Group of workers collaborating at home.
Image: Unsplash.

Ninety-two million (58%) of Americans have the opportunity to work from home part-time, the third edition of McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey revealed. However, workers in the U.S. face inequalities and critical differences; the opportunity for hybrid work is not the same for everyone.

While hybrid work continues to expand to almost all sectors and industries, with 35% of those surveyed reporting to have the option to work from home five days a week, men report better remote-working opportunities than women. Additionally, younger, higher income and more educated workers are favored by the work marketplace.

The survey revealed that workers of different genders, ethnicities, ages, education and income levels, in significant percentages, all want to work from home.

Hybrid work: Differences and inequalities

McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey demographic graphs.
McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey.

The McKinsey report found that 61% of men say they were offered a remote work opportunity, while only 52% of women and 32% of transgender/nonbinary say they were offered flexible work options.

Age is another differentiator. Sixty-four percent of people aged 25 to 34 were offered a hybrid position, compared to 58% of people aged 35 to 54, and only 48% aged 55 to 64.

According to the survey, workers with an advanced education degree are favored by hybrid employers, with 76% of them saying they were offered hybrid work, compared to only 50% for an associate degree and 48% for workers with some college education.

Finally, 75% of high-income workers, making over $150,000 per year, were offered hybrid work compared to just 56% of people that make between $50,000 to $74,999.

McKinsey is not the only organization that found hybrid work inequalities in the U.S. labor market. In February 2022, Pew Research Center also found concerning differences.

“Higher shares of upper-income workers (67%) are working from home compared with middle (56 percent) and lower-income (53%) workers,” Pew Research Center said.

According to Pew Research, a college degree is also a defining factor. Sixty-five percent of college graduates are more likely to have a remote job option, against only 53% of people without a four-year college degree saying they worked from home, all or most of the time.

Workers’ concerns about being exposed to coronavirus have declined. Less than half, about 42% of workers cite it as a problem. Pew Research added that political differences are also shaping the hybrid work environment. Half of Democrats cite concerns about exposure to the coronavirus as a significant reason for choosing to work at home, while only 25% of Republicans feel the same way.

SEE: Hiring kit: Data scientist (TechRepublic Premium)

The return to office face-off

In early 2022, companies began calling their employees back to the offices as the pandemic neared its second anniversary.

Top decision-makers are facing unprecedented times. While most workforces are now accustomed to working from home, companies are maneuvering through an economic slowdown, supply chain disruptions, inflation and a looming recession.

The Microsoft Annual Work Trend Index report found 54% of leaders say that the shift to hybrid work has negatively impacted productivity.

Citigroup, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and recently SpaceX and Tesla are just some of the big names that rushed workers to the office. Some of these companies managed a successful return to work, others created tension among their workforces.

The Microsoft report added that 50% of leaders say their company requires—or has a plan to require— full-time in-person work in 2022. Manufacturing, retail and consumer goods industries have the highest in-person work expectations, all set above 53%.

Companies’ plans for a return-to-office are finding resistance and contrast with workers’ expectations. According to McKinsey’s survey, 87 percent of people would take flexible work options.

The blue-collar shift to hybrid work

Flexible work by industry graphic.
Image: McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey

Industry and type of job are one of the most critical factors creating inequalities for hybrid or remote work opportunities. Essential workers—from retail to healthcare and law enforcement—have been on the frontline of the pandemic, keeping the economy, supply chains and essential services running, while the world entered extended lockdowns. Meanwhile, other non-essential blue-collar industries that require in-person workers struggled.

SEE: The COVID-19 gender gap: Why women are leaving their jobs and how to get them back to work (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The new McKinsey report revealed that this could be changing. According to their survey, blue-collar jobs are also shifting to hybrid work.

“What makes these numbers particularly notable is that respondents work in all kinds of jobs, in every part of the country and sector of the economy, including traditionally labeled ‘blue-collar’ jobs that might be expected to demand on-site labor as well as ‘white collar’ professions,” McKinsey said.

New trends like hybrid education and telemedicine have driven a transformation within their sectors. About half of education and library workers and 45% of healthcare professionals say they do some remote work. McKinsey’s survey assured that even food preparation and transportation professionals sometimes work from home, and that there is an ongoing rapid digital transformation affecting all industries, “even those with low work-from-home patterns.”

Key points: Employers and workers

Graphic representation of US workers that can work from home.
Image: McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey

With this new survey, employers are once again reminded that workers prefer hybrid work opportunities. “When offered, almost everyone takes the opportunity to work flexibly,” the survey noted.

While top companies undoubtedly lead a trend for a partial or complete return to the office, policies should be carefully examined as they may lead to tensions among workers, and affect talent retention and new talent acquisition.

In a job market that is in high demand for workers, employers must understand the talent pools’ flexibility expectations. McKinsey recommends employers to invest in technology and create integrated workspaces that can accommodate both on-site and remote workers.

Remote workers are also facing obstacles due to inadequate remote work conditions. Workers that have parenting demands often define a work environment that does not strike a work-life balance as hostile. Additionally, a back-to-back schedule, packed with video meetings, and the inability to truly connect with managers and teams has been repeatedly highlighted as unfavorable and affecting performance, often leading to mental and physical health problems.

Workers with children also cite the need for companies to include policies that meet parenting demands. Work environments that do not strike a work-life balance are considered hostile by workers.

“Given workers’ desire for flexibility, employers may have to explore ways to offer the flexibility employees want to compete for talent effectively,” the McKinsey survey said.

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Stay up to date on the latest in technology with Daily Tech Insider. We bring you news on industry-leading companies, products, and people, as well as highlighted articles, downloads, and top resources. You’ll receive primers on hot tech topics that will help you stay ahead of the game. Delivered Weekdays