The novel coronavirus pandemic has pushed people to use technology in new ways, including the implementation of remote work at a scale never seen before.
Technology is often portrayed as an enemy of the worker, but in reality, technology has eliminated many difficult, tedious and dangerous jobs.And the loss of jobs to technology has been more than offset by a rise in the caring professions, and in creative and knowledge‐intensive jobs.
The rise of remote (or partially remote) work will likely be the next step in the long‐term trend of technology making people’s careers more satisfying and productive.
The pandemic is accelerating the push to remote work
Research has found that remote workers are happier, more productive, take fewer breaks and have greater loyalty to their employers..
A study from the University of Chicago shows that 37% of US jobs can be done entirely from home and openness to remote work among employees and employers alike has never been higher.
Technology companies are leading the charge: Silicon Valley businesses were among the first to encourage remote work when the pandemic began, and many large companies are making the option to work from home permanent. The social media giant Twitter, for example, has announced that all of its employees will be given the flexibility of remote work indefinitely.
“We’re never going to go back to working the way that we did,” Jared Spataro, a Microsoft executive, opined in an online press briefing.
However, this embrace of remote work is not limited to Silicon Valley. Many large employers, like Barclays and the insurance company Nationwide, have made similar announcements.
In short, the pandemic may have already accelerated the trend toward telecommuting. An April survey of 1,000 US adults found that a strong plurality of respondents believe that remote work will be widely accepted in their workplaces post‐pandemic.
The work‐from‐home revolution is a good thing
Remote work would be even more widespread if it wasn’t for technophobia.
Jason Feifer, a technologist, recently argued that unfounded resistance to remote work before the pandemic has limited the marketplace for video‐conferencing and other virtual collaboration tools, leaving few choices available. More widespread adoption of remote work would likely result in rapid improvement of such software, as teleworking companies compete to offer better options.
If remote work becomes more widespread, the benefits might extend beyond individual employers and employees. An increase in remote work could help to spur employment.
The George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen has noted that Americans are less willing to relocate than they were in the past. That has led to higher unemployment and lower social mobility than would have been the case otherwise, but if workers are given more flexibility to work from where they want to be these effects could be offset.
Moreover, teleworking could potentially save many of the country’s oft‐lamented dying small towns.
Up until this point in history, progress has been linked to increasing urbanization. Cities have served as vibrant centers of human collaboration and exchange. These urban centers have been home to many of the technological breakthroughs and cultural achievements that characterize modern civilization. Because technology now allows human beings to work together productively even while hundreds of miles apart, continued progress need not rely on ever‐higher levels of urbanization.
Many workers will of course choose to live in cities even if doing so is unnecessary to pursue meaningful work. But if the obligation to live in close proximity to one’s workplace is removed, many people will opt to move to rural or suburban areas.
Roughly 80%of Americans live in urban areas, but when asked what kind of community they’d live in if they could move anywhere, the most popular choice is a rural area (selected by 27%of respondents).
If greater flexibility to relocate becomes common, it could have several positive knock‐on effects. A wave of people moving to lower‐cost areas away from large urban centers would lessen the problem (exacerbated by restrictive zoning regulations) of soaring housing costs in large cities. A rise in people “voting with their feet” could also cause a decrease in state and local taxes and burdensome regulations, if states and localities compete more intensely to gain residents.
The dramatic rise in telework amid the pandemic is a radical experiment, but its effects will be long‐lasting. Telework has the potential to make a positive difference in many people’s lives, reshaping everything from how we work to where we live.