work remotely, coming into the office, say, quarterly, at most, where would I really like to live? In a pre-crisis column, I wrote about taking your big city paycheck to a smaller metro area with cheaper housing, nice schools, attractive weather and recreation opportunities: https://www.rate.com/research/news/work-home-savings
And for that discussion with your boss – what’s in it for the company? – my colleague Neal Templin wrote about the substantial savings and increased productivity companies and workers enjoy from WFH arrangement: https://www.rate.com/research/news/persuade-boss-work-remote
The savings could be roughly $24,000 per employee. Also: lower turnover and absenteeism, far less global-warming pollution, and other benefits. Here’s another tool for estimating benefits: https://www.owllabs.com/blog/remote-work-statistics
Keep in mind, your experience during a social distancing mandate won’t be a true representation of what telework is like because so many of the benefits — running errands, hitting the gym at off-peak hours — aren’t available. And if you’re a working parent, you’re probably feeling even more burdened with the dual role of employee and home-school teacher.
But there are some hard numbers you can crunch right now. Use a commuting cost calculator to see how many thousands of dollars a year you’d save on gasoline, parking, depreciation of your car and other items.
Just as valuable is the time you save. Don’t just think about your transit time, but factor in your time spent saying hello or goodbye to coworkers, stopping for coffee or whatever rituals are included. For example, my actual commute on public transit used to be about 40 minutes. But in real time, my commute took an hour each way.
Next, think about your routine in the office. Let’s be honest — who really works eight hours straight through the day? We all take breaks, talk with coworkers or otherwise have little respites to recharge. For myself, those little breaks conservatively added up to about an hour each day. Add that to the commute time, and I get three “found” hours each workday. That roughly works out to about 30 days of time a year.
When I first started working from home part-time, I thought I would use the extra time to visit my then-baby at daycare. Instead, I found myself cleaning, running errands, working on side projects and pulling weeds in the garden. I took care of the annoying, ankle-biter tasks that I’d previously designated for weekends. So, I gained family time on the weekends.
When my husband and I started working from home full time, we moved out of the burbs and to the country. We got more house for our buck, a lower cost of living, and public schools just as competitive as the ones we left behind.
The COVID-19 WFH mandate, your own experience in the weeks and months ahead, and the University of Chicago study, should help you make a case to continue working from home, if that’s your preference.