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The State Of Remote Work In 2021: A Survey Of The American Workforce

An Asian-American woman works at home on her laptop in the living room.

Americans share their true opinions on the importance of remote work in 2021, their desire to return to the office, and other very strong feelings about work, money and life in the COVID-19 era.


At GoodHire, we surveyed 3,500 American workers to better understand the current state of remote work in 2021, and more specifically, the American workforce’s true feelings about remote work and potential return-to-office mandates across the country. 

Along the way, we uncovered what it would take to entice a remote employee to return to the office (hint: it’s a lot). 

On top of that, we learned what employees would forgo to remain in remote working situations — from salary to benefits and more. 

And from the job seeker’s perspective, we zeroed in on the application process in relation to remote vs. in-office job opportunities. 

Additionally, survey respondents provided insight into what they think companies need to consider when establishing return-to-office policies.

Let’s get right into a data recap.

Summary Of Key Findings

  • A whopping 68% of Americans would choose remote working options over in-office work.
  • A huge majority — 85% of Americans — believe that their colleagues and other employees around the nation prefer working remotely rather than working from the company office. 
  • 61% of Americans would be willing to take a pay cut to maintain remote working status. Some workers even suggested they would take a 50% pay cut to avoid returning to the office. 
  • 45% of Americans would either quit their job or immediately start a remote work job search if they were forced to return to their office full-time. Almost one-quarter of the respondents said, specifically, they would quit if a return-to-office mandate was instituted.
  • 74% of Americans need a continued remote working arrangement to stay at their current job.
  • 85% of Americans prefer to apply for jobs that offer remote flexibility, while just 15% would apply for a position that requires total full-time office work. 
  • 60% of Americans would move to a new city just for the opportunity to work remotely in any capacity. 
  • 70% of Americans would forfeit benefits to maintain remote working status, most commonly: health insurance, paid time off, retirement accounts, and more.
  • 74% of Americans believe that companies not offering remote working arrangements will lose major talent in the workforce.
  • 67% of Americans believe that companies that do not offer remote working arrangements will struggle mightily to attract quality applicants.
  • 64% of Americans believe companies that do not offer remote working arrangements will have to increase salary offerings to entice job seekers to apply.
  • 84% of Americans need to see COVID-19 safety protocols in place before considering a return to their company’s office.

Now, let’s get into the full breakdown of our survey and the information gathered.

American Workers Really, Really Dislike The Office

Since March 2020, COVID-19 has been a burden on nearly everyone in the world. More than four million people have died, millions of others have been sick, lost jobs, and struggled financially because of the global pandemic that has impacted the economy, businesses of all sizes, and perhaps even more so, the employees that power those businesses. 

Americans across the nation were forced to flee from lavish company offices filled with snacks, nap pods, free lunches, massages, happy hours, and onsite health services. Instead of spending Monday through Friday at the office, workers that had never spent a day in their life working remotely — 75% of the American workforce had never worked from home before the pandemic — were forced to make new arrangements to work at home indefinitely.  

Fast forward to August 2021. The pandemic, until recent developments with the Delta variant (more on that later), seemed to have slowed with successful vaccine rollouts across the US and at that point, offices started to reopen. But is this what workers actually want? The answer might surprise you. 

Our survey revealed that although offices began to open and workers were encouraged to return, just 32% of American workers actually prefer working from the office, while the majority (68%) would much rather work remotely. 

Graph shows 68% of Americans would prefer to work remotely.

Additionally, our survey uncovered the fact that some people really, really dislike the office. Forty-five percent of workers surveyed by GoodHire have such an aversion to being at their office that they would either quit their job or start a remote job search immediately upon being required to return to full-time office work. 

Even more telling, one-quarter of the workers surveyed said they would definitely quit their job before even considering a return to the office.

Graph shows 25% of Americans would quit jobs before going back in-office.

Our research shows clearly that perhaps the office isn’t the preferred place for employees anymore. With workers getting a true taste of the flexibility that comes with remote work, the floodgates have opened. The free snacks and lunches, happy hours, and other perks of the office no longer outweigh the autonomy that remote work allows. 

To that tune, a whopping 85% of respondents said they believe their colleagues, and employees in the US in general, also prefer remote work.  

The people have now spoken. We know that remote work is highly preferred. But when it comes down to employees being forced back to their office full-time, would they actually do anything about it? Well, we asked. 

It turns out that 74% of respondents would need some sort of remote working arrangement to stay at their current job, while only 26% said they don’t care about working remotely at all. 

