Guess how many people worked from home last year

About six months ago, a colleague asked me to guess what percentage of Americans were still working from home. I was still spending eight hours a day making calls just a few feet from my fridge. So were most of my friends. Maybe 40 percent? I guessed. I was off by half. Twenty-one percent of Americans were still teleworking as of March 2021; the other 79 percent were leaving their home like the old days.

This was a case of beltway bias on my part, and I should have known better. My parents, in Iowa, had gone back to in-person work at that point, and many of my friends in the state had teleworked for only a few weeks at the beginning of the pandemic—if at all. Last week, The Atlantic commissioned a poll from Leger, asking Americans to estimate how many people had worked from home during the pandemic. The results weren’t entirely surprising: Those working remotely tended to overestimate how many other people were doing the same.

Seventy-three percent of survey respondents who had teleworked due to the pandemic guessed that at least half of Americans had also worked from home at some point. But the actual number of people who worked remotely was, at its highest point, roughly 35 percent, way back in May 2020. Let’s skip ahead to last month: About 90 percent of surveyed respondents who worked from home in August guessed that at least 40 percent of Americans did the same. In reality, only 13.4 percent worked from home because of the pandemic in the final month of summer.

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