The work from home privilege [MetaFacts Pulse Survey]

By Dan Ness, Principal Analyst, MetaFacts, May 22, 2020

Working from home. While it is a blessing for some and may feel like a curse for others, only the few get the privilege. Being able to work from home during widespread public health safety shutdowns has sustained employment for many employees. It has also brought new challenges for those with school-age children or insufficient technology. It has also brought about faster adoption of certain technology products and services while revealing long-present sociological differences. The differences may persist while many of the technological changes will be temporary and evolutionary, not revolutionary.

One in four online Americans are working from home

As of May 14th, 2020, one fourth of online Americans (26%) were working at home. This represents 60% of online Americans employed full-time or part-time on May 14th, 2020. Most of these only started working from home recently. Almost half (48%) of employed online American adults started working from home after February 2020.

Rise in online Americans not employed

Also, as of May 14th, 43% of online Americans were employed full-time or part-time, 8% were self-employed, and 19% reported being temporarily or seasonally unemployed.

Note that 19% rate is not a directly comparable measure to the widely followed U3 unemployment rate from the BLS, which represents active jobseekers. Instead, it is closer in methodology to the U6 rate, which includes discouraged and unemployed workers not actively seeking employment. However, since this survey only included online respondents, offline or disconnected Americans are not included in these results. Their inclusion would make the overall percentage of American adults working from home somewhat lower.

Working at home is strongest among upper socioeconomic groups

Working at home is strongly associated with socioeconomic factors.

A higher share of those with higher educational attainment and household income are working from home. For those with graduate degrees, the rate (56%) is double the national average. In stark contrast, only 7% of employees whose highest educational attainment is high school are working from home, and only 14% of those who have completed some college.

Similarly, higher paid employees have a higher work-from-home rate, at 42% for those with a household income of $85,000 or higher.

Salary and education only two factors explaining higher work-at-home rates. Many occupations do not lend themselves well to working at home. Also, some employers have not embraced having employees work remotely nor have some employers prepared adequately.

The work from home privileged group – from more to even more

The remote workplace has shifted even further in the five weeks between our April 2nd and May 14th surveys, especially for higher socioeconomic groups. Overall, the work-at-home rate grew somewhat from just over half (54%) to 60% of American employees.

Two measures of socioeconomic status – educational attainment and household income – are positively associated with the fastest-growing groups to work at home. The rates of post-graduate employees working at home has grown from 80% to 93% Also, adults in households with incomes of $85,000 or higher have risen slightly from two-thirds (67%) to 71%.

Adults in homes with children have also grown in their work-at-home rates, rising from two-thirds (67%) to 77%.

Technology usage shifts among the work-at-homes

PC use is dramatically different among American employees working from home than those not working from home. Among employees working from home, the mean number of weekly hours is 58.3, substantially more than those not working from home, 22.2 hours per week. A PC is necessary for many work-related tasks, from spreadsheets to collaborative documents.

One of the fastest growing activities – video conferencing – is possible with a smartphone. Despite this, smartphone hours are not measurably higher among those working from home than those not working from home.

Looking ahead

The underlying socioeconomic differences we have seen exposed so far in the pandemic are unlikely to change. They are systemic and have been in place for generations. Further reinforcing these persistent differences, technology has enabled many employees to work from home, although primarily those upper socioeconomic groups. These differences will further separate the haves from the have-nots.

One major technological shift has been around the adoption of videoconferencing. As I have reported in other MetaFacts Pulse surveys earlier this year, groups from seniors to employees and parents have rapidly adopted video conferencing for both personal and work-related calls and conferences. These groups have not been quite as quick to adopt any new technology they had never used. Instead, most are using whatever technology they already had in place, such as a home PC. There has been some supplementing of in-home technology with better webcams and other small peripherals. With economic insecurity both among employers and citizens, many have delayed making capital purchases. Very few employees, so far, have been assisted with employer-provided technology such as new PCs, printers, or VPNs.

There is still much uncertainty today about whether businesses will continue to allow employees to work from home after such time governmental health authorities say it is safe to have workers return their previous workplaces.

Within three years, presuming the virus is no longer causing a pandemic, I expect only half of today’s video users to be regularly doing this practice. That may seem like a dramatic drop. I expect a retreat from video as people spend time again at their workplaces or schools. They will be having in-person meetings again, taking the place of work video meetings. Or, many will be meeting in person with friends or family instead of making that FaceTime or Zoom call.

That will still leave a substantial number of people working remotely, collaborating electronically, and connecting through video calls or conferences. The genie is out of the bottle.

About this TUPdate

The information referred to in this special TUPdate is based on independent research conducted by MetaFacts.

This TUPdate included results from the May 14th, 2020 wave of the MetaFacts Pulse adult survey.


Current TUP/Technology User Profile subscribers may request the supporting TUP information used for this analysis or for even deeper analysis. Subscribers to the MetaFacts Employees Pulse surveys may request the supporting information and can make additional inquiries. For more information about MetaFacts and subscribing to TUP or the MetaFacts Pulse surveys, please contact MetaFacts.

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