Graphs shows 74% of respondents need remote working options to stay at their current job

When asked to rank the number of days per week they’d accept as a proper remote working arrangement, respondents strongly favored three to five days a week, while anything less than that was deemed not acceptable. 

Remote work is definitely preferred — and it’s not even close. 

But would Americans sacrifice any of their pay to maintain remote working status? Let’s find out. 

Employees Eager To Take Pay Cuts For Remote Status

Yes, you read that correctly. 

When asked if they would take a pay cut just to maintain remote working status, 61% of respondents said, yes, they would take a pay cut to work remotely full-time

Graph shows 61% of Americans would be willing to take a pay cut to maintain remote working status.

But after hearing that, we dug deeper. We asked if employees would take a significant pay cut to ensure that they could continue to work remotely, and we asked how much that might be.

To our surprise, some respondents suggested they would take up to a 50% pay cut to avoid going back to the office five days per week! 

However, most of the 61% who said they would take a pay cut didn’t mean a massive 50% cut, the most common answer was a 10% drop in pay to maintain remote working status. We know 10% isn’t anywhere near half your salary, but it sure feels like a large amount of money to give up just to avoid your company’s office. 

And so the question begged to be asked; if American workers are willing to sacrifice hard-earned money, what else would they give up? 

Choosing Remote Work vs. Healthcare, 401K, Paid Time Off

Benefits in the workplace can be confusing to many. Forbes estimates that under half of all employees actually understand their benefits. 

On the other hand, we know a few things that are easily understood — benefits are extremely valuable to employees, can help them save money on healthcare, dental, vision, gym memberships, and even provide them with paid time off. Traditionally, benefits have been a huge plus in the recruiting and hiring process. 

But have things changed since the COVID-19 remote work boom? 

To find out, we asked Americans if they’d forfeit benefits — and which ones — to maintain remote working status. It turns out that a wide majority, 70% of people surveyed, would be more than willing to sacrifice benefits to avoid the dreaded return-to-office. 

Graph shows 70% of Americans would forfeit employee benefits for remote work.

Benefits that employees would be willing to give up included: health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, gym memberships, retirement accounts (401K), and paid time off. 

Think back to the pre-COVID work culture — would anyone even consider giving up their benefits, paid time off, or even a portion of their salary to simply work from home a few days per week? Unlikely. 

But it’s 2021, people have gotten a taste of the freedom and flexibility of remote work, and they desperately want that situation to continue. 

It’s extremely clear that people prefer remote work — they would literally pay the price to maintain remote working status. But does the same go for job seekers and applicants? How do they feel about remote working options?

Let’s dig deeper.

Most Job Seekers Won’t Consider Applying For In-Office Jobs

Our data shows that the majority of Americans prefer to work from home in their current job. But what happens when people are actually out there seeking new job opportunities?

Research has shown that only about 3% of applicants even get to the formal interview process. So, does understanding how hard it is to find a new job change the narrative when it comes to remote vs. in-office work? 

The answer is, well, no — not at all. 

According to our survey, an astounding 85% of Americans said they prefer to apply for jobs that definitively offer remote working or hybrid options vs. jobs that require full-time, in-office work.

Graph shows 85% of Americans need confirmed remote options before applying.

Additionally, nearly 30% of respondents said they would absolutely not consider applying for a job that requires them to be in-office five days per week. 

We now know that by not offering remote working opportunities, companies are clearly eliminating nearly one-third of the available applicant pool. Astonishing, yes. But keep that in mind as we drill down later into the views of employers.

What about location? If most people are leaning heavily toward applying for remote-first positions across the country, does the city you live in even matter anymore? 

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, in the past, up to 45% of people moved because of occupational reasons. 

Pre-COVID-19, “occupational reasons” meant moving for a job in order to work in your company’s new office, cover a sales territory, or something similar. 

Today, our research shows that nearly 60% of respondents would uproot life in their current city and move somewhere else just to avoid going to the office full-time. The times have officially changed!

When asked where they would prefer to move, individuals cited the following cities as some of their most desired destinations: 

  • New York City
  • Los Angeles
  • Chicago
  • Houston
  • Phoenix
  • Philadelphia
  • San Diego 

Clearly, COVID-19 has permanently changed our working world. Again, most significantly, Americans have shown their eagerness to work outside of the office. 

So what does this mean for the employer’s side? Let’s take a look.

Bad News For Companies Refusing To Offer Remote Work

Logic would tell us that if the workforce is demanding remote working options, employers should offer them that luxury, right?

