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Remote work already dividing employees and employers

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A businesswoman works on a laptop as her son writes in a notebook.

Many freelancers have left full-time jobs for more flexible work, according to a new study. Ilona Titova via Getty Images

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As things get back to normal, a difference of opinion, one might call it, is emerging regarding: the office. 

Specifically, being in it. 

Some employers would like to have employees back there, but some employees … would rather not.

If you go to job site ZipRecruiter, about half of the people looking for work say they want to work remotely right now. 

“And almost half say they would like a remote job even after the pandemic is over,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist with ZipRecruiter, which is a current Marketplace underwriter, by the way.

Now, that’s what job seekers want. What they are being offered is something else.  

“Only about 9 or 10% of job postings explicitly offer the opportunity to work remotely,” Pollak said.

That’s a big increase from before the pandemic, when only 2% of job postings offered remote work as an option, but still. 

“There’s a big mismatch between what job seekers are looking for and what’s really available,” Pollak said.

But a lot of workers aren’t playing around when they say they want a remote option.

“One-third of respondents had said they were willing to take a pay cut in order to continue working remotely,” said Barbara Holland, with the Society for Human Resource Management, who surveyed workers back in February.

And given that employers have been screaming about a labor shortage, “I think it’s gonna shift our job market,” she said.

Some companies stand to gain. Dan Scott, a legal recruiter with Angott Search Group, said about 40% of his clients — midsize law firms — are open to remote work. 

“I am able to bring better people to those firms. It’s just a reality. Because they’re looking at the best people, they’re not looking at the best people in their market,” he said.

The reality right now is less a war between employers and employees and more a lot of experimenting.

“We’re going to see what works. We’re gonna make a lot of little mistakes so we don’t make big mistakes,” said Robert Sutton, an organizational psychologist at Stanford.

And of course, this is all connected to the tightness of the labor market. When unemployment benefits run out and kids go back to school, the conversation about remote work may be very different.

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