As COVID death rates fall to low levels in the United States (CDC 2021), employers are grappling with whether and how to bring employees back to the office or other place of work. They are taking a variety of approaches (Bloom et al. 2021). Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan want bankers back in the office five days a week (Verlaine and Benoit 2021). Other firms, like Apple and Google, want employees onsite only part of the week (Tilley 2021). According to the Wall Street Journal, “Remote work is the new signing bonus” and “Workers have moved on” from restaurants and bars to jobs with higher pay and more flexible working arrangements (Cutter and Dill 2021, Haddon et al. 2021). Anecdotal evidence suggests that desires for remote work are contributing to high quit rates and labour shortages in leisure, hospitality, and other parts of the economy (Weber 2021, The Economist 2021).
To provide systematic evidence on these matters, we explore worker attitudes about returning to the office and the appeal of remote work in the June Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes (SWAA). We also draw on earlier waves of the SWAA – covering nearly 50,000 working-age Americans since May 2020 – to track the evolution of worker desires and employer plans for working from home in the post-pandemic economy (Barrero et al. 2021).
In June, we put the following question to respondents who currently work from home at least one day per week:
How would you respond if your employer announced that all employees must return to the worksite 5+ days a week starting on 1 August 2021?
– I would comply and return to the worksite
– I would start looking for a job that lets me work from home at least one or two days a week, but return to the worksite if I don’t find one by August 1st.
– I would quit my job on or before August 1st, regardless of whether I got another job.
We also asked employed respondents in June about their receptivity to a new job that offers the option to work from home two to three days per week:
Suppose you got an offer for a new job with the same pay as your current job. Would you be more or less likely to take the new job if it let you work from home two to three days a week?