Learning & Development

New BLS Data Obscures What We Know About the State of Remote Work

As remote work hangs in the balance for millions of American workers, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics sheds some light on the current state of affairs.

Working Remotely

The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in tremendous change around the globe; in the corporate world, perhaps the most impactful COVID-related change has been the widespread shift to remote work. With the pandemic itself essentially under control at this point, the immediate need for widespread remote work may be gone; however, that doesn’t mean the desire for remote work on behalf of employees has suddenly vanished as well.

There is a continued tension between employees and employers with respect to remote work policies. This isn’t necessarily new.

Tensions Over Remote Work

For decades, employees have longed for the ability to work from home (or a cabin, or a beach, etc.). The difference now is that employees are the ones benefiting from the status quo. Before the pandemic, employers could achieve an in-person work policy by simply doing nothing. Employees were already in the office. Today, achieving an in-person work policy means taking something away from employees, something many have enjoyed for three years now.

So, what does the new BLS data tell us about the current state of remote work in the U.S.? Well, it doesn’t present a very clear picture, as Jeanne Sahadi explains in an article for CNN.

Future of Remote Work Uncertain

“Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that only 27.5% of private-sector businesses reported that their employees worked from home or another remote location some or all of the time between August 1, 2022, and September 30, 2022,” she writes. “In other words, 72.5% of private-sector organizations—up from 60% in the July-to-September 2021 period—said they did not have employees working remotely. That percentage struck work-from-home researchers and observers as surprisingly high, given what other studies and surveys have found.”

Sahadi writes that the BLS data seems to conflict with data from other sources. “The Pew Research Center, for instance, found in a nationally representative survey of US full-time working adults conducted in February that 41% of workers with jobs that can be done from home are now working a hybrid schedule,” she writes. “That is up from 35% in January of last year.”

The discrepancy may be partly due to how survey questions are asked and how respondents interpret them. Despite the new BLS data, Sahadi writes that hybrid work – a blend of remote and in-person work where employees spend part of their time in each setting – is her prediction for the future of work for those whose jobs can be performed remotely. While there may be no perfect solution for both employers and employees, hybrid seems to tick the most  boxes for the most stakeholders.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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