March 31, 2020 by Clare Coffey
According to Global Workplace Analytics, 3.6% of the workforce (or roughly five million people) are working remotely. It’s become a more and more popular option over the years, as employees seek the advantages of flexibility and lower commuting costs. Of course, the Global Workforce Analytics number is all based on the pre-disruption economy. The COVID-19 crisis will result in multiple labor market shifts, but one could argue that the most immediate and massive swing has been to the prevalence of working from home. So, let’s explore the five things you should know about the future of remote work.
This post will primarily focus on current job posting characteristics for remote work/working from home.
As you explore the graphic here, you’ll notice that different regions are shaded either orange or blue. This represents the change in percentage of remote workers between 2010 and 2018. In other words, it’s not a heat map of total remote jobs, but perhaps more revealingly a look at where remote work has grown and shrunk. Data for these changes is from “worked at home” responses to the means of transportation question in the American Community Survey.
Explore the map to see the trends in your region.
Most notable is the fact that wherever you have very large cities, you also see corresponding large growth in remote jobs. Due to congestion, commute times, and a higher density of the sorts of jobs that can work from home, it should come as no surprise that we see remote jobs thriving in these places. Additionally, as the economy has continued its shift to more knowledge-based jobs, large cities have captured many of these workers.
At the same time, it’s these knowledge-based jobs which have historically been the most natural fits for remote work. Many rural or more suburban counties seem to show small decreases in remote work. For instance, remote jobs in Columbus County, Georgia, have actually declined by a surprising 5.7% since 2010. Now, keep in mind, these are fairly broad generalizations. Nevertheless, we can see interesting standouts as well as broad trends. For example, Truckee County, California, and St. George County, Utah, have grown by nearly 10% since 2010. That is likely driven by people moving there from larger metro areas.
Today there are over 450,000 active job postings for remote workers (de-duplicated from 1.73 million total postings).
The overall number of postings that list jobs as being “remote” has stayed relatively constant for the past couple of years, but more research would need to be done here to get an absolute handle on it. It could be that employers are not necessarily listing jobs as remote for them to actually be remote because current labor market surveys indicate that working from home has increased by 44% over the last five years (according to analysis by FlexJobs).
We can also see month-to-month trends in new postings for remote workers. Obviously, we are beginning to see overall job postings fall as the economy deals with the fallout of market panics and shutdowns. Our new Job Postings Dashboard provides a great real-time visual of this. Remote postings are no exception. Even before the crisis, we were observing some slowdown in job postings, starting around early 2018. In coming months, it will be important to keep an eye on these trends, as we learn whether new work-from-home jobs appear, or whether the economic downturn overwhelms any relative uptick in remote work.
Advances in telecommunications and ensuing shifts in business norms have greatly expanded the types of jobs that can be done remotely. A quick look at the job titles with the highest percentages of remote workers reveals a perhaps surprising diversity of themes:
Engineering and product development may not be unexpected. As we noted above, remote work has frequently been associated with knowledge-based jobs and startup culture. However, the medical theme may be surprising, since medicine is primarily concerned with the care of physical bodies. But in fact, the medical sector hosts the job with the highest percentage of remote workers: medical coders. The medical sector is much more than doctors, nurses and technicians: there’s an entire administrative infrastructure that supports their work, and much of it can be done from home. And with the rise of telemedicine, we might see even medicine’s core functions become partially digitized.
On the other hand, some of the medical jobs on this list are a reminder that “remote” is not always synonymous with “working from home.” Field nurses and home visitors aren’t necessarily reporting to an office or hospital—but that’s because much of the work they do takes place in the homes of those they serve.
The presence of teachers may be another surprise. But some forecasts have predicted that the online learning industry will grow to over 130 billion dollars by 2023. The real question is to what degree this trend will remain siloed in alternative learning institutions—or whether, in the wake of COVID-19’s rapidly enforced changes—it will become the norm for traditional educational institutions at all levels.
Below is a look at the top 20 job titles where remote work is mentioned in the job description.
Obviously, for the foreseeable future, there will be a ceiling on remote job growth. As we saw above, that ceiling is higher than many would have predicted 10 years ago—even sales, one of the backbones of traditional office–based, white collar work, is over 50% remote now. But nevertheless, the ceiling is there. It simply isn’t possible to pick vegetables, or soothe children, or vaccinate patients from a home office.
We found about 100 jobs that had absolutely no remote workers. Here are the top 20 with the largest number of absolute jobs: i.e., the non-remote jobs most likely to be reflective of people’s actual experiences in the workforce.
As you might expect, these are all jobs in which some kind of physical presence is highly important. Insofar as these jobs change, it will probably be due to a change in the nature of the work itself rather than simply a shift in location. For example, you can imagine the job of retail clerk transitioning into the management of multiple automatic checkout stations rather than a single cash register. But it’s less easy to imagine the physical retail experience being conducted by a zoom call.
And it’s not only among exclusively physical jobs that remote work has failed to make inroads. We sampled the jobs whose remote workforce is roughly five. This allows us to get a sense of the roles where remote work isn’t absolutely prohibitive, but which haven’t made the switch in significant numbers—and thus, might be the frontier of new remote jobs in the future.
Some of the jobs, like home care nurses and IT field engineers, are unlikely to become fully remote. But some, like technical writers and user interface designers, are solitary and creative—highly amenable to being performed remotely.
Interestingly, managers appear frequently in this list, including sales managers (unlike sales associates, which have gone remote in astounding numbers.) This may mean that we’re less comfortable with remote work in highly interpersonal, soft skill reliant jobs. Understanding how to capture the subtle nuances of human communication over such disembodied platforms as Slack and Zoom may be the next big hurdle in normalizing remote work—and an opportunity for a new and highly valuable set of managerial skills to emerge.
Below, we’ve listed the top companies posting for remote work. For the most part, they track with the jobs data. The top company is VIPKID, an online learning startup. The company with the second most unique posts is a health insurance company, and probably a contributor to our remote sales numbers. There are three healthcare companies, two IT companies, and two software companies. There’s even a supermarket conglomerate.
Interestingly, there are also several firms whose entire business model is built around remote work: a library staffing company specifically for online jobs, a platform for at-home call centers, and a multi-level marketing company.
When you look at the most sought after skills in remote positions, the degree to which corporate functions have become remote-friendly becomes clear. Selling is the top skill, followed by accounting and cold calling. Marketing also proves a heavy hitter, with advertising mail, market research, and business development all appearing in the top twenty. And skills like new product development and warehousing suggest that even high-level, business strategy positions have remote potential.
Medicare could represent the increasing digitization of medical administration, or it could be related to another of our top five skills: insurance sales.
The skills companies are posting for offer a microcosm of remote work as a whole. Increasingly, no longer the province of a few solitary creative or programming workers, but of core business roles, and sectors as important as education and medicine. And as the nation begins its recovery from the COVID-19 shock, remote work will likely be more firmly implanted in company culture, presenting communities with the opportunity to attract and retain this growing segment of workers.
In the days and months ahead, we will continue to track the progress of remote work in America. To help make sense of this and the many other economic and labor market shifts occurring, we have created a COVID-19 resource page. For real-time information on job postings nationally and in your region, visit our Job Postings Dashboard. Please stay tuned and let us know if you have any questions.