Remote working statistics and the impact of COVID-19

How will COVID-19 accelerate the adoption of remote working?

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It’s clear the world of work is going to be very different when we settle on a new normal after COVID-19. Lots of folks are particularly interested in asking the question: How will Coronavirus accelerate the adoption of remote working?

To get a handle on the level of remote working adoption before COVID-19, it seemed useful to create a list of relevant remote working statistics. We found there was a lot of “behavioral data” out there and data about preferences among remote workers. There was also data about aggregate numbers of remote workers. But almost no data about the numbers of companies that were either fully distributed or above 15%* distributed before COVID-19.

We advise organizations who want to assess their degree of distributed to focus on the number of fully remote people as a percentage of their total workforce (versus including partially remote workers), because the fully-remote people are a better proxy for the company’s overall level of organizational adoption. For much the same reasons, we suggest watching the growing numbers of 100% distributed companies. as key metric to watch for post-COVID-19 adoption rate inflection.

Pre-COVID-19 remote work adoption stats

Before COVID-19, 44% of companies didn’t allow remote work at all.

Despite the multi-level benefits of being a distributed organization, it was still the case that half of companies around the world didn’t allow remote work before the crisis. This number is expected to go down globally, and it will be interesting to see how rates of adoption vary from region to region.

(Source Owl Labs)

Before COVID-19, 4.3 million people in the USA worked from home at least half the time.

According to telecommuting statistics from late 2018, there were 4.3 million remote workers in the USA, which makes up 3.2% of the entire workforce. The same report said that 40% more US companies offered remote work as an option in 2018 than they did 5 years that. This number will show meaningful lift after Coronavirus.

(Source Global Workplace Analytics)

Before COVID-19, the number of people working from home had already increased by 140% since 2005.

In the past decade, technology has become so advanced that pretty much anyone can fulfil their everyday tasks at home. Stats on working from home show that this type of work has expanded 10 times faster than other areas of the workforce. The same stats also tell us that full-time employees are four times more likely to be offered remote work than part-timers.

(Source Global Workplace Analytics)

Before COVID-19, small companies were twice as likely to hire full-time remote workers.

Stats on people working from home show that small companies were more likely to opt for full-time remote workers. There’s a reason for this: Remote workers cost less because companies don’t have to invest in office space, pay electricity bills, or buy as much equipment. Sales employers hire 66% more remote workers than the overall average.

(Source Owl Labs)

After already growing 115% in the last decade, remote working will dramatically increase after COVID-19

According to numbers from the State of Telecommuting report, growth in remote working has taken place 10 times faster than in other fields of work. And that was true before COVID-19. Based on that, many trend watchers are going to be looking at two metrics, post-Coronavirus: where we land in terms of new adoption footprint (expressed as the percentage of companies that are fully-distributed or above the 15%* threshold.

(Source State of Telecommuting)

Before COVID-19, only an estimated 3% of companies were fully distributed.

This metric is close to our hearts and we want to see it go up a lot. But absent a direct metric for numbers of fully-distributed companies, we are left to try to estimate the value from the number of survey respondents who reported working at fully-distributed company. Compared to 44% of the respondents that reported working for companies that don’t allow remote work at all, 16% of them were at 100% fully distributed organizations. It’s going to be fascinating to watch how organizations evolve to their respective optimally-distributed end state, which will be something unique for each company.

It would be so useful if we get companies to standardize on something like The Five Levels of Remote Work, and then self-report on their progress through these levels. Then we could know things like: although the total number of companies in a given segment (at >25% distributed) had grown by x%, the growth had come in Level 1 companies, meaning that the new arrivals across the 25% threshold were coming in at a fairly inexperienced and unsophisticated level. Which is what you would expect.

(Source Owl Labs)

Before COVID-19, 52% of workers, globally, already worked from home at least 1X/week.

Based on remote workers statistics from late 2018, more than half of the world’s employees already enjoy the benefits of the occasional WFH day. This number is certain to go up. The number of people who were at zero days before Coronavirus, and now to go n days is going to be big. We will also want to watch the average number of remote days per employee per month. This will be a very important trend for large, global companies, as they look at how the aggregate workforce is re-drawing a new work/life balance point.

(Source Owl Labs)

18% of people worked remotely full-time before COVID-19.

That number feels high to be a true average across any large population, but it is the only stat we could find. This was reported by Owl Labs, and we must obviously consider the likely bias in their particular respondent sample. Going forward this is going to be a key number to track at the global and national levels. This is also going to be useful to understanding the cross-border economic impact of fully remote workers, who are expected to become more and more geographically untethered.

(Source Owl Labs)

*( 15% is an arbitrary threshold selected because it allows for a broader scope of measurement across a wider band of company sizes, while still being a fairly high bar. There will naturally be lots of early-stage startups among the fully-distributed companies, as they either launch that way (as Oyster has done) or switch before there’s too much co-located inertia (as CoderPad recently did). Fully-distributed is a virtually impossible bar for larger enterprises. The question for mid-size companies and enterprises will be how distributed they become (as measured by the percentage of fully-remote workers they have, because they are the purer signal). Executive leadership at large organizations after COVID-19 will want to be able to see how the different functions compare by their percentage distributed (eg: engineering is 70% distributed (meaning 7/10 developers are 100% remote), but marketing is only 50% (with 3 colocating in a small office and 3 remote team members). Lastly, it will be telling and perhaps essential to really projecting a pro-distributed attitude to track and boast the number of fully-remote executives at the biggest companies.

Remote working adoption during COVID-19 estimate

Since mid-March, Gallup has been tracking the number of US workers forced to work from home. They reported the percentage of employers affected by a mandated work from home policy had risen from 39% to 57% between the first poll in mid-March, and the most recent in mid-April.

62% of employed Americans currently reported working from home during the Coronavirus crisis, a number that has doubled since mid-March.

That translates to roughly 102 million workers forced to work from home during COVID-19, in the US alone. The global number could well top 1 billion workers.

Predicted remote working adoption after COVID-19

Even though there is agreement from pretty much everyone that the adoption of remote working is going to increase as a result of Coronavirus, actual estimates are at this stage rare. This probably has a lot to do with lack of standardized measurements for adoption that allow data from different sources to be compared.

GWA estimates that 56% of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is compatible (at least partially) with remote work. Only 3.6% of the employee workforce works at home half-time or more. Gallup data from 2016 shows that 43% of the workforce works at home at least some of the time. Our prediction is that the longer people are required to work at home, the greater the adoption we will see when the dust settles.

“Our best estimate is that 25-30% of the workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week by the end of 2021” —Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics

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