by Robert B. Noland, Hannah Younes, Wenwen Zhang
It has now been over two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began and many people were forced to start working at home. While the initial phases of the pandemic led to forced business closures and working at home, the restrictions put in place in New Jersey were largely relaxed by about July 2020. Many businesses, however, continued to enforce work at home restrictions and schools engaged in remote learning. How has this affected people’s behavior? Are many continuing to work at home? We have conducted two surveys of New Jersey residents corresponding to the two winter peaks in cases (from Dec 2020-Feb 2021, and Dec 2021-Feb 2022), the latter funded by the NJ State Policy Lab. The results of our analysis provide insights into potential future work at home behavior.
Based on our survey results, prior to the pandemic, only about 8% of NJ residents reported working at home every day and about another 10% did so a few times a week. During the first winter surge of the pandemic this shot up to 43% working at home every day and about 27% doing so a few times a week. These numbers dropped during the second winter surge to 36% and 20%. Only 13% of respondents expect to be able to work at home every day once the pandemic is fully behind us. About 20% expect that they can work at home a few days a week. While much less than during our winter peaks, this is still a substantial increase in working at home compared to before the pandemic. We also asked respondents if they have a desire to work at home more often in the future; nearly 50% of respondents do.
We also explored impacts on women compared to men. Many women experienced extra childcare duties when daycare centers closed, causing stress and exacerbating gender inequality in household labor (Abromaviciute & Carian, 2022; Calarco et al., 2020). Supporting children in online learning was also a major burden on many families. We examined differences in behavior for men and women and how they viewed working at home in the future. Somewhat more women than men reported an increase in working at home during the pandemic (57% of women vs. 50% of men in the first wave and 48% vs. 42% in the second wave)). While large pluralities of both men and women expressed a desire to work at home in the future, during the first wave of our survey more men expressed this desire (49% of men vs. 45% of women in the first wave). During the second wave, more women expressed this desire (53% of women vs.43% of men), increasing their earlier reported desire to work at home by 8%.
By the second wave of our survey, schools and daycare centers were largely open, but often shifted to online or closed when positive COVID cases were reported, leading to unreliability in the ability to work at home without interruptions. This may partly explain why the desire to work at home among women increased. Together with reductions in time spent commuting and away from home, it is not surprising that many individuals expressed this desire for working at home in the future.
Policymakers, and more importantly, employers, need to consider the benefits that working from home provides to many employees. This is a personal choice for many – some report that they don’t like working at home (18% in our first wave and 12% in our second wave). About 58% report that their job is not suitable for working at home. In any case, for those who express a willingness and desire to work at home more often, there can be many benefits to the state, such as reducing congestion at peak times, minimizing greenhouse gas emissions from commuting, and allowing people to recapture their days by spending it with family or on other endeavors.
Abromaviciute, Jurgita, and Emily K. Carian.” The COVID-19 Pandemic and the Gender Gap in Newly Created Domains of Household Labor.” Sociological Perspectives (2022): 07311214221103268.
Calarco, Jessica M., Elizabeth M. Anderson, Emily V. Meanwell, and Amelia Knopf. 2020. ““Let’s Not Pretend It’s Fun:” How Covid-19-related School and Childcare Closures Are Damaging Mothers’ Well-being” SocArXiv. October 4. doi:10.31235/osf.io/jyvk4
 Both surveys were online panels provided by Qualtrics, largely representative of the New Jersey population. For the first wave we obtained 1,419 respondents, and for the second wave 1,032 respondents.