Even after the pandemic, remote work remains an important benefit to many temporary workers, and a majority have worked an assignment at least partially on a remote basis. However, there is still controversy, with some managers pushing workers to return to the office and some research pointing to the benefits of doing so.
Last year, more than half of temporary workers, 55%, reported working an assignment remotely, according to the “North America Temporary Worker Survey 2023” report by Staffing Industry Analysts. Of those, 16% said they worked partly remotely, and 39% said they worked an entire assignment remotely.
“Temporary workers and hiring companies seem to be reaching for the right balance of remote work,” said Jon Osborne, VP strategic research at SIA and author of the report. “In 2022, the occupations that have in recent years experienced the highest levels of remote work saw slight declines or shifts in mix toward more part-time remote work, while occupations that have had the lowest levels of remote work saw slight increases or shifts in mix toward more full-time remote work.”
Temporary workers in “computer/mathematical” occupations reported the most remote work, with 63% saying they worked an entire assignment at home and 28% saying they worked an assignment partially from away from the office.
It’s also seen as a benefit by temporary workers. The report found that 61% of temporary workers rated remote work a 5 or 6 on a scale of 1 to 6, with 6 being very important. And 55% said they would consider a pay cut if it would allow them to work entirely remotely. Meanwhile, separate research by Korn Ferry found 58% of all workers, not just temporary workers, said going back to the office would negatively impact their mental health.
On the other hand, remote work brings challenges to managers. For example, research results released by the World Economic Forum — covering all types of workers — found remote work creates new and uncertain environments where managers are seen to have less expertise and experience.
“Managers who perceived their lack of knowledge as contrasting their authority tended to feel powerless in their managerial role,” according to the report. “Some even tried to maintain a façade of certainty in an uncertain reality, which resulted in personal burnout. Other managers, in contrast, were willing to admit to their employees that they didn’t know it all and were more willing to jointly learn with the employees how to handle the new reality.”
Another question addresses supervision of remote workers. SIA’s report found that temporary workers who are paid lower wages, are younger and/or work in healthcare or office/clerical roles are more likely to be monitored electronically. Temporary workers who have higher wages, are older and/or work in professional roles are more likely to be measured based on deliverables or an honesty system.
For companies that choose to monitor remote workers electronically, concerns have emerged in some cases. A survey by 1E, a digital employee experience company, found that IT professionals — all types of workers, not just contingents — in many cases take a dim view of monitoring products. The 1E survey found that 52% of IT workers would turn down an otherwise desirable position if they knew the company used employee productivity surveillance technology.
In addition, three-quarters of IT workers say requiring them to deploy technology to track other employees would negatively impact their willingness to remain in their current position, according to 1E. In fact, 30% would begin actively applying for different jobs, and 3% would immediately quit. Furthermore, two in five IT workers say it would make them more open to other offers, making them an easy target for recruiters actively seeking to fill their open IT positions.
The Biden administration is also concerned about these technologies. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on May 1 announced it will release a public request for information to learn more about automated tools used by employers to surveil, monitor, evaluate and manage workers.
“The RFI seeks to advance our understanding of the design, deployment, prevalence and impacts of these automated technologies,” the announcement stated. The office noted constant tracking of performance can pose a risk to workers’ safety and mental health and might also lead to discrimination.