The move to remote work is gaining momentum in some of America’s largest metro areas, despite pressure from corporate leaders to get employees back into the office, according to new data from an international team of economists.
In several major US cities, the number of job postings for remote-friendly roles has reached record levels — and it’s trending. This is the latest finding from researchers including Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University who have been collecting data on remote working since the start of the pandemic.
By measuring the prevalence of job ads offering flexible arrangements, they found that in places like New York, Chicago and Atlanta, more posts are open to remote workers than at any time in the past three years.
That could mean bosses like JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon, who says working from home is “not possible” for younger staff or managers, faces an uphill battle. As the work-from-home debate rages across the country, mayors are also pushing employees to return to the office, which will help boost the tax base for municipal governments.
But the latest data suggests that partially vacant office towers — a feature of downtowns with a rise in remote work — may stay that way. Data from security firm Kastle Systems shows that office occupancy in major US cities is only about half of pre-Covid levels.
This may be a problem that goes beyond bosses trying to fill their offices again. Some investors worry that this month’s banking turmoil could spell trouble for commercial real estate owners who have to pay off their loans, as interest rates rise while property values fall as workers stay home.
Sorting job vacancy data by city shows that Lansing, Michigan has the highest share of remote job postings, at 39%. The biggest employers there are the state government and Michigan State University. Municipal governments and universities tend to have more unionized workforces, which means unions must sign on to back-to-office deals.
“Cities with a larger white-collar workforce, especially in government, technology and education, have the most new jobs that offer remote and hybrid arrangements,” said Peter Lambert, a doctoral candidate at the London School of Economics and a member of the team research.
The South is generally the worst part of the US to be a remote worker – and the worst place is Bradenton, near Tampa in Florida, where less than 3% of posted jobs have that option. Nine of the 10 metro areas with the lowest share of open job ads for remote or hybrid work are in the South.
The pandemic has created new opportunities for employees to manage more flexible arrangements, but it has not been widely distributed throughout the economy. In some industries, the reality is that people need to be where they work.
Some jobs in transportation, food preparation and preparation, and health care support can be done remotely. In other sectors such as finance, remote work continues to grow. Such a shift may add to the notion of a “company town,” or the dominance of a particular industry by a particular region. Some analysts even see such a process during the change of many financial projects in New York City.
Still, many companies seek to limit remote work, with policies that dictate how often employees must be in the office. And if the labor market cools, as economists expect in the coming year, bosses will have more influence — and employees will have less.
This may be happening in some corners of the economy – like parts of the tech industry, which have experienced massive layoffs. In San Jose, for example — an area with a high concentration of tech workers — the share of ads at least partially open for remote work has dropped from a peak of 20% in December to 15% last month.