Work from home is loved worldwide, even if Wall Street hates it

As Wall Street firms order employees back to the office, the option of working from home remains more popular than ever all over the world, according to a new study.

More than two years into the pandemic, many companies have eased vaccination, testing and mask rules and reopened their offices full-time. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Jefferies Financial Group Inc. are among US financial giants leading an aggressive push back to in-person work in recent weeks.  

The problem is that workers don’t want to come back — and that’s true across countries and industries, according to a research paper published Wednesday by an international team of economists, including Stanford University’s Nicholas Bloom, who’ve been gathering data on remote work since the early days of the pandemic. 

Workers say they’re more productive at home, would quit their jobs or look elsewhere if they are forced back, and would take pay cuts to maintain the remote option, the study found. It’s based on surveys in mid-2021 and early 2022 of people in 27 countries, skewing toward higher-income employees.

The shift to remote work “benefits workers,” the researchers wrote. “The reason is simple: Most workers value the opportunity to WFH part of the week, and some value it a lot.”

Here are five main takeaways from the paper. 

On average, people surveyed by the research team currently work about 1.5 days from home each week. Employees in countries where commutes are typically longer tend to place more value on time working from home. In India and China, for example, commute times average more than 90 minutes, roughly double the length for US workers. 

Workers said they’d take a 5% pay cut, on average, to keep working from home. Women — who are more likely to be primary care-givers for children or other family members — value the remote option more than men, the study found. 

In many countries, workers want to work from home more often than they’re doing now. Respondents in Brazil and Singapore said they want to work the most days remotely, while in some nations, like India, they want to spend more time in the office. 

About one-third of US workers would quit or start looking for another job if told to return to the workplace five days a week, higher than the global average. The rate was highest in the UK. 

Workers don’t feel they’re any less productive when working from home, according to the study — underscoring earlier research by academics including Stanford’s Bloom.

The new paper by the WFH Research team is based on online polling that likely skews toward well-educated and higher-income workers, who have better access to technology and more time to answer surveys, according to the academics. For example, about 90% of their respondents in China said they have college degrees, while only about one-quarter of the overall population does.

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