Work From Home: Bad for Burglars, Good for Moms

Working from home has many benefits, and this week, we can add workforce participation among mothers. But, it's not all good news: burglars are out of work.
Daan van Rossum
Daan van Rossum
Founder & CEO, FlexOS
I founded FlexOS because I believe in a happier future of work. I write and host "Future Work," I'm a 2024 LinkedIn Top Voice, and was featured in the NYT, HBR, Economist, CNBC, Insider, and FastCo.
February 15, 2024
min read

Why does this newsletter about a happier future of work focus so much on remote work?

Well, from the data, we know that more autonomy at work through remote or hybrid working models is key to the happier future of work we all deserve and desire.

And indeed, even as some companies call their people back to the office, the benefits of remote work keep increasing. 

We can now add one more benefit to that list: moms’ participation in the workforce and economy. 

The Positive Impact of Remote Work on Mothers

A new study on WFH and Motherhood Penalties

WFH data guru Nick Bloom shared an important paper showing the gains to mothers and society from remote work. 

The paper “Has the Rise of Work-from-Home Reduced the Motherhood Penalty in the Labor Market?” writes that for every 10% increase in work-from-home, there’s a 1% increase in working moms relative to other women. 

The authors, Professors Emma Harrington of the University of Virginia and Matthew Kahn of the University of Southern California explain that when women become mothers, they often leave the labor force, creating a “career penalty of motherhood.” 

This penalty accounts for most of the gender gap in labor force participation, especially in highly paid careers.  

But, remote work allows people, including mothers, to participate in the workforce and economy by removing the false choice between working in an office or staying at home, focusing solely on childcare.

As I previously highlighted, supporting groups like working mothers is one of the key benefits of hybrid remote and remote work.  

For example, we previously also saw that hybrid work schedules enabled a record number of women with young children to enter or remain in the workforce. 

According to the Brookings Institute, in June 2023, 70.4% of women with children under 5 were in the workforce — compared to a peak of 68.9% before the pandemic.

This may not sound like much, but it’s a big jump in the context of labor force participation, according to Lauren Bauer, a fellow at Brookings, who wrote the report that spotted this trend.

Labor Force Participation for Moms
Labor Force Participation for Moms

As McKinsey and Lean In said in their 2023 study on Women in the Workplace, beyond retaining jobs, there’s another big benefit in work-life balance:

“One in five women say flexibility has helped them stay in their job or avoid reducing their hours. Many women working hybrid or remotely feel less fatigued and burned out. And most women report having more focused time to get their work done when they work remotely.” 

Remote work even helps working mothers make more money.

Back to the “Motherhood Penalty” paper that kicked off this article, it additionally mentions that remote work doesn’t just increase the number of women working but that their salary is also positively impacted:

"In fields where WFH increased, mothers’ incomes rose relative to other women’s even conditional on being employed. On average, a ten percent increase in WFH was associated with a 1.3 percent increase in employed mothers’ incomes relative to other employed women’s."

The paper further argues that remote work makes previously family-unfriendly jobs an option for moms. Remote work led to a narrowed motherhood employment gap in industries like finance and marketing, which previously were unattractive for mothers.

Motherhood Employment Gaps vs WFH

Nick points out that all of this means that work-from-home not only drives faster economic growth by increasing mothers' labor supply but that working parents who have more flexibility can also spend more time with their kids:

“WFH supports children's development by allowing parents to spend more time with them. This provides individual family benefits, and also wider social and economic benefits.” – Nick Bloom

No wonder that according to 2023 Gallup data, 94% of employees want to work remotely or hybrid: 

Gallup Hybrid Remote Data

Why Companies Are Calling Mothers Back to the Office

In summary, more flexibility in when and where to work benefits women, children, families, society, and the economy.

So why are companies still demanding a return-to-office, like most recently UPS, Dell, and IBM?

Because, as Time Doctor CEO and Running Remote author Liam Martin shared in our recent interview, remote companies ‘are simply more profitable’:

“Forget about how happy it makes workers. It makes workers really happy, but forget about that for right now. It makes you more money. It produces a better return on investment for you as a business owner.” – Liam Martin, Time Doctor

Well, return-to-office is mostly a knee-jerk reaction to returning to ‘normal,’ especially for companies under high shareholder pressure to boost profits, as with UPS.

The academic paper “Return-to-Office Mandates,” which I shared a few weeks ago, studied S&P 500 companies and their RTO mandates. 

The paper concluded that executives didn’t tell people to get back to the office for improved productivity or value to the company but to reassert power:

“Managers used RTO mandates to reassert control over employees and blame employees as a scapegoat for bad firm performance. Our findings do not support the argument that managers impose mandates because they believe RTO increases firm values." – Yuye Ding and Mark Ma, Katz Graduate School of Business.

And this didn’t quite work out. The paper shares that return-to-office mandates created no significant changes in financial performance or firm values but significant declines in employees’ job satisfaction. 

As a result, The Washington Post reports, “Companies’ hard-line stance on returning to the office is backfiring,” citing the example of SAP, where thousands of employees signed a letter saying they felt betrayed by the firm’s radical change in direction on its back-to-office directive.

As the Working Mothers paper suggests, WFH has tangible, positive impacts on mothers' employment and income, which clearly contrasts the narrative that RTO mandates are necessary for productivity or company culture.

But: Bad News for Burglars

So, is there no bad news about remote work whatsoever?

Yes, there is.

Another study Nick highlighted this week shows how work-from-home is driving down burglaries.

The study “Do Remote Workers Deter Neighborhood Crime?” uses detailed UK data to find that a 10% increase in neighborhood WFH cuts burglary rates by 4%

WFH Burglary
WFH Burglary

Sorry burglars!

As the paper details, more people working from home means more neighbors who can report break-ins to the police, deterring criminals.

They estimate the post-pandemic rise in WFH accounts for more than half of the 30% drop in burglaries. It also increased house prices as lower burglary rates make housing more valuable.

So, it’s not all good news for remote work, but we may need to just accept this one as the benefits more than make up for it ;)

Have a great end of your week,

– Daan

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Future Work

A weekly column and podcast on the remote, hybrid, and AI-driven future of work. By FlexOS founder Daan van Rossum.