PPIC Logo Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Blog Post · June 4, 2024

Remote Work Is Reshaping the California Labor Market

This is the first post in a series examining remote work in California.

photo - Man Sitting on Couch at Home Working on Laptop

The fastest, most widespread shift ever in how and where work is done was brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Before 2020, workers across the economy spent about 5% of working days at home—this rate shot up to 60% when COVID hit. Today, US workers spend about 27% of working days at home, a shift that has reshaped commutes, offices, business districts, workplace interactions, and how workers allocate their time. The impacts are still playing out, as are negotiations between workers and employers about whether the current state of remote work supports productivity.

Hybrid work is the most common arrangement for remote work: working some days on site and other days at home.  Over 25% of US workers report hybrid work; only 12% work remotely all the time. In California, working from home is more common than in the rest of the country. Surveyed in a random week during 2022, 17% of California workers (3.2 million) said they’d “typically” worked from home the prior week compared to 15% of other US workers.

According to the PPIC Statewide Survey, 6 in 10 employed Californians would like to work from home at least some of the time.  While there is conflicting evidence about how remote work affects productivity and whether some workers need proximity to coworkers to advance, Californians find flexible work appealing. That flexibility may be desirable for workers and it could improve labor force participation. For instance, initial evidence suggests that the opportunity for telework may have improved employment among women  in recent years. Additionally, remote work is a valuable option for workers with disabilities, though the recent shift toward remote work does not appear to be widespread among this group.

In fact, occupations with more flexibility to work remotely have had strong employment growth. While overall employment fell 2% between 2018–19 and 2021–22, employment in occupations where at least half of workers report working from home grew 12%. The largest growth includes software developers, mathematical science occupations, management analysts, and computer hardware engineers. However, the occupations most likely to do remote work are writers and editors (3 of the top 10 remote occupations), even though this field is not growing very fast in California.

At the other end of the spectrum, employment has been shrinking in California fields where few work remotely. Employment fell almost 7% in occupations where less than 5% of workers are remote, with the biggest declines in work that supports buildings (security guards, janitors), food service (chefs and food prep), and agricultural workers. The shift to remote work itself may drive some of this decline—the muted use of office space lowers demand for jobs that support the functioning of buildings and lowers demand for food service in and around central business districts.

Similarly, the pandemic’s effect on how consumers make purchases—much more online than in-person retail—has created divergent trends in employment. Even though the work is not remote, freight and material moving as well as shipping and receiving have seen sizeable growth. On the other hand, retail sales clerks and management (also mostly done face to face) have seen some of the steepest declines.

Even as remote and hybrid work arrangements are five times more common today than before the pandemic, most employed Californians work outside the home. As we navigate this new landscape, it is essential to consider the long-term implications and develop policies that support workers and businesses alike.


coronavirus COVID-19 Economic Trends Economy future of work Jobs and Employment labor market remote work remote work trends workers