The world of work has been radically transformed since the COVID-19 pandemic. The growth of a remote hybrid work culture has revolutionized where, when, and how we work.
Joint research between Gusto and Stanford University’s Work From Home (WFH) Research team looks at varying trends in remote hybrid work culture among over 300,000 small and midsize businesses that use Gusto.
We recently spoke with three experts in this field of research. Today, we are sharing five key takeaways from this research.
People are living farther from work, contributing to changing geography of the US
Work-from-home researchers have examined payroll data to determine how far workers live from their places of employment. This research shows that as remote work options from the pandemic continue to stick around, workers are moving further and further away from their offices.
In fact, over the last three years, the distance has doubled—from nine to 18 miles between work and home. Workers, who before were perhaps avoiding a long commute by living closer to where they work, are now choosing to live further away as a result of their remote work arrangements.
Stanford University’s Nick Bloom—who has researched work-from-home for over 20 years—explains that, in addition to fully remote people, these findings include hybrid workers.
“We know a lot of people moved out from the city centers to the suburbs—what’s been called the donut effect,” Bloom says.
As part of this donut effect, people who used to work in the office and lived closer to downtown have now moved further away. Remaining in the same metropolitan area, these hybrid workers may commute into the office a few times throughout the week.
Additionally, the data includes super commuters—workers who live much further away from their places of employment and are full-time remote, with the exception of an occasional office visit. Gusto economist Luke Pardue explains this concept.
“Super commuters might move across the country and still work on a coastal area or move to the middle of the country and work on either of the coasts,” he says. “And so this data really captures both of the ways in which the remote work transformation is changing the economy and the economic geography of the country.”
Lisa Conn is Co-Founder and CEO of Gatheround—which provides interactive meeting technology for enhanced engagement and connection among team members online. She works closely with companies such as Gusto, Lyft, and Calendly that have team members nationwide and around the world.
Conn says this shift in living location appears to be a result of changes in lifestyle post-pandemic.
“Prior to starting Gatheround, I worked at Meta and I had a 90-minute commute each way,” Conn explains. “If I didn’t have to do that, why would I live in San Francisco and spend $5,000 a month on rent?”
In addition to saving on cost of living expenses, Conn says that people also moved further away to gain more space while working from home, to take care of family members, or to address a variety of other issues.
Research indicates that this move further out from the center of cities will continue to alter the American landscape.
“What we’re seeing is right at the fringe of big American cities, think two hours from the center; this used to be land that you couldn’t do much with. No one’s going to commute two hours in and out every day,” Bloom says. “But looking ahead, as people start to move to, say, going to the office one or two days a week, that becomes possible to build. And there’s a lot of that land.”
There is a divide in who can work from home
Results from this study show a substantial divide between who is able to work from home and who is required to be on-site. Divided by income, research reveals that those workers earning $250,000 or more annually have tripled their distance to work—the largest jump among remote workers.
“This is really driven by the upper end of income,” Bloom explains. “So I think of middle senior managers in particular—they’re the ones really driving it.”
By industry, the research shows that work-from-home numbers are driven by the tech industry—as expected—followed by the finance and insurance sectors.
At the other end, workers in construction, manufacturing, retail, and healthcare are not typically able to take advantage of work-from-home accommodations. However, while these industries aren’t exactly leading the way in remote work options, research does show an increase from where they have been in previous years.
“It’s not necessarily the magnitude of some of these other industries, but there is an uptick in, say, healthcare and some of these other places from, say, eight or nine miles away to employees living 10 to 12 miles away,” Pardue says. “Some of these roles in these industries, we might not think of as being particularly amenable to remote work. But there are specific roles, and so companies throughout all of these industries can think about the ways in which they can open up their talent pools by looking to remote and hybrid work.”
Certain demographics play a role in remote work
The research produced by WFH Research and Gusto looked at the participating Gusto customers by gender and age group to determine which demographics play a role in who participates in a remote hybrid work culture.
In terms of gender, the research revealed that men and women have increased their distance from work by similar amounts—both pre- and post-pandemic. Across both men and women, the biggest predictor of moving further away is having young children.
In terms of age, one of the key findings of this research is that workers who fall into the age range of 30 to 44 years old are living farthest from their work.
“I think the story this points to is that parents, and particularly parents of young children, have been the most likely to take advantage of remote and hybrid work in order to satisfy the demands of their personal and their professional lives,” Pardue explains.
“One of the ways in which it’s benefited this economy is that people who might not have been able to come into the office five days a week are able to take that job and to gain an income while taking care of their children at the same time,” he says.
