A recent U.S. Census Bureau survey found that about 1 in 5 California adults lived in households in which at least one person had telecommuted or worked from home five or more days the prior week.
Even as pandemic lockdowns fade into memory, COVID-19 has transformed California’s workplace culture in ways researchers say will reverberate well beyond 2022.
According to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, working from home for some portion of the week has become the new normal for a large segment of Californians. The data shows high-income employees with college degrees are more likely to have access to this hybrid work model, while lower-income employees stay the course with on-site responsibilities and daily commutes.
In addition, researchers say the shift will ripple across the broader economy in ways big and small, as more employees have the flexibility to live farther from a job site and as workplace traditions like lunch outings and bar nights fade or evolve.
The U.S. Census Bureau interviewed roughly 260,000 Americans from June through October, including about 20,000 Californians, as part of a wide-ranging questionnaire called the Household Pulse Survey. Surveyors asked dozens of questions about pandemic-era lifestyle changes, including some about working from home.
The survey found that nearly 20% of California adults lived in households in which at least one person had telecommuted or worked from home five days or more in the previous week. About 33% of California adults lived in households in which someone had worked from home at least one day the previous week.
Nationwide, the survey found that almost 30% of adults lived in households in which at least one person worked from home for some portion of the previous week. About 16% lived in households in which someone worked from home at least five days the previous week.
The results mark a notable shift from previous Census Bureau surveys that asked about working from home, though in different terms. In 2019, before the pandemic, about 6.3% of employed Californians and 5.7% of employed Americans said they “usually worked from home.”
And according to the report by California Healthline, researchers who specialize in workforce issues said the findings mirror their own and are indicative of a cultural upheaval that will outlive the pandemic.
Jose Maria Barrero is an academic economist and a co-founder of WFH Research, which is documenting the shift toward working from home. Before the pandemic, about 5% of workdays in the U.S. were conducted from home, according to his group’s analyses. In contrast, its surveys this year show that about 30% of working days in the U.S. are now work-from-home days.
Barrero said employers recognize that many people have found they prefer working from home – and that it gives companies leverage to ask workers to accept less money in exchange. He also said his research also indicates that today’s work models – for both at-home and on-site employees – are likely to endure for months and years.
Andra Ghent, an economist at the University of Utah who studies work-from-home patterns, said tens of millions of Americans are settling into “hybrid” arrangements, in which they work from home a few days a week and occasionally go into the office. Before the home-work option, she said, many didn’t want to live too far from the urban core, concerned that commutes would become unmanageable. But with routine daily commutes out of the picture, many will move to the suburbs or exurbs, where they will have more space, she said.
On the one hand, commuting less, particularly by car, is often good for the health of the environment, Ghent noted. “But if people move to places where the usual mode of transit is cars instead of something that’s more pedestrian- or cyclist-friendly or more likely to use public transit, that’s not such a good thing,” Ghent said. “It sort of increases our urban sprawl, which we know is not good for sustainability.”
The migration to telecommuting also allows employers to look to other states or even other countries for hires. Tobias Sytsma, an associate economist at the Rand Corp., recently authored a report detailing how U.S. companies may increasingly “offshore” remote work to employees abroad.