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Fully Remote Work and Employee Autonomy Remain Rare, BLS Report Suggests

  • While remote and hybrid work arrangements have grown in popularity, a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey finds that just 9.6 percent of workers can complete critical tasks via telework
  • Self-paced work was also rare, available to only 16.5 percent of workers
  • More than one-third of employees had their work checked by a supervisor at least once a day

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

The COVID-19 pandemic has created major shifts in how people do work, with companies developing hybrid or fully remote schedules and otherwise offering greater flexibility to employees. Yet a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that less than 10 percent of workers are able to completely work remotely, with fewer than one in five able to self-pace their own work.

In addition, the report looked into other factors, such as the ability of employees to take breaks and their exposure to certain workplace hazards. It also addressed other occupational requirements such as interactions with the public and prerequisites for a profession.

Just 9.6 percent of civilian workers are able to complete critical job functions through telework. These estimates only included permanent arrangements, not temporary or ad hoc ones such as those made in response to lockdowns instituted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Permanent remote work was most common in the legal field, where 50.1 percent of workers were able to complete their tasks in this way. It was also common among computer and mathematical occupations (47.6 percent) and business and financial occupations (40.8 percent).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that no jobs in team assembly or building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations could be performed remotely. Less than 1 percent were able to telework in occupations in production; installation, maintenance, and repair; construction and extraction; and personal care and service.

Just 16.5 percent were able to self-pace their own work, or take significant discretion on when their tasks would be completed. More than one-third – 34.5 percent – had their work checked at least once a day by a supervisor.

The ability to self-pace was rarely available in several fields where workflow is unpredictable, including food preparation, team assembly, and transportation and moving. While 38.3 percent of overall computer and mathematical occupations were able to self-pace, the share fell to just 2.9 percent among computer user support specialists.

Self-pacing was most common among general and operations managers, with 61.8 percent able to do so. Other professions with a strong ability to self-pace included life, physical, and social sciences occupations (53.1 percent), architecture and engineering (51.1 percent), and business and professional occupations (49.8 percent).

A total of 55.6 percent of civilian workers had the ability to take short, unscheduled breaks during their workday. This ability was most common among general and operations managers, business and financial operations professionals, computer and mathematical occupations, and legal occupations. It was least feasible in protective service operations, food preparation and serving, team assembly, and transportation and material moving.

The average worker spent 56.8 percent of their workday sitting and 43.2 percent standing. A total of 43.2 percent had the ability to choose whether they would work while sitting or standing.

In looking at environmental exposures, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 58.7 percent of professions involved work requiring low postures such as kneeling, crouching, or stooping. Other exposures were much less common, with 11.5 percent working in proximity to moving mechanical parts, 9.5 percent exposed to heights, 7.5 percent exposed to hazardous contaminants, and 7 percent exposed to loud noises.

Carpenters were most commonly exposed to environmental hazards, with all of these professionals using low postures in their work. A total of 86.5 percent were exposed to heights and 84.4 percent to moving mechanical parts.

A total of 78.1 percent of jobs required interactions with the general public. The share rose to 100 percent for nurse practitioners, cashiers, and child care workers.

A majority of jobs – 61.1 percent – required more than just basic skills. On-the-training was necessary for 78.7 percent of positions, while 47 percent required prior work experience and 46.1 percent required credentials, including 19.8 percent where a license was necessary.

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