Cities Where Work from Home Has Declined
Return to office: Where work from home has declined
Four years after the pandemic, the tug-of-war between work from home and return to office continues.
While many remote workers have refused to budge, other workers in cities across the country have found themselves on the losing side.
With large companies like Amazon and Meta pushing workers back to the office, the glory days of remote work appear to be coming to an end.
In fact, the number of Americans who work from home has dropped by 3.2 million since 2021, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
But where has working from home seen the greatest decline, and where are remote work offerings still robust?
To find out, we leveraged Census Bureau data from the 100 most populous cities across America. Comparing remote work data spanning 2021 and 2022 (the most recent complete data available) reveals shifts in the landscape, offering insights into the evolving dynamics of remote work adoption and providing a nationwide map of remote work’s danger zones and strongholds.
- Nationwide, there are 3.2 million fewer people working from home, an 11.6% decrease from 2021.
- Men and women have returned to the office in near lock step – 1,551,981 fewer men and 1,576,742 fewer women work from home compared to 2021.
- Santa Ana, California tops the list for the most significant work from home decline, with a 45.1% decrease in remote work.
- Cities in the south – Norfolk, VA and Huntsville, Al – represent the 2nd and 3rd most significant declines, with over 34% of workers returning to the office in these regions.
- In contrast, Glendale, AZ has seen a 37.5% increase in remote work, with a total of 6,067 jobs going remote between 2021 and 2022.
- Out of the 100 most populous cities, only 19 have seen an increase in remote workers.
- On the state level, New York state experienced the biggest decline in remote work, with numbers falling by 23.2%.
As lockdowns eased in 2021 and “post-COVID” became a visible point on the horizon, the imperative for remote work saw a dramatic shift.
Instead of serving as a necessary stopgap for organizations to retain productivity levels, remote work became an organizational option, prompting many companies to reevaluate and, in some cases, repeal their work from home policies.
Several cities have seen dramatic declines in remote workers, including Santa Ana, California, which has experienced a massive 45% drop in remote workers, according to Census Bureau data.
Elsewhere, New York City’s remote workforce declined by more than a quarter of a million, representing a 28% reduction. Even the tech-forward Silicon Valley hasn’t been immune to the return-to-office push. For example, both San Jose and Fremont, California have experienced a 28% decline in remote workers.
Top five cities with the largest work from home decline
Santa Ana, California
The second most populous city in Orange County, Santa Ana is home to a diverse economy with industries ranging from technology and manufacturing to retail and healthcare. In 2021, 20,689 of the city’s employees worked remotely. That number has nearly halved to just 11,366. Santa Ana stands as an outlier in the study – the city experienced a 6.6% greater decrease in remote work than any other city in America.
It’s hard to hoist an anchor from a home office – just ask Norfolk residents, many of whom are employed along the city’s thriving Chesapeake Bay port. Home to the largest naval base in the world, Norfolk is quickly regrowing its in-person work mandates; of the city’s 126,216 workers aged 16 and over, only 9,088 (7.2%) work from home, down from 14,775 (11.6%) in 2021.
Home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and known as “The Rocket City,” Huntsville is a national cradle of space exploration and space-related technologies. Between 2021 and 2022, the city experienced a 34.7% decrease in remote work, with men returning to the office almost twice as much as women; while only 22.9% of working women returned to the office in 2022, 42.1% of men traded PJs for professional attire.
As a manufacturing capital, Toledo stands to gain a lot from in-person work – the thriving glass and automotive industries rely heavily on people power. It’s no surprise, then, that the city’s work from home numbers decreased by 29.1% as pandemic fears eased. But the region does have one surprise up its sleeve: Toledo is the only city on the top 5 list with a greater decline in remote work for female residents (down 29.5%) than for male residents (down 28.7%).
“Farm-to-office” is a phrase you’re likely to hear in Bakersfield, where the city’s fertile land produces all the cheese board essentials: grapes, almonds, carrots, and of course, citrus for the complementary cocktail. But this laid-back hub isn’t slacking on return-to-office efforts – 28.8% of remote jobs transitioned to in-person arrangements in 2022.
States with the largest work from home decline
States on the East Coast have seen the largest decline in employees who work from home. New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia and Connecticut all rank within the top 10 states with the largest decline in remote workers, according to the Census Bureau.
In contrast, only seven states are resisting the return to the office trend, experiencing an increase in remote workers. These states include Florida, South Carolina, Wyoming, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada and Tennessee.
Top five cities where work from home has increased
Sunny Glendale never got the memo that remote work is declining; in fact, the city has added 6,067 new remote workers since 2021, representing a 37.5% increase. Compared with every other city in the nation, Glendale added 7.6% more remote jobs, potentially due to the city’s burgeoning remote-friendly sectors such as technology, biotech, research and financial analytics, to name a few.
Buffalo, New York
Do you want to scrape an icy window each morning to commute to the office? Neither do Buffalo residents. A national snowfall capital, the city attracts a resilient sports-loving, winter-welcoming crowd, but workers won’t endure unnecessary hardships. The city has seen a 29.2% increase in remote work, even as social distancing concerns have become a thing of the past.
Residents of this Rio Grande bankside community aren’t afraid to row upstream – Laredo has increased its work from home rates by 23.6% as numbers have fallen elsewhere. Though the city is known for presence-intensive industries such as manufacturing, transportation and logistics, 1,438 new work-from-home positions were added between 2021 and 2022.
Spokane attracts folks who want to stop and smell the lilacs, so a growing number of remote workers just makes sense for this bustling hub of health sciences and aviation and aerospace innovation. Between 2021 and 2022, the city saw a 19.3% increase in work from home positions.
Sandwiched between Dallas and Fort Worth, Arlington residents have found a clever way of avoiding commuter traffic: simply work from home. The city added 5,011 remote workers since 2021, representing an 18.6% increase in remote work overall.
Companies are continuing to adapt to the new workplace landscape. Some have expanded their work from home policy to a “work from anywhere” policy, which allows employees to travel while working. Meanwhile, other companies have offered hybrid work schedules, with employees working from the office two or three days a week.
If you’re a business owner contemplating whether to enforce a return-to-office policy, it’s important to weigh all your options. A strict return-to-office mandate could affect employee retention, hiring, productivity as well as work-life balance. A hybrid workplace could bring the right balance for both you and your employees as the future of work continues to evolve.
To establish our ranking, we conducted an analysis of employment data in the 100 most populated cities in the country, as well as all 50 states, utilizing data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The ranking of cities and states was determined based on the number of workers aged 16 and over who work from home in 2021 and 2022, which is the most recent data available.
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey.
Fair Use: Feel free to use this data and research with proper attribution linking to this study.
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