Coronavirus telework is creating opportunities to expand the workforce

Working from home — a privilege previously off-limits to millions of American workers, but now a necessity — has started to include clerical and administrative workers in traditional industries that once shied from telework.

The trend, workplace analysts said, could prove positive for those without jobs — in particular, women who might not be able to work in-person because of household responsibilities.

“Job losses in retail, food services and education sectors have predominantly affected women, so a change of the clerical and administrative work situation could benefit those who have lost their jobs in other industries,” the Conference Board, a nonprofit group that studies business management, said recently.

Among clerical and administrative jobs, the number of ads stating that a position was work-from-home nearly doubled since the coronavirus commanded widespread shutdowns, the board said.

Listings for clerical positions in Philadelphia that wanted remote workers were clear in saying so.

“If you can work on your own from home and are self-motivated, you would be a great fit,” one ad said, ending with three requirements: “Computer with internet access. Quiet working area away from distractions. Willingness to take direction.”

In general, the Conference Board said, it expected significantly fewer employees to return to the office than worked there before. Of 150 managers at large companies who responded to an online survey from the board, 83% who represented “mostly professional and office organizations” said they expected their full-time employees to work from home at least three days per week.

The number was lower for those in the industry and manual service workplaces, at 67%.

In another survey conducted by the research firm Global Workplace Analytics, which collected responses from 2,800 people globally, 82% of U.S. workers, or about 75 million people, said they wanted to work from home “at least weekly” when the pandemic ended, but wanted to pop into the office now and then. Around 16% wanted to bid adieu to the office forever.

The fallout of widespread remote work, workplace and business analysts said, could prove troubling in cities. Retail and food service businesses could shrink without the usual stream of office workers, as could the need for commercial space.

Yet the privilege of working from home has its allure beyond the lack of a commute and office dress code.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, 99% of people who responded to a survey from the London-based risk management firm Willis Towers Watson said remote work would give them greater flexibility with their schedule, more family time and improved work-life balance.

Eighty percent of people who had already been working remotely said they had been less stressed and felt they were in better health. They also reported that they saved about $2,000 to $7,000 a year on food, clothes, child care and commuting.

“An increase in remote working could be the most influential legacy of COVID-19,” the Conference Board said. “We expect that remote working will become the norm, or at least a widely practiced solution, for many employers.”

Katie Park writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer.