The push by employers to get American workers back into the office appears to be working.
Fewer than 26% of US households still have someone working remotely at least one day a week, a sharp decline from the early-2021 peak of 37%, according to the two latest Census Bureau Household Pulse Surveys. Only seven states plus Washington, DC, have a remote-work rate above 33%, the data shows, down from 31 states and DC mid-pandemic.
The reversal reflects the continued push by many employers to get staff to return to offices. Remote employees have been blamed for dwindling profits and costing cities billions, and fears of a recession have eroded their ability to demand the telework perks they won early in the pandemic, when the labor market sat squarely in their favor. Some companies, like Goldman Sachs Group Inc., now expect a return to five days in the office, though boardroom disagreement abounds — nearly three of out four organizations see RTO as the topic most likely to foment leadership conflict.
At the state level, the data shows all 50 have seen work-from-home rates drop from their pandemic highs. But the unevenness in their rates of decline suggests the trend doesn’t have one cohesive explanation, and is instead the result of a hodgepodge of migration, socio-economic, gender and race factors, and possibly even politics — Democratic states tend to have higher remote-work rates than Republican ones.
Illustrating the complexity: States whose remote-work rates have fallen by as much as half to around post-pandemic lows include Mississippi and Louisiana, which weren’t able to widely embrace remote work due to a reliance on in-person industries like manufacturing and oil and gas, but also more white-collar states that did welcome it, like California and Connecticut.
New York City workers fled during the pandemic to towns like Greenwich, Connecticut, driving a boom in home sales and remote-work rates. Now, they may not be moving back, but they’re commuting to the city. As Connecticut’s work-from-home rate has fallen — to 28% from its early-2021 peak of 46% — average ridership along the Metro-North train lines that link the state to New York City and its offices has risen — to a peak of about 70% versus pre-pandemic levels, up from just 20% in early 2021.
“People exited New York City, they’re not selling their homes to go back,” Bill Raveis, founder of Connecticut-based William Raveis Real Estate Inc., said in an interview. “They’re staying here and they’re making their adjustments to the community.”
The latest Census data also underlines that employees’ demand for remote jobs is outpacing the number of companies offering them. In 157 of the largest metro areas in the US, more than half of job applications were for fully remote or hybrid roles in August, according to LinkedIn data generated for Bloomberg, but postings for those jobs have been falling since early 2022, data from Indeed Inc. shows. In Colorado — widely seen as a work-from-home haven and one of the few states that has maintained a rate above one third — 76% of job applications in Colorado Springs were for fully remote or hybrid roles in August, the LinkedIn data showed.
Some areas are capitalizing on that scarcity. Alabama, with a work-from-home rate of just 15% according to the Pulse data, offers $10,000 to remote workers who move to the state’s northwest Shoals area. The program has attracted about the same number of applications so far this year as in all of 2021 and 2022 combined, about 3,400.
All 50 states pale in comparison to their largest cities’ metro areas. In Washington, DC, where government bureaucrats are loath to go back to their offices, the remote-work rate is above 50%, the data shows. Similarly, Seattle, Boston and San Francisco all had rates near or above 40%. Average office attendance across ten big US cities remains about 50% of pre-pandemic levels, according to security firm Kastle Systems International LLC, no higher than where it was early in 2023.