Work from home rates have reached a new normal

Elizabeth Trovall Jun 28, 2024
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A man works from his at-home office. If anything, work from home rates will only increase over time, says economist José María Barrero, thanks to technology that makes virtual collaboration possible. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Work from home rates have reached a new normal

Elizabeth Trovall Jun 28, 2024
Heard on:
A man works from his at-home office. If anything, work from home rates will only increase over time, says economist José María Barrero, thanks to technology that makes virtual collaboration possible. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images
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From inflation to GDP growth, “normalization” has been the story of the U.S. economy as of late. And, according to new data out from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we can add “work from home” to that list.

The American Time Use survey data shows that in 2023, 35% of employed people did some or all of their work at home. While that’s more than ten percentage points higher than 2019, the new number didn’t change much from the year before as workplaces have really settled into their new normal.

There’s something special about the data from the BLS: Imagine a bunch of American workers filling out diaries of how they spend their time, said Daniel Hamermesh, an economist at the University of Texas at Austin.

“The beauty of the diaries is you fill it out when you start an activity when you finish an activity or at least you do it in retrospect over a day. And that’s gotta be 24 hours. No fooling around,” he said.

The data reflects people’s routines — work, leisure, childcare — in 2023. But Hamermesh doubts that much has changed today. So if the work from home rate is hovering around 35%, can we go ahead and chisel that into stone?

“You’d use something a little bit less durable than stone because something could come along, just as COVID did to completely surprise people,” he said. “So yes it’s interesting, (if) nothing else happens of totally revolutionary importance, it will be this way for quite a while, I predict.” 

That work from home rate has leveled off in the past couple of years. And looking ahead, economist José María Barrero with the Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology, said “if anything work from home is likely to increase in the long term.”

The reason? Technology, he said.

Technology that makes it even easier to do our jobs at home in our pajama pants. But many employees did actually have to put their work pants on in 2023 — in fact, the BLS data show that there was also an increase of people who went into the workplace, either sometimes or full time.  

“There may be a move towards more hybrid work,” said Emma Harrington, an economics professor at the University of Virginia.

She said there are benefits to the hybrid model. You get focus time at home for cranking out tasks. “And then also some of the more collaborative time in the office where you’re having those, you know, inspirational water cooler chats,” she said.

For some, it’s the best of both worlds. 

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