DALLAS — Working from home has become more than a way to get through the pandemic.
It’s now a favored perk for some employees and a necessary lifestyle for others. For some companies, it’s also become a powerful recruiting tool.
AmeriSave Mortgage Corp. has been hiring people from around the country to report to the office in Plano, Texas. By leading with the opportunity to work remotely, it’s attracted a flood of candidates even while raising the qualifications to apply.
“I jumped on it because I’ve known about the opportunities at AmeriSave, and I didn’t want to leave my family in Nebraska,” said Noah Peters, who worked for the city of Omaha before becoming a work-from-home loan originator in July. “I’m an in-person kind of guy, but this was pretty seamless. I love what I’m doing and I’m happy I made the change.”
Bottle Rocket, a technology firm based in Addison, Texas, adopted a “work from everywhere” policy early in the pandemic and said it was permanent. That caught the attention of three former employees in Seattle, Austin and California, and the company quickly rehired them.
“These are very valuable hires who have the institutional memory of our culture and processes,” Bottle Rocket founder and CEO Calvin Carter said. “They were up and running instantly.”
The new policy has also helped attract diverse candidates from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Carter said. These were folks who weren’t willing to make a long daily drive to the headquarters in Addison.
“These are benefits we didn’t see coming,” Carter said. “It makes us more competitive in the human capital wars.”
But work from home doesn’t work for a lot of people. Many don’t have the right computer, software, broadband and training. Other jobs, such as serving food at a restaurant or performing surgery at a hospital, cannot be done from home.
As a result, the work-from-home phenomenon is heavily skewed by education, ethnicity and industry.
“This is one way in which inequality manifests itself, especially in the education gap,” said Karel Mertens, a senior economic policy adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and co-author of a recent working paper on remote work.
In February, a similar share of the U.S. workforce was working from home regardless of education — roughly 7% to 8%, the study found. By August, 38% of college grads were still working remotely compared with 11% of those with a high school diploma or less.
A greater share of white employees also worked remotely compared with Hispanics and Blacks, the study said.
In hotels and restaurants, among the hardest-hit industries, only about 10% of workers were remote in August (based on February employment levels). By the same metric, half the workers in banking, finance and insurance were remote, the study showed. In professional and business services, one of Dallas-Fort Worth’s largest job sectors, 44% were working at home.
“Certain conditions are needed to work from home, and there can be a lot of barriers,” said Laurie Bouillion Larrea, president of Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas, a nonprofit that manages government-funded programs for workers in the region.
Larrea said gaps in education and communication skills can be significant, and many workers don’t have the space or money for a dedicated home office.
She sees a mismatch in the local labor market right now: Most employers want workers to staff their physical facilities, but many unemployed want to work from home. Concerns are high about child care, remote learning for school and the risk of COVID-19.
“This is the single biggest conversation we’re having with job seekers right now,” Larrea said.
A statewide job bank shows that Dallas County currently has over 3,200 openings for laborers, material movers and counter clerks. Nearly 2,500 jobs are listed for production workers, truck drivers, assemblers and helpers for production lines.
These jobs cannot be done from home, and Larrea warned about misinterpreting recent trends. Most remote workers are doing the same tasks as before the pandemic, she said, and that’s different from creating new remote positions.
“Work-from-home jobs are not the same as work-from-home job postings,” Larrea said. “Many of these remote jobs are not for people who are unemployed now.”
But AmeriSave’s openings were a good fit for Peters, who’s 37 and married with two kids, and has family near his home in Omaha.
He took the company’s online training and passed a national exam for a mortgage loan originator’s license. To stay connected, he does a lot of webcam and phone work — daily huddles with colleagues and managers, group texts about sports and other trivia, and friendly competition over sales goals.
It may not be the same as in-person contact, but it’s good: “I’m with these guys — and not with these guys — for eight to 10 hours a day,” Peters said. “There’s no real feeling of missing anything.”
In a 2013 study of a major Chinese travel agency, researchers found that working from home led to strong productivity, low attrition and high job satisfaction. But remote working also reduced promotions by about 50%, in part because supervisors didn’t notice those workers as much.
“One story that is consistent with this is that home-based employees are ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” the researchers wrote, dubbing it “a promotion penalty.”
Peters in Omaha isn’t worried about his prospects at AmeriSave in Plano. In the past month, he’s seen the company hiring and promoting trainers, managers and team leaders.
“Everyone’s in the same boat: We’re all remote,” he said.