Covid-19, Labour Market, New Data

Working from home is here to stay

3 minute read

By Pawel Adrjan ( Indeed, Gabriele Ciminelli ( OECD/ECO, Alexandre Judes ( Indeed, Michael Koelle ( OECD/ECO, Cyrille Schwellnus ( OECD/ECO, Tara Sinclair ( Indeed

Almost three years ago, as governments imposed lockdowns to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, the world moved online. Now that the pandemic is under control almost everywhere, people are back enjoying in-person interactions. But there is something that COVID-19 might have changed forever: the organisation of work. Before the pandemic working from home (WFH) was limited to relatively few individuals. That changed with lockdowns, when WFH became widespread. Numerous surveys suggest that WFH turned out to be a good experience for most workers and managers (see here and here). The question is what is going to happen as the pandemic fades. Will we all return to the office, or will we keep WFH, at least part of the time?

In a recent study, we teamed up with researchers at Indeed, the world’s largest online job portal, in an attempt to answer this question using information contained in online job postings. We scrutinised over 1.2 billion online job ads and identified postings that advertise WFH in either the position, the location, or the job description. This required careful selection of keywords that, in each language and each country, are typically used to flag WFH, and at the same time avoid erroneously ascribing WFH when similar words are used in other contexts (i.e. false positives). We ended up assembling a new dataset tracking the share of WFH job postings in 20 OECD countries and 55 occupational categories from January 2019 to September 2022. This dataset, which is publicly available and for which regular updates are planned, provides the most encompassing evidence to date on the medium-term adoption of WFH across countries and occupations. A key advantage of this new dataset relative to survey data on WFH is that job postings represent an explicit commitment by employers to make WFH available to the worker rather than an ad-hoc arrangement to keep activity going during the pandemic. As such, our data based on job postings provide a more reliable measure of medium-term WFH adoption.

So, what do our data say? Our key insight is that WFH is far from receding even now that the worst of the pandemic seems to be behind us and most countries are reopening. Figure 1 below shows that the average incidence of advertised WFH across countries more than tripled, to about 9.5 percent of all job postings, during the first two years of the pandemic. Strikingly, advertised WFH was still very close to its pandemic peak in September 2022, our latest data point, despite the withdrawal of most of the government-imposed mobility restrictions. This suggests that employers expect WFH to remain a fixture in at least the short to medium term.

In the paper, we go beyond this key stylised fact. We first show that there are important differences in WFH adoption across countries and occupations, which can partly be explained by the degree to which governments restricted mobility in response to the pandemic and by the feasibility of WFH across different occupations. We then move on to confirm that WFH is here to stay through a simple regression model.

What does this mean for the economy? Businesses adopting WFH may be able to save on office space and may draw from a larger talent pool but may also forego informal knowledge sharing among workers. Workers who can WFH may benefit from less commuting and more freedom in deciding where to live. But those who cannot (e.g. workers providing services to office workers in business districts) may see worsening job prospects. WFH may also affect housing markets. For instance, one study finds that the adoption of WFH has been responsible for most of the increase in US housing prices during the pandemic, as workers searched for larger homes.

Our data provide a key tool to policy makers to monitor developments in WFH and design evidence-based policies to make the most of WFH for both workers and businesses.