By Hannah Asuncion and Collin Houck
The number of Sacramento-area employees who mostly work from home has declined, affecting tens of thousands of people, especially those with white collar jobs.
According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures, the percentage of Sacramento employees who mostly work from home went from 23.3% in 2021 to 19.8% in 2022. Only 7.8% of workers worked from home in 2019, before the pandemic.
A similar decrease was seen across the rest of California. Only 6.3% of employed Californians mostly worked from home before the pandemic in 2019. In 2021, about 21.4% Californians worked from home. About 17.2% of them worked from home in 2022.
David Lang, chair of the economics department and professor of labor economics at Sacramento State, said that when the pandemic first hit, not too many people were working from home. Then there was a quick push to see if employees were still able to get their work done from home.
“You had to kind of drag people into that world,” Lang noted. “People were very resistant and faculty on this campus was yelling and screaming that ‘we can’t do that, that’s too much of a transition, we can’t teach effectively that way’.”
Lang also pointed out that people started to realize that they were able to do various aspects of their job just as well in a remote way.
Another realization many had was that there are benefits to not having the constant need to dress up, shave every day, commute and even deal with some ‘pickier personalities’, Lang added.
Lang said, “I think that people were able to find a way to make it work and they got used to it like we get used to anything else.”
Who got to work from home was largely dependent on their industry. According to Lang, if workers were in a position where they could work remotely, then they were forced to do so by their bosses. He said in most cases that people were adjusting pretty well to their work, but when it came to relearning how to interact with people whether it was in a work or public environment, then it was a challenge.
Lang expects the work-from-home numbers to continue to decline a bit but believes that they will mostly stay stagnant. People have adjusted well enough to the point of getting things done at home as easily as before.
“Expect that it’s going linger and kind of stay relatively flat and may tick down a little bit, but it won’t go down to around 7.8%,” he explained. “That’s not what the economy’s gonna look like anymore.” Lang thinks it’ll probably be around 15-20% of employees working from home, noting, “People are probably going to develop all sorts of new ways of working that don’t feel just thrown together, so we’re going get even better at this than they were during the last couple of years.”
Women in the Sacramento region were more likely to mostly work from home compared to men last year, 22.4% vs.17.5%.
Due to jobs going remote, fewer people are going downtown each day, which can hurt downtown businesses.
Katie Valenzuela, a city council member who represents downtown Sacramento, said she doesn’t think the work-from-home trend is going to change. She said there is a huge opportunity for Downtown to plan out what it could possibly look like to “have a slightly more diverse economic base”.
“I think that the impact has been significant, but I think the opportunity moving forward is to really reimagine how we bring more idle entertainment and people downtown,” Valenzuela reflected. “What I’m really excited about because I really think that’s where the future of downtown lies.”
The councilmember also observed that City Hall has been discussing ways to adapt so they can guarantee that all the businesses have what they need alongside their workers.
“What we’re doing now in the city is really planning for what the Downtown economy is going to look like for the long run,” she added. According to her, public employees like state workers who work Downtown are heavily represented by unions who are constantly advocating for their interests. They navigate with their employers in a different way compared to most of the private sector employees. Valenzuela often hears from people who decide to work from home that their main priority is their family. It makes more sense, she said, for their families and for them financially.
Valenzuela thinks the biggest personal economic driver for working from home is childcare.
“It’s more comfortable to work at home, people have significant childcare issues and so many childcare providers closed during the pandemic,” she asserted.
Valenzuela encourages employers to have work from home policies to help with the environment.
“This crisis of the pandemic and everything that’s happened has created an opportunity to really think differently about how to support employees, as well as how do we build a downtown that is more robust and resilient in the future,” she argued.
Cassie Black works for the state and she appreciates all of the many benefits of being able to work from home.
For Black, working from home saved her money on gas, lowered her commute time and reduced other costs while allowing more flexibility with other things. She said she even doesn’t get as tired due to long commute times of having to go into work.
“I love working from home because it allows me to get out of bed and start my day,” Black explained. “I don’t have to use gas, deal with traffic or deal with parking which would add more unnecessary time to my day if I had to go into the office.”
Candace Keefauver manages a government program and describes her experience working from home as life changing.
“It’s benefited me because I can take less sick days and use my time more efficiently,” Keefauver stressed.
She also believes that being able to work from home benefits people with disabilities, as they might have had trouble physically going into the office in the past. The work from home option seems to be an all-around great factor for employees.
“Working from home is a huge benefit for employees with disabilities,” Keefauver said. “In the past, it was impossible to ever get approval to work from home, so having a telework option is a huge and positive change.”