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Is the Bay Area really the nation’s work-from-home capital?

A women types on a computer with a dog looking at the camera
Rira Raisi works in her home office in San Francisco on April 6, 2021. | Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images | Source: Carlos Avila Gonzalez/SF Chronicle/Getty Images

U.S. Census data shows that the San Francisco and San Jose metro areas claim the largest share of home-based workers. But these two cities may not actually be home to the highest portion of flexible employers. That’s according to a new report by San Francisco-based Scoop, the creator of a hybrid work coordinating app. 

Nationwide, the study found that 31% of companies offer fully flexible work—defined by Scoop as giving employees full control over whether and when to come into the office. Another 20% of employers offer a structured hybrid work situation, while nearly half of firms require their employees to be on-site for each workday.

Conducted between October 2022 and January 2023, the Scoop Flex Index collected data on the office work requirements for more than 4,000 companies, representing more than 25,000 office locations and employing more than 100 million people. 

Tech companies took the top spot for fully flexible work, with 80% of firms allowing their employees fully flexible work schedules compared to only 51% of U.S. companies overall. The other top industries for companies offering fully flexible schedules are professional services, media/entertainment and financial services.

Given the high level of flexibility from tech employers, it comes as no surprise that the top metro areas would be innovation centers. 

Over 60% of firms in Portland, Boulder and Austin offer fully flexible work, while just under 60% of companies in San Jose and San Francisco have fully flexible office policies, according to the study. Consequently, San Jose ranks sixth for flexible work and San Francisco ranks seventh, a surprisingly middling showing for the nation’s “work-from-home capitals.”

So why might the Bay Area, an early adopter and trendsetter of remote work, offer slightly less flexibility than other metro areas? Company size could be a factor.

“Smaller firms tend to offer more flexibility,” explained Rob Sadow, Scoop’s co-founder and CEO. And in the SF and San Jose metro areas, many tech firms are big. “If you’re a really large organization, like a Google, for example, it’s just a significantly bigger shift [to go to fully flexible work],” Sadow explained. 

The study found that 65% of smaller firms—defined as having fewer than 500 employees—offer fully flexible work compared to only 28% of large companies (employing more than 1,000 workers.) 

Sadow also theorizes that smaller startups born against the backdrop of the pandemic are more likely to have remote work ingrained into their DNA, he said. Larger companies, because of their size, may have more difficulty pivoting to fully remote work. 

And even though Portland, Boulder and Austin may lead the pack on fully flexible work, San Jose offers the highest combination of flexible and hybrid work of all the major metro areas included in the study. SF follows not far behind and is on par with Portland, Boulder and Austin in this category.

San Francisco and San Jose companies also have higher rates of structured hybrid work, which can include policies specifying how much time, how many days or which days of the week an employee is expected to work in the office. 

Sadow explains that larger companies are more likely to have structured hybrid work policies compared to smaller firms, which may point to why the Bay Area has higher rates of structured hybrid work policies. 

While the city wrings its hands over what to do about empty Downtown office space and some have speculated that recent tech layoffs are an attempt to bring remote-heavy tech workers to heel, Sadow doesn’t think remote work is going anywhere soon.

“I think it’s unlikely that you will see a major swing back toward heavily requiring days in the office or fully onsite work if for no other reason than 80% of the firms today are fully flexible,” Sadow said. He added that competition for skilled tech workers is still high among companies and remote-friendly policies are desired and appreciated by employees. 

“Even Apple requiring employees to come on-site a few days a week is a huge shift from the five days a week that the vast majority of Apple employees did prior to the pandemic. […] I think that there will be a long-term shift toward more flexibility, that all firms, in some way, will slowly move in that direction over time.”