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61% of people working from home are doing so because they want to, even though their office is open

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More people are choosing to work from home because they want to, even if their office is open and they're less concerned about Covid risks, according to new findings from Pew Research Center.

According to a January survey of 5,889 workers, 61% of people working from home today say they're not going into their workplace because they don't want to, and 38% say their office is closed. It's a reversal from October 2020, when 64% of people were working from home because their office was closed, and 36% were doing so out of preference.

Even as more offices open up, "people are making a conscious choice to work from home, rather than just out of necessity," says Kim Parker, Pew's director of social trends research.

Remote workers report better balance, more productivity

Teleworkers say they're choosing to stay home for better work-life balance, productivity or because they've relocated away from the office. Fewer people say Covid is the main reason why they're working from home (42% now vs. 57% in 2020). Roughly one-third of parents cite child care as a major reason they telework. And most say working from home hasn't impacted their ability to advance in their career.

There are downsides, though: 60% of remote workers feel less connected to their colleagues.

With that said, Parker points out, today's remote workers feel more strongly than ever about making it permanent: 78% of people mostly working from home want to continue doing so after the pandemic, up from 64% in 2020.

A growing share of workers also say they don't have a workplace outside the home. It's too early to be sure, but this could indicate employers are getting rid of their offices over time, Parker says, or more people are taking remote jobs that aren't attached to a location at all.

Accounting for the pros and cons, Parker says, "when you look at the fact that a vast majority want to continue working from home in the future, you can see people are making tradeoffs in their mind and are seeing flexibility as more valuable than coworker connection."

Some people need offices to be productive

The share of people who have the option to work remotely but are choosing to go to the office most of the time is a "small but interesting group," Parker says. These individuals say they do so because they're more productive in an office and have more space to work.

A much smaller share, 14%, say their primary reason to return to offices is because they're worried about losing work opportunities while at home; 9% say they feel pressured to from their boss or coworkers.

In-person workers remain concerned about virus exposure

Importantly, the majority of workers, 60%, don't have jobs that can be done from home. About half of those who work in-person say they're concerned about being exposed to Covid, according to Pew, a share that hasn't budged since October 2020.

Most people going into a workplace today are at least somewhat satisfied with their employer's Covid health and safety measures, but it varies by age, race and income. Workers who are 65 and older, white and upper-income are far more likely to be "very satisfied" with workplace Covid safety those who are younger than 30, Black, Hispanic or lower income.

Employer vaccine requirements don't seem to change these views, Parker says. About 39% of workers with a vaccine requirement and 35% of workers without one say they are "very satisfied" with their employer's Covid safety precautions.

Overall, according to Pew, about 1 in 5 in-person workers say their employer has a vaccine requirement in place. Beyond vaccines, public health officials stress that indoor masking, social distancing, good hygiene and staying home when sick are all ways to minimize the spread of Covid-19.

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