Davos Agenda

Is this the end of the remote work era?

Woman working at her laptop - remote working

It's the end of a remote work era, as employers call their employees back into offices — and workers see their power dwindling. Image: Unsplash/Thought Catalog

Juliana Kaplan
Labor and inequality reporter, Business Insider
Madison Hoff
Data Editorial Fellow, Business Insider
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  • A new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics analyzes the state of telework in 2022.
  • The data finds that the percentage of businesses with little to no telework skyrocketed last year.
  • That comes as companies tighten their purse strings and try to claw back power from workers, reports Insider.

It's the end of a remote work era, as employers call their employees back into offices — and workers see their power dwindling.

According to a new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics — which The Wall Street Journal recently reported on — 72.5% of private-sector establishments surveyed from August 1 to September 30, 2022 had little to no telework. That's a big leap from 2021, when just 60.1% of establishments surveyed from July to September 2021 reported little to no telework.

11.1% of these establishments had everyone teleworking all the time based on the August to September 2022 data. That's higher than the 10.3% share for July to September 2021.

The data helps showcase a vibe shift happening in the realm of work, as workers found themselves thrown from a hot labor market into one that's a bit more of a mixed bag. As mass layoffs sweep some sectors, companies are simultaneously asking for their workers to return. If 2021 was marked by the Great Resignation, and workers demanding and receiving more, 2022 was about employers trying to claw back some of their power — and part of that was making employees choose whether they wanted to come in or quit.

While companies in certain industries were more likely to have their workers teleworking rarely or never compared to other industries, like the accommodation and food services sector and the natural resources and mining sector, there are a few industries where being fully remote has been common. The following chart shows select industries and which ones among them have the highest share of establishments where people teleworked all the time.

'Productivity paranoia' may be one driver behind the return to the office, marking a decline for remote work opportunities.
'Productivity paranoia' may be one driver behind the return to the office, marking a decline for remote work opportunities. Image: Business Insider/Madison Hoff

BLS data shows the information sector had a relatively high share of establishments where workers worked remotely all the time, at 42.2%.

After the pandemic forced millions of formerly in-person workers from the office into home offices, many found they never wanted to go back. Notably, some Gen Z and early career workers did find themselves craving in-person face time, as they found themselves graduating into a newly pandemic-shaped work world, although some were still willing to quit if forced into the office. Despite assertions from CEOs like Elon Musk that working from home leads to less productive workers, economists have said that's not the case.

But even as workers feel more productive, managers don't necessarily believe that they are — what Microsoft researchers call "productivity paranoia." That may be one driver behind the return to office, as firms find themselves under greater pressure to prove returns in a tough economic climate.

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What is the Forum doing about keeping workers well?

While remote options may seem to be dwindling, some experts Insider talked to say that remote work is going to continue to be prevalent. Prominent pushes against return-to-office mandates show that workers aren't willing to part with their new status quo.

"Remote work has been a huge and permanent change to how people work and live," Adam Ozimek, chief economist at the Economic Innovation Group, told Insider. "I don't think it's going anywhere."

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