The Madison Metropolitan area ranked 22nd in the percentage of workers who worked primarily from home in 2021 across the 100 largest metropolitan areas nationally.
The analysis, done by the Wisconsin Policy Forum using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, found the prevalence of remote work varies widely in Wisconsin counties.
Since COVID-19, working remotely has become much more common than in the past. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people working primarily from home over tripled from 5.7% to 17.9% nationally.
As companies continue to navigate the many types of labor models available to them, research is beginning to be published about the impacts remote work has on companies, employees and the economy.
In the Midwest, the only metro areas with higher rates of remote work than the Madison area were Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota and Columbus, Ohio, according to the analysis.
Overall, Wisconsin ranks lower than the national average of remote workers, with 14.8% of Wisconsin workers working from home, compared to 17.9% nationally.
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Working remotely was first introduced in the 1960s, when NASA hired engineers from across the country to get the United States to the moon, according to University of Wisconsin professor of applied economics Steven Deller.
Concerns of climate change have also encouraged companies to offer remote work as a way to reduce carbon emissions as well as impact where people will live in the future, according to Deller.
“A lot of climate change models are saying that the Midwest will not be hit nearly as hard,” Deller said. “Wisconsin could benefit from a climate migration if remote work is a possibility.”
UW community economic development specialist and researcher Matthew Kures did research on the implications of remote work in fall 2022. Kures found working from home offers workers greater flexibility and reduces commuting times, but the impacts on career progressions are still unclear. Working remotely is also largely dependent on the occupation workers are in, Kures said.
In his research, Kures found 23.3% of Wisconsin workers who worked from home worked in the management, business, science and arts occupations in 2021.
Remote professions tend to be highest in occupations such as professional services, software development and anything that doesn’t require face to face interaction, Deller said.
Madison’s ability to work remotely is likely due to the high number of software and tech jobs, as well as the state government occupations — all of which can move remotely quite easily, according to Deller.
According to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, Wisconsin is in the top five states for remote workers due to their income tax obligation policies. Data from Wisconsin’s tax and regulatory policies towards remote workers shows Wisconsin as the 14th best state for remote workers.
Companies have reacted quite differently to remote work. Kures said Epic, a software company in Madison, is demanding all workers come back to the office.
Similarly, other companies in Wisconsin, such as Northwestern Mutual, have required a return to in-person work in some capacity, according to The Milwaukee Business Journal.
In an email statement to The Badger Herald, Northwestern Mutual senior director of corporate reputation Julia Fennelly said the company is offering flexible work arrangements while also recognizing the importance of a physical space for employees.
“A key ingredient of Northwestern Mutual’s success is our unique culture,” Fennelly said. “A culture where employees spend time together collaborating, building and strengthening relationships, and growing networks.”
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Kures found that working remotely has increased productivity. By giving employees more flexibility to work around their own schedules, workers are both happier and more productive.
This data has been hard for companies to wrap their heads around. Employers like a greater sense of management in the workplace that is not available when employees are working from home, according to Deller.
But the hybrid model of working remotely and in-person is likely to continue, according to Kures. He said employers in a tight labor market may have to continue to offer remote work to retain them.
Remote work has various implications for communities. It is highly dependent on economic structure and a communities ability to offer amenities that will entice potential workers. These amenities are only really available in larger cities, such as Madison, according to Kures.
While the data about who is working remotely is new, businesses, communities and employees are going to have to keep an eye on remote work data and possible implications, as working remotely is not going away anytime soon, Kures said.