Study: 42% of Hawaiʻi employees working remotely as of Aug. 2021

More than 42% of private sector payroll employees (198,224) were working remotely as of Aug. 31, 2021, including 20,636 individuals working from out-of-state.

The data was released today in a report on Hawai‘i businesses and employees compiled by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

The report is based on the results of two different surveys conducted by DBEDT with assistance from Hawai‘i research firm, Anthology Research, between September 2021 and January 2022. The surveys focused on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on remote work practices, experiences, and plans from both the employer and employee perspectives.

The Survey of Hawai‘i Employers received a total of 1,661 responses from Hawai‘i-based  private employer businesses and the Survey of Hawai‘i Civilian Working Population received a total of 5,451 responses from private payroll employees, self-employed entrepreneurs, state and county government employees, and federal civilian employees.

The report was funded by a general fund appropriation to DBEDT by the 2020 legislature.

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The data collected from this study provides a better understanding of Hawai‘i’s changing economic landscape that both employers and employees are facing largely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. What we learned is that some industries were naturally more resilient and able to minimize the impacts of the pandemic because of the nature of the work. Those businesses that made investments in their digital infrastructure may be able to reap the benefits beyond the pandemic, from being able to continue offering remote work as an employee incentive, to accessing expanded markets through digital platforms for exporting products and services. 

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As we continue to learn how to live with the COVID-19 virus, our economic recovery will accelerate especially over the coming months, largely driven by the return of tourism. We hope that the results from this study will help to facilitate constructive dialogue between Hawai‘i’s businesses and their employees to determine their future working arrangements.

The insights gained from this study also signal Hawai‘i’s opportunities for growth—as well as gaps and challenges—as the global economy shifts toward the Digital Economy. While remote work is not, in and of itself, an industry that can be developed to advance the economic prosperity of the State and its people, studying it has informed DBEDT’s strategy moving forward to develop a holistic, and globally relevant and competitive economy.

This study was made possible thanks to the 2020 legislature’s dedicated funding for economic resiliency. DBEDT will continue to study and conduct demonstration projects in accordance with its statute on such topics as remote work, that can refine economic development programs to strengthen Hawai‘i’s participation in the global Digital Economy, and in doing so, support a more diversified and resilient economy. DBEDT remains committed to working together with the legislature, counties, businesses, investors, labor organizations, and communities to adjust its strategy to steward Hawai‘i’s economy toward sustainable economic prosperity for all.

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Highlights of the surveys as outlined by DBEDT are posted below:

Survey of Hawai‘i Employers

15.3% of Hawai‘i businesses had a long-term remote work policy already in place prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, while an additional 23.4% of businesses implemented a policy due to the pandemic. The ratio of businesses continuing to offer remote work as an option to their employees as of Aug. 31, 2021 reduced to 32.2%, from 38.7% of those businesses having a remote work policy in place at some point since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. An estimated 56.7% of businesses polled did not offer remote work because the work could not be done remotely. 

Businesses in Honolulu County were most likely to have a remote work policy at some point since March 2020 (44.2%), compared to Maui County (29.0%), Hawai‘i County (28.8%), and Kaua‘i County (25.5%).

The industries experiencing the highest incidence of businesses with remote workers included professional scientific, and technical services (75.7%), finance and insurance (75.5%), and information (62.8%).

Among those businesses that offered remote work, 51.2% made financial investments most prominently in hardware for employees’ use (89.3% of those having made financial investments), new communication/collaboration software (82.2%), and increasing network security measures (60.9%).

DBEDT Director Mike McCartney said, “A large majority of Hawai‘i private employer businesses reported either positive (30.5%) or neutral (49.8%) experiences with remote work compared to working from an office, citing long-term benefits to employee satisfaction, reduced operational costs, and incentives to recruit and retain talent including off-island talent.”

“The most prominent concerns raised by businesses included difficulty in collaboration and teamwork, monitoring and supervising remote workers, maintaining security and compliance for remote workers, technical challenges due to unreliable internet connectivity, and difficulty in maintaining company culture,” according to McCartney.

Despite these concerns, he noted that 65.7% of Hawai‘i private employer businesses that offered remote work indicated their intention to continue doing so post-pandemic. Among the firms that intend to continue a remote work policy, 24.2% anticipate a reduction in office space as they adapt to a future remote work environment, he said.

“Among all private employer respondents, the top recommendation to better facilitate remote work in the state was the improvement of broadband infrastructure (43.2%), followed by a greater awareness of best practices for offering remote work opportunities to employees (41.0%). 32% of respondents indicated that nothing would better facilitate remote work, while 19.9% believed an increase in remote work hubs/co-working locations would,” said McCartney.

Survey of Hawai‘i Civilian Working Population

An estimated 59.6% of the Hawai‘i civilian working population 18 years and older worked remotely at some point between the start of the pandemic and Aug. 31, 2021. Of those, 83.7% did so as a direct result of their employer’s response to the pandemic. Further, 23.6% reported working exclusively on a remote basis, while 23.4% reported working on a hybrid-basis, at the time of being surveyed. The remaining 53% of Hawai‘i’s adult civilian remote work population  had returned to the office exclusively at the time of survey.

The occupations experiencing the highest incidence of remote workers at the time of the survey included computer and mathematical (71.1%), arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media (69.5%), community and social service (67.5%), legal (65.9%), and architecture and engineering (65.2%). Those who were either self-employed or a private sector non-profit employee were the most likely to work remotely at the time of survey (52.7% and 52.1%, respectively), as compared with state government (48.0%), private sector for-profit (46.9%), federal government (44.2%), and county government (34.6%) employees.

Those who experienced remote work reported high satisfaction rates (90.9% somewhat or very satisfied overall) and a preference to working remotely over in-office (79.6% somewhat or strongly agree), citing benefits as not having to commute, work schedule flexibility, and freedom to live anywhere. Many also cited concerns for remote work such as missing out on social and networking aspects of being in-office and being at a disadvantage for promotions or advancement.

An estimated 60.6% of females reported working remotely at some point since the start of the pandemic, compared to 57.9% of males. Individuals earning over $50,000 in annual income were most likely to have worked remotely (66.2% of individuals earning between $50,000 to $100,000, and 76.4% of individuals earning over $100,000, compared to 45.1% of individuals earning less than $50,000). Workers with a bachelor’s or graduate degree also tended to work remotely (72.2%) versus those without a bachelor’s degree (48.2%).

While over 90% of remote workers were satisfied with their experience, only 43.5% expect their employers will allow them to work remotely either fully or partially. 

Like employers, the top recommendation among all working civilian respondents to better facilitate remote work in the state was the improvement of broadband infrastructure (65.3%), with 27.7% of remote workers indicating that their home internet was too unstable to work remotely from home. Respondents indicated that a greater awareness of best practices for offering remote work opportunities to employees (47.9%) and an increase in remote work hubs/co-working locations (36.9%) would also further enable remote work.

View the full report HERE.

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