Demographics And Remote Work: Intertwined Challenges For Business

empty black rolling chairs at cubicles

Workers and managers will face twin challenges in the coming years: adjusting to what we’ve learned about remote work, and the demographic change to low growth of the working age population. Each will be a challenge, and the interaction of the two will require managers to test their assumptions, adapt, and re-test.

Chart showing change in working age population from 1850-2030

Change in working age population from 1850-2030. DR. BILL CONERLY BASED ON DATA AND PROJECTIONS FROM U.S. CENSUS BUREAU

Demographics is the less recognized issue for the workplace in the 2020s. Baby boomers will retire in greater numbers in the coming years. The boom in births lasted from 1946 through 1962, so the later boomers will hit age 65 in 2027. The group turning 25 years old this decade is about the same size as the preceding cohort. So we in the U.S. will see no increase in young people entering their working years and more boomers retiring. Other countries will have similar experience, though magnitudes and timing vary around the world.

The only hope for growth of the working-age population is immigration—which in the U.S. has plunged in recent years. As a percent of the existing population, net international migration was 0.15% for the year ending July 1, 2020, half as much as five years prior. And most of the last data year was pre-pandemic. When we get the next data point, it will certainly be lower.

President Biden’s administration has not changed immigration policy from the Trump era, though the president is far more polite than his predecessor. Nobody in Washington seems to want a significant increase in foreign immigration. That means the working age population won’t grow over this decade. (Growth will resume in the 2030s.)

Businesses hoping to expand in size—and employment—will find that employee recruiting and retention are their greatest challenges.

Into that environment is our discovery during the pandemic that people can work from home successfully. A Stanford economist estimated that 51% of all jobs could be done remotely. Some workers liked working from home while others were eager to return to offices, with another significant portion wanting both: some days working from home and some days in the office.

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