We know that in typical employer-employee relationships, this might not be the case. Employers maintain control, since they pay the bills and ultimately sign the paychecks. Without the employer, many workers are simply without jobs. 

So what happens if the employer isn’t in favor of remote work when it becomes safe to return to the office?

Well, according to a RingCentral study on remote work, the majority of employers prefer in-office work, specifically so they can manage company culture and oversee productivity while ensuring continued high-level performance. 

But let’s set the record straight — most employees certainly hope their bosses adapt, and soon. 

When asked if they believe companies would lose major talent if they don’t offer remote work options, 74% of our survey respondents said yes. 

We then asked if the respondents thought companies would have a hard time getting people to apply for open positions if they had a full-time in-office policy. Unsurprisingly, 67% of our survey respondents said yes, again

Additionally, 64% of them even said that companies will need to pay higher salaries to offset their lack of remote working options. 

The writing is on the wall — remote work seems to be here to stay and companies who aren’t adapting may be in serious trouble, according to our respondents. 

Moving Forward — What About The Delta Variant?

It’s clear that COVID-19 has drastically altered both work and personal life patterns — maybe forever.

But just a few months ago, many employees without the flexibility to work remotely were starting to return to their office and life was returning to normal. 

You could feel the hope in the air across cities in America; however, we’re now facing a new threat that new mutations of the COVID-19 virus like the Delta variant could bring back restrictions, and these laws and guidelines could even be more stringent.

So, how will employees handle this? Will they return without a fight to an unsafe environment? Will they protest? Will they demand safety protocols or proof of vaccination?

We asked, and here’s what they had to say.

More than half of all employees surveyed are seriously concerned about the new COVID-19 outbreaks across the world and would not feel safe heading back to an office. 

Because of this, 74% of employees said they would volunteer their vaccination status to their employer to ensure they’re returning to a safe office. 

Graph shows 84% of workers want increased efforts to ensure Covid safety.

On top of that, just 16% of American workers are ready to accept a mandated return-to-office without additional safety measures or protocols in place. 

In detail, 84% of employees surveyed would prefer some combination of the following: 

  • Masks for all employees in-office
  • Only being allowed back in-office with proof of vaccine
  • Capacity limits on the number of people allowed in-office 
  • Daily sanitizing of all work surfaces 

The threat is real and employees are in desperate need of enhanced safety measures should they be required to return to their office even part-time. 

What’s Next?

American workers absolutely love remote work. And most would prefer to work from anywhere but the office when COVID-19 restrictions are removed. 

Remote work is flexible, there is an increased sense of freedom and control, commutes are a thing of the past, gas and dry cleaning bills are slashed, and hey, it’s 2021 and we are blessed with incredible technology that allows us to maintain productivity from anywhere. Sounds like a slam dunk, right?

We know work habits have probably changed for good, but whether employers take the advice from their employees regarding remote work best practices remains to be seen. 

But one thing is clear: if workers are willing to take pay cuts or even quit their jobs to maintain a remote lifestyle, employers will absolutely have to adjust quickly. 

For more information on GoodHire’s research, full data set, or to request an interview about this report, please contact press@goodhire.com.  

Survey Methodology

All data found within this report is derived from a survey by GoodHire conducted online via survey platform Pollfish. In total, 3,500 adult Americans were surveyed. The respondents were found via Pollfish’s age filtering feature. This survey was conducted over a two-day span, and all respondents were asked to answer all questions as truthfully as possible and to the best of their knowledge and abilities. 

About GoodHire

GoodHire’s background check platform makes screening easier and more efficient, so you can hire faster. The platform’s integrated compliance features, intuitive workflows, and automated processes help simplify a complex process to give you peace of mind. GoodHire is an accredited, FCRA-compliant employment screening provider. We offer 200+ employment screening services, including:

  • Criminal Background Checks: Using criminal background checks as part of your hiring process helps you assess any risks associated with bringing on someone with a criminal record and make an informed decision—before hiring them. 
  • Driving Record (MVR) Checks: Reviewing your candidate’s driving records and safety data is important for positions where employees, volunteers, or contractors will operate motor vehicles for business purposes. 
  • Employment Verifications: Verifying your candidate’s work history helps you make informed decisions and instills confidence that you’re hiring the most trustworthy, qualified candidates for the positions you need to fill.

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Disclaimer

The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.


About the Author

Sara Korolevich is the director of content marketing and managing editor at GoodHire. She produces educational resources for employers on a variety of employment screening topics, including compliance and screening best practices, and writes about GoodHire’s company and product news. Sara’s experience stems from 20+ years working as a B2C and B2B PR and communications professional.