Conn, who falls into that demographic, understands firsthand the appeal of remote work as a new mother who took over as CEO upon her return from maternity leave.
“I found that a lot of parents want their work to be more meaningful than ever because the opportunity cost of time away from your kids is just so great,” she explains. “But the idea that we might be commuting and spending an hour just in a car or on a train, on a bus—and not really doing meaningful work away from our children, but also not impacting our companies and our careers—it just doesn’t make sense.”
“And I really am someone who believes from my own personal experience that the ability to work remotely and not just remotely, but also with flexibility, enables a lot of working parents, primarily women, to enter and stay and excel in the workforce,” Conn says.
Remote work enables more people to be more active in the workforce
Another positive result of the rise in remote hybrid work culture is that it has brought more people into the workplace and has kept more people working longer.
In addition to young parents, as we previously discussed, one of the groups most impacted in this regard is people with disabilities. Research shows that there are five million more Americans working with a disability than there were pre-pandemic.
“This definition is reasonably broad,” Bloom explains. “If I think of people, friends, family, folks I know, it could be someone with crippling back pain, someone that finds background noise extremely distracting and wants quiet, someone else that has a colostomy bag.”
According to Bloom, this is a group of people who, by and large, want to work but can’t necessarily sit in an office five days a week or for whom a punishing commute is really challenging. For this group of people, the opportunity to work from home, where the conditions of their workspace meet their needs, enables them to become active members of the workforce.
Individuals nearing retirement are another group of people who benefit from the growing remote hybrid work culture. Many people in the later stages of their career—which comprises a large portion of today’s workforce—would like to scale back, according to Bloom, but not retire completely.
“I think of my parents as they were retiring out, they just didn’t want to go in five days a week for a long commute,” he says. “But I think if I’d offered them, look, you can work for now three days a week and commute in only once, they may have worked for an extra two or three years. They didn’t want to go from full on to nothing.”
Having more people in the workplace, Bloom says, is a good thing for everyone.
“If there are more Americans working, it boosts the economy, raises taxes, drives down prices,” he explains. “It’s like a positive win-win for everyone.”
Well-managed businesses have better success with work-from-home options
Studies conducted about the level of productivity and success businesses have experienced with remote and hybrid work have revealed slightly inconsistent findings.
With hybrid work—where people fluctuate working from home and going into the office throughout the week—results have been fairly successful.
In terms of working arrangements that are mostly remote, research reveals a broad range of results. Bloom says that a reason for these varied findings is that some reports from managers and supervisors were based on early pandemic circumstances. In March and April 2020, businesses were thrown into remote work without warning, and many companies weren’t adequately set up for that change. People were often without the equipment or software needed, and workers may have had children at home and other distractions at the time.
“If you look at other companies that are well set up, have been doing this for a while, well managed, they can get fantastic productivity from fully remote,” Bloom says. “It’s like leaving an airplane in an emergency; it’s not the same as leaving in a normal fashion.”
Conn says that in her experience talking with businesses about remote work productivity, some leaders are adamant that their teams must be in the office to achieve success. While others are very confident that their business is thriving under work-from-home conditions.
In post-pandemic times, most businesses are now well-equipped to work remotely. So why is there still a disparity in results?
According to Conn, the success that some businesses have over others in terms of remote hybrid work has to do with innovation, team management, and company culture. Each of these workplace elements needs to be carefully thought out and designed with intention.
“I think the most innovative firms are absolutely taking advantage of remote work because a lot of the data is really clear. There are incredible benefits to businesses in enabling remote and hybrid work,” Conn says. “So when teams are managed effectively, when culture, collaboration are intentional and effective, fully remote and hybrid teams have been proven to excel across basically every metric that matters to leaders.”
A final word on remote hybrid work culture
As both research and anecdotal evidence show, a positive company culture is vital for productivity and success. And while this might look different than it does with on-site workers, it is still possible to achieve a positive work environment among a remote workforce.
Things like allowing for a flexible workday, setting clear goals focused on outcomes rather than hours worked, and implementing intentional management training—as well as using products and services like those created by Gatheround—can help enhance engagement within remote workplaces.
As Conn explains, “A positive company culture not only creates connection and community, which is so essential for us as human beings, but it also creates higher levels of psychological safety, which have an impact on the productivity bottom-line metrics that many leaders care about today.”
Want to check out the full conversation about the remote and hybrid work revolution? Check out our LinkedIn Live with Lisa Conn, Nick Bloom, and Luke Pardue here.