Amid two-plus years of conversations around remote, hybrid or in-person work, Philly companies of all sizes, from Comcast to tiny startups, have asked their workers to return in person during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, many have maintained hybrid or remote policies.
The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia released a report this month showing a significant increase in remote workers in Philadelphia over the last few years. The headline figure: In 2019, 5% of the workforce in Philadelphia was made up of remote workers; in 2021, that percentage jumped to a whopping 23.8%.
This jump appears to be in line with other US cities with growing tech workforces, Economy League Research Director Michael Shields told Technical.ly.
“Right now, there’s a lot of professional jobs in Philadelphia that are remote eligible,” he said, which means more employees are working remotely or on a hybrid basis “as a result of COVID.”
Who is working remotely in Philadelphia
A slightly higher percentage of women shifted to remote work over these years than men. In 2019, 5.3% of women worked remotely, while 24% did in 2021. For men, 4.2% worked remotely in 2019, while 21.1% did in 2021. Shields said this was likely because women are often doing the unpaid labor of childcare and housekeeping, so more women may look for remote or hybrid work than men so they can manage all of these responsibilities. (In Technical.ly’s reporting, we’ve seen that the pandemic exacerbated women’s struggles when it came to balancing work and caregiving.)
According to the report, there was more of an increase in remote workers among people who make $65,000 or more than those with lower wages. Office-based jobs saw more of a shift than blue collar jobs, and white professionals were more likely to shift in remote work than people of color.
Remote work and ‘socioeconomic context’
Shields noted that remote work is uneven for these groups because of larger systems that prevent certain people from receiving education and quality jobs that are more likely to offer remote work options.
“There’s larger structural issues underplaying the inequality in the remote working population,” he said. “Those populations don’t have access to it because we barred them from getting good education and good jobs and, and [society] said to them, basically, ‘If you can’t be at this level, you don’t have the opportunity to be flexible.’ We’ve kind of pushed them into the service sector.”
Haseeb Bajwa, a PolicyHub research analyst at the Economy League, said this data doesn’t mean shifting to remote work is good or bad for the economy — it just highlights existing problems that were around before COVID-19 even started.
“Take these numbers with the context built in about what it says about the Philadelphia socioeconomic context as well,” he said, “because it’s a very difficult thing to parse out the effects of remote work, and there’s no one black-and-white answer to how people should deal with remote work and how they look at their labor share and the agency that they have in shifting to the kind of work that they’re doing.”Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
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