Staff Reports
Working Remotely? Selection, Treatment, and the Market for Remote Work
Number 1061
May 2023

JEL classification: J24, L23, L84, M54

Authors: Natalia Emanuel and Emma Harrington

How does remote work affect productivity and how productive are workers who choose remote jobs? We estimate both effects in a U.S. Fortune 500 firm’s call centers that employed both remote and on-site workers in the same jobs. Prior to COVID-19, remote workers answered 12 percent fewer calls per hour than on-site workers. When the call centers closed due to COVID-19, the productivity of formerly on-site workers declined by 4 percent relative to already-remote workers, indicating that a third of the initial gap was due to a negative treatment effect of remote work. Yet an 8 percent productivity gap persisted, indicating that the majority of the productivity gap was due to negative worker selection into remote work. Difference-in-differences designs also indicate that remote work degraded call quality— particularly for inexperienced workers—and reduced workers’ promotion rates. In a model of the market provision of remote work, we find that firms were in a prisoner’s dilemma: all firms would have gained from offering comparable remote and on-site jobs, but any individual firm was loathe to attract less productive workers.

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Author Disclosure Statement(s)
Natalia Emanuel
Natalia Emanuel declares that she has no relevant or material financial interests that relate to the research in this paper. Prior to circulation, this paper was reviewed in accordance with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York review policy, available at

Emma Harrington
Emma Harrington declares she has no relevant or material financial interests that relate to the research in this paper.
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