9 Important Remote Work Statistics for 2021

Posted by Dann Albright
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2020 was the year that work went remote. All over the world, employees started working from home to minimize the chances that they would contract COVID-19. We saw an unprecedented amount of remote work.

It has been amazing to see this shift to remote work, especially from companies that were hesitant to let employees work from home in the past. Of course, the cause behind this shift is one of the deadliest, most disruptive, and most anxiety-inducing events in recent memory. But we are trying to find some light where we can.

To that end, let us take a look at some remote work statistics for the coming year. We will take a look back at how remote work happened in 2020, where it went well, where it needs improvement, and what we might see in 2021.

1. Half of Americans worked remotely in 2020

In a June 2020 policy brief from Stanford University's Institute for Economic Policy Research, Nicholas Bloom reported that 42% of Americans were working remotely. Owl Labs' State of Remote Work 2020 report states that almost 70% of full-time workers in the U.S. are working from home.

No matter which data point you look at, that is a huge number of people at a remote job. Of course, these numbers are so high this year because of COVID-driven social distancing and quarantine requirements. But never before have so many Americans worked from home, and that will be a significant driver of remote work policies and practices in 2021.

The policy brief also found that 33% of Americans weren't working in June. We can celebrate the increase in remote work, but let us not forget that it came at a great cost, as well.

2. Employees will continue working from home after COVID-19 is no longer a threat

PWC surveyed executives and office workers to contrast the remote work situation before, during, and after the COVID-19 pandemic. 39% of executives said that most of their employees would work from home at least one day a week before the pandemic. Others will offer a remote work option. 55% anticipate that employees will work from home at least one day a week after it's safe to come back to the office.

72% of office workers said that they would like to work from home at least two days a week once the threat is gone. Now that employees have gotten a taste for remote work, it is clear that they want to continue.

3. Remote workers are at least as productive as office workers

That same PWC survey found that 44% of executives and 28% percent of employees reported increased productivity when working remotely. Only 31% of executives and 29% of employees reported less productivity.

The Society for Human Resource Management reports similar findings, with 94% of recently surveyed respondents saying they are at least as productive telecommuting and working from home as they are in the office.

One lesson to take away from remote work in 2020 is that unwanted interruptions are a big drain on people's time when they're in the office. A Global Workplace Analytics survey found that respondents gained back about 35 minutes a day from avoiding those interruptions.

Of course, 2020 is anything but normal, and it is hard to predict if these numbers will hold steady in the coming years. Fortunately, previous surveys have indicated similar productivity gains (or at least no losses) for remote workers.

4. Flexible work arrangements increase employee engagement

Engaged employees are more productive, more profitable, and less likely to be absent from work. And despite many employers' fears, remote employees (and those with other flexible solutions) are very engaged.

A Gallup poll found that employees who worked remotely 60-80% of the time were the most engaged of any employee group. They were happiest when asked about numerous factors, from professional development to being cared about by someone at work.

While many employees will not have a choice to work less than 100% remote through much of 2021, it is worth noting that just because an employee is not in the office does not mean that they will be less engaged. Remote workers seem to appreciate the workplace flexibility.

Remote work statistics

5. Working from home is worth a lot of money to employees

Many factors go into calculating the cost or cost savings of working from home. But Owl Labs found that almost 50% of employees were willing to take a pay cut of 5% or more to work from home. About half of those were willing to take a cut of more than 10%

Why so much? It is partially because working remotely saves employees money. FlexJobs calculated that a remote worker saves about $4,000 every year on commuting, clothing, taxes, and other costs.

Of course, we are not suggesting that you pay your employees less just because they work from home. But you may be able to find top talent for your company at a slightly lower cost.

6. Making the transition to remote work can be difficult

A Slack survey of knowledge workers in 2020 found that newly remote workers

  • Found communication more difficult,
  • Had more difficulty finding the resources they needed,
  • Were less satisfied with their working arrangements,
  • Were less productive, and
  • Felt less belonging than experienced remote workers.

We have seen that it is indeed possible to have an engaged, productive, and happy remote workforce. But employees who are new to working from home can have difficulties, and it is crucial for companies to plan for this transition (when they can, of course).

Tools like Friday, Slack, Zoom, and other remote-work staples can help ameliorate the problem.

7. Meetings can be a big drain on remote workers

Zoom fatigue is real. A November 2020 article in the Psychiatric Times paints a very complicated feature of the phenomenon-it may be related to neurophysiology, the absence of physical communication cues, the allure of digital multitasking, and many other factors.

No matter the cause, virtual meetings are taxing. Owl Labs' survey found that 80% of employees think there should be one workday each week where no meetings are scheduled.

To get optimal performance from their employees and teams, managers should be cognizant of the toll that video meetings take on their people. And seriously consider scheduling a virtual-meeting-free day.

(If you have a meeting you think cannot be skipped, be sure to check out this template for asynchronous standups-it may solve that problem for you.)

8. Remote workers still experience burnout

Working from home can create a better work-life balance for some employees. But remote burnout is real. In fact, Gallup found that-for the first time-fully remote employees felt more burnout than office workers in 2020.

There are many strategies that workers can use to create a better separation between their work and home lives. But being forced to make the transition to working from home quickly and with little warning has left many people without the skills they need to properly handle the shift.

9. Remote work is largely a middle- and upper-class luxury

According to Pew Social Trends, 62% of people with a bachelor's degree or higher said they could work from home in February. Only 33% of those with some college education, 22% of high school grads, and 9% of people without a high school diploma said the same.

A more recent Pew survey found that lower-income workers were:

  • less likely to be able to do their job from home,
  • more likely to be concerned about COVID-19 exposure at work, and
  • less likely to be satisfied with protective measures taken at their workplace.

Knowledge workers are often paid significantly more than blue-collar or lower-level employees. But that does not mean they should feel safer. Keeping all employees safe and providing opportunities for flexible work for everyone needs to be a priority in 2021.

Conclusion: Remote Work is Changing at an Unprecedented Rate

At the time of this writing, the world is working remotely (where possible, of course). These remote work statistics show just how many people are working from home-and that they have been extremely successful doing it. The rise of remote work has been on a steady incline for several years, and the pandemic has only accelerated it. 

But they also show that we have a lot of work to do in making a remote work arrangement more effective and equitable. Working from home is here to stay, both in 2021 and the years to come. We need to work together to make sure distributed work is accessible for more employees.

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