Working From Home Will Stick Post-Pandemic, Experts Say

May 13, 2021 by Reece Nations

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research contends that working from home may be here to stay after the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided.

The paper — authored jointly by Steven Davis of the University of Chicago, Jose Maria Barrero of Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, and Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University — examines survey information and other data to investigate and explain the shift towards working from home. 

“COVID-19 triggered a mass social experiment in working from home,” the text of the research paper, entitled Why Working From Home Will Stick©, states. “Americans, for example, supplied roughly half of paid work hours from home between April and December 2020, as compared to 5% before the pandemic. This seismic shift in working arrangements has attracted no shortage of opinions about whether WFH will stick.” 

In the paper, the experts conclude this “experiment” triggered by the pandemic forced businesses to tailor their practices specifically for WFH arrangements. By taking this course of action, many employers may have unwittingly created tangible benefits in their workplaces which are likely to stick post-pandemic. 

The experts examined “Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes” data from over 30,000 Americans for the research paper. The shift in working accommodations for some post-pandemic is expected to disproportionately benefit workers who are highly-educated and well-paid. 

The researcher’s data on employer plans and the relative productivity of working from home suggest a productivity boost of 5% to the country’s post-pandemic economy because of “re-optimized working arrangements.” This shift towards expanded WFH accommodations is projected to reduce spending in major city centers by anywhere from 5-10% due to reduced commuting costs, relative to the pre-pandemic economic outlook of the region. 

“Respondents report lingering concerns about contagion and proximity to others, even as vaccinations have become widely available and more widespread,” Barrero tweeted, suggesting concerns about contagion risks will also contribute to the WFH shift. 

Because of new investments in capital that enable sustained WFH practices, better-than-expected WFH experiences throughout the pandemic, diminished WFH stigmatization post-pandemic, and a surge in technological innovations that improve the practice, among other factors, the experts posit this could result in permanent accommodations for some Americans going forward. 

Because these newfound productivity gains do not account for time savings from reduced commuting, only about one-fifth of the gains will appear in conventional productivity measures. Working from home arrangements were feasible for roughly half of the employees in the Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes, which typically entails hybrid scheduling of two workdays per week at home.

“Employer plans imply that the extent of WFH will rise sharply with education and earnings in the post-pandemic economy,” the text of the paper concluded. “These plans align well with worker desires at the upper end of the earnings distribution, but not for others. For most workers, the post-pandemic economy will entail more WFH than in the pre-COVID economy but considerably less than they would like. To put it another way, the benefits of a persistent shift to WFH will be broadly felt but flow mainly to the better educated and the highly paid.”

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