Anna-Marie Montague, a senior writer for a Virginia marketing agency, left northern Virginia with her daughter last October to buy a home in Bangor and now works remotely from Maine in this January 2021 file photo. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The pandemic helped triple the number of Americans working primarily from home from 2019 to 2021, with Mainers ranking in the middle of the pack nationwide, new census data released Thursday showed.

Almost 18 percent of Americans, or 27.6 million people, worked from home in 2021, with the District of Columbia having the most as nearly half of its workers stayed at home. Massachusetts was among the states with the highest percentage of home-based workers at 23.7 percent, with Maine at 15.9 percent, spending five or more days per week at home. That was 25th in the nation.

Fears of contracting COVID-19 on the job and government restrictions early in the pandemic led companies to approve work-at-home situations. As workers proved their productivity out of the office and said they preferred to work at home, many companies in Maine let them stay out of the office or adopted hybrid work environments, a nod to the pandemic’s huge impact on businesses.

Giant financial services company WEX Inc. of Portland even canceled its plan to move 1,000 employees to a new, $50 million operations center at The Downs in Scarborough after employees said they preferred a hybrid work environment.

The pandemic also changed commuting patterns, with 68 percent of workers driving alone to work in 2021 compared with 75 percent in 2018, or about 15 million fewer people commuting alone in a private vehicle in 2021.

“Work and commuting are central to American life, so the widespread adoption of working from home is a defining feature of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Michael Burrows, a statistician for the Census Bureau, said.

A majority of workers who spent five or more days at home in Maine over the past week were aged 25-39. More than half were male at birth. More people with higher education levels chose to work from home, and most had no children. Those with higher incomes of $100,000 to $149,999 tended to work at home more, or about 33,000 people, while only 5,364 of those making less than $35,000 were able to work from home on most days. The lower income groups tended to have service industry jobs.

The work-from-home phenomenon is worldwide, and sometimes employers and employees don’t see eye-to-eye on the matter. A recent survey by the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute covering 27 countries found that employers are generally planning to allow one work-from-home day per week after the pandemic, but workers want up to two days.

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Lori Valigra

Lori Valigra, senior reporter for economy and business, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...