Snohomish County remote work study echoes national sentiment

Roughly 50% of workers won’t take a job that requires them to be in the office full-time, a survey found.

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EVERETT — In July, roughly 4 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs, nearly 3% of total U.S. labor force. The Great Resignation continues, holding steady at about 4 million quits each month this spring and summer, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Where did they go?

Most took another job, jumping ship for higher pay or greater benefits. But a growing number ditched their jobs for the ability to work remotely.

A Snohomish County survey confirms the trend locally: 50% of respondents said they would not consider a job that required them to work full-time in an office.

Kathy Solberg, founder and CEO of CommonUnity, a new consulting firm, conducted the survey in July and August. Linda War Bonnet, an Everett consultant, crunched the numbers.

“This speaks to how critical the discussion of remote versus onsite work is right now,” said Solberg, former CEO of Leadership Snohomish County.

Survey responses were split evenly from nonprofit, private industry and public institutions, Solberg said. Nearly 90 percent worked remotely some or all of the time during the pandemic. Nearly 40 percent are still working remotely, some or all of the time, she said.

It was a small non-scientific survey, just 60 people who responded to the firm’s social media posts, Solberg said.

Still, it captured a broad demographic of workers from age 25 to 65, about 92 percent of whom live or work in Snohomish County, she said.

The results echo those of a recent national survey in which half of respondents said they would “definitely seek a remote position” for their next job, according to SHRM Research Institute.

They also mirror a global survey of 32,000 workers, which found that 64% of respondents would consider looking for a new job if they were required to return to the office full-time, according to a study this year by ADP Research Institute.

“Private businesses, nonprofits and government employers need to figure how to bring people back to the office and what the ‘new office’ looks like,” Solberg said. ”For Snohomish County organizations to attract and retain employees, returning to pre-pandemic onsite expectations is not an option,” she said.

Voluntary quit rates fell 35% when engineers, marketing and financial workers were offered remote and hybrid work options, Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom told the Wall Street Journal. Workers view the ability to work from home — at least some of the time — as the equivalent of a 7% pay raise, Bloom said.

For Candace Chamlee, human resources director at Housing Hope, the trend toward working remotely began in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deciding which positions can be handled remotely is now part of the hiring and recruiting process, Chamlee said.

“Some positions you must be present in person,” she said.

The nonprofit agency employs 173 people in Snohomish County, from child care workers to administrators.

“If a position lends itself to being performed in a remote work fashion, we will advertise it as such,” Chamlee said. “Our ideal is three days on site and two days remote. We have some exceptions for people working out of state.”

The ability to work remotely has helped in recruiting and retaining workers, she said.

“It does matter. The majority in our profession can’t work remotely, but there are people who can’t work unless it’s remote,” Chamlee said. “People ask and we are attentive. We want to hire and recruit employees but also retain them.”

“It’s such an important time to figure this out,” Solberg said. “Organizations need to develop a remote work policy.”

However, confusion can arise when the message isn’t consistent, Solberg said. She cited the example of a local company where the CEO was fine with staff working remotely, but the vice president wanted everyone in the office three days a week.

The pandemic changed how people work and where, Solberg said.

On the flip side, 37 percent said they wouldn’t accept a full time job that was fully remote, the survey said.

Remote work required employers to trust the integrity of their employees. Workers discovered the joys of a reduced commute, and for some, a better work-life balance, she said.

But there are challenges. Employees who had to be on site were sometimes frustrated or resentful of colleagues allowed to work remotely, the survey found.

To ease the tension, organizations might consider offering onsite staff some of the benefits that remote workers enjoy, Solberg said. One perk might be allowing earlier start times for onsite workers so they can pick up the kids from school, she said.

Just 35 percent of Americans — some 50 million people out of 137 million — worked from home at some point in May 2020 due to the pandemic, when remote work was at its peak, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Today, it’s still a small portion of the workforce that has the luxury of working at home, less than 35%, Solberg said.

The division between white and blue collar workers has become more marked than ever since the pandemic. The burnout faced by first responders, hospitality workers and those in any service industries is also shaping our workforce, Solberg noted.

“Our survey is intended as a tool to support those individuals who have work that does not demand their physical presence each day,” Solberg said. “It is in no way meant to be disrespectful of the distance. … Part of the intention is to increase retention for all organizations and companies and present data to arm both sides to know that neither fully hybrid or fully on site is the ideal solution.”

Some key Snohomish County survey findings:

• When it comes to deciding whether to allow remote work, managers wanted to know if workers could manage their time, work effectively from home and be OK with social challenges. Accountability, autonomy and flexibility were top factors in deciding who to allow to work remotely.

• The challenges of remote work include workers feeling disconnected from others, boundaries related to home and work, and technology issues.

• Returning to the office was an adjustment for some: “Being around people again and the noise and distraction of the workplace,” as well as child care and transportation were given as concerns.

• Less commuting, lower stress, more sleep and less contact with “disliked employees” were touted as benefits.

• Other benefits cited included greater productivity at home and being energized when workers did visit the office.

• The ability to spend time with children or a pet were each cited by 12% of respondents as a benefit of remote work.

To view a summary of the Snohomish County remote work survey, go to commonunity-us.com/2022-remote-work-survey.

Janice Podsada: 425-339-3097; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @JanicePods.

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