As remote work sweeps the U.S., 55% say it can succeed in their industry

Zoom calls with colleagues. A homemade sandwich for lunch — and the kids within earshot. It’s hardly the workplace we expected. But the newest edition of the LinkedIn Workforce Confidence Index shows that 55% of respondents now think their industry can be effective when people are working remotely.

Optimism is strongest in intensely digital fields, such as software, finance and media. In those industries, more than 75% of people endorse the idea that remote work and effective operations go hand in hand. 

In other sectors, remote work is a polarizing topic, especially if in-person interaction is crucial. These include health care (with optimists at just 48%) and manufacturing (41%). Resistance is most intense in retail, with only 29% of insiders thinking their industry could thrive with remote work. Findings reflect the Workforce Confidence Index’s latest poll of 5,447 LinkedIn members, covering the week of April 27 to May 3. 

Taken as a whole, the pandemic economy’s new norms are finding surprising support. Even in “boots and bolts” industries, a majority of respondents now say remote work can play an effective role. Examples include hardware and networking (61%), energy and mining (61%), or transportation and logistics (52%).

The same is true for classic white-collar fields that have long been associated with big offices or classrooms, such as legal (67%), public administration (59%) and education (57%). 

When professionals are asked if they personally can be effective in a remote work setting, they express even more optimism than when viewing their industry as a whole. Personal optimism on working from home effectively is running at 65% in the Workforce Confidence survey, 10 percentage points above professionals’ views on how effective their industry can be as a whole.

W. Duncan Goins, an investment-operations specialist in Chandler, Arizona, says he’s thriving with the switch to working at home. “In the morning, I can brush my teeth, make coffee and get right to it,” he says. His daily commute into Phoenix is gone; he has more time to see his children; and as a disabled veteran, he no longer feels exhausted at the end of the workday. “I hope the work-from-home culture lasts,” Goins adds.

Top executives are rapidly getting the message. “The crisis has showed that we can work in different ways,” Mondelez chief executive Dirk Van de Put told The Wall Street Journal this week. “Maybe we don’t need all the offices that we currently have around the world.” His consumer-products company’s top brands include Ritz crackers and Toblerone chocolate.

Companies as diverse as social-media platform Twitter and investment bank Jefferies now say that even when offices formally reopen, individual employees will be able to decide how much, if at all, they return to onsite work. “We at Jefferies have proven that work and office are no longer inextricably linked,” CEO Rich Handler wrote in a letter to employees.

One sentiment gauge that isn’t changing is the way professionals feel overall about their jobs, their careers and their finances. The Workforce Confidence Index uses a scale from -100 to +100 to reflect current sentiments and expectations. 

In the first two editions of the Workforce Confidence Index, released April 13 and April 29, the national index’s score was essentially unchanged at an average of +29. Recent news about attempts to reopen parts of the economy haven’t swayed that reading in either direction; the index’s latest reading holds steady at +29.

Other notable findings of the latest survey are as follows:

  • The Southeast continues to lead in overall confidence, while coastal regions lag behind. Workers confidence in the Southeast (+33) has been trending up week-over-week, while the Rocky Mountain region (+27) has been losing confidence rapidly. Some 28% of Rocky Mountain workers think their income will fall over the next six months, and another 47% believe the number of job openings will decrease in the next two weeks.
  • Personal spending is likely to tightenLooking ahead at the next 6 months, 47% expect their spending to shrink, while another 44% say it’s likely to stay the same. Only 9% expect to increase their spending. This wariness about increasing spending is consistent across all regions of the United States, including the Southeast, where some states are allowing businesses to reopen.
  • Small and medium business confidence is trending up: A slight uptick in confidence can be seen across all attributes, though small businesses in the western U.S. have been regaining confidence at a slower pace than those in other regions.
  • Senior leaders’ outlooks are brighteningWorkforce confidence for respondents with job titles of director or higher now averages +31, up from +27 two weeks earlier. The increase is driven by higher scores in job security and financial outlook. Lower-level employees (individual contributors) show unchanged confidence readings at +30.

Credit: George Anders, LinkedIn