Thirty-three percent of Americans are currently not working, while 26% are primarily essential workers still reporting to their place of business. But the majority (42%) of America’s workforce is now working from home, according to a recent interview with Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom.
Bloom’s research highlights the promises and challenges of this widespread shift to remote work during the economic shutdown. Remote workers, Bloom says, are the country’s hope for keeping the economy afloat while supporting social distancing efforts. They now account for more than 60% of economic activity in the U.S.
But remote work doesn’t work for everyone. Survey results indicate that while more than half (51%) of work-from-home employees said their efficiency rate was 80% or more, most of those employees have the technology necessary to complete their day-to-day tasks.
Telecommuting is difficult for employees who have more hands-on, customer-facing, and direct service roles. And even if they can do their tasks outside the worksite, many Americans don’t have the same resources at home as they would at the office — like a designated workspace and a fast, reliable internet connection. Roughly half the employees now working from home have to work from a bedroom or shared room, not a private room. And only 65% have an internet connection that’s sufficient for video conferencing. That leaves 35% trying to be productive with a poor internet connection.
Bloom’s research also reveals that educated, higher-paid employees are more likely to work from home, giving them job security and career advancement opportunities amid the pandemic. About 85% of the employees in Bloom’s survey who reported working from home were college-educated, and 60% were in the highest quarter in terms of income level.
This disparity puts those who lack the resources to work from home or have a job that isn’t suitable for remote work at a disadvantage. And the longer the shutdown continues, the harder it will be for them to keep up.
But now that telecommuting has gone from stigmatized to essential, it’s likely that many companies will make remote work part of their long-term plans. Pre-COVID, only 5% of working days were spent at home. Bloom reports that work-from-home days will likely make up about 20% of working days as things stabilize, and many businesses will allow employees to continue working from home for one to three days a week.