Remote work provides at least 6 benefits to society. We discuss them in this article. Working virtually has been viewed as dividing classes of people. This isn’t entirely true. The well-to-do are given options to earn a huge six figure salary in the comfort of their own home, or exotic location of their choosing. However, the public pursuit of remote work can be in the interest of society.
On the surface, to advocate for the expansion of remote work policies across all regions and sectors may not seem like a policy to help all corners of society. For instance, during the Pandemic, a Cornell University research report found that higher income earning workers transitioned to remote work at a higher rate than lower earning individuals who lost their jobs instead. The Cornell University data is consistent with a Canadian research study published in the National Institute of Health, National Library of Medicine to show that “higher-wage jobs tend to be associated with jobs that can be more easily performed remotely.”
6 Benefits to Society for Remote Work
The perks of remote work may portend a stratified, caste dominated society with little chance of the poor and lower middle class to strive for upward mobility. This might be depressing as it seems as though remote work only benefits the well-positioned and the wealthy. Rockefeller Institute of Government found that approximately half of family households of $100,000 in income annually reported at least one family member working from home during the Pandemic. These findings were in contrast to families in the next lower rung of wages ($50,000 and $99,000) where it was less probable that a family member working from home. What did the data suggest specifically? Well, less than 25% (in comparison to 50% or more in the upper income bracket) of families earning wages below $50,000 worked from home.
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So the economic divide between those who are given the opportunity to tele-commute and those who do not is decisive.
Societal Benefits of Remote Work can be Shared by to All
In addition to the economic divide based upon socio-economic levels, the opportunity to work from home appears to be associated with race. For instance, the Center for Disease Control reported upon a pre-Pandemic study showing that minority workers of Hispanic and Black descent were half as likely to work from home compared to White workers. The disparity dropped somewhat to 24% (Black), 31% (Hispanic) rates of working virtually to 41% of White workers and 51% of non-Hispanic and multi-race workers by May 2020. In August 2020, a few months later, it was recorded that the number of Asian remote workers were “three times higher than the share of Hispanic or Latino workers.”
This remote worker data by race could have been, and likely so, impacted by geographical region and industry sector in which workers reside and earn their living. Planetizen estimates that workers living in counties within large metropolitan areas earn the highest wages while workers who live in rural counties have the lowest.
The data from the Rockefeller Institute was consistent in associating work from home rates with metropolitan residency. Rockefeller segmented the data by US regions. They found that the national average of workers working from home during the Pandemic was 5.2% (pre-COVID) and 29.2% (post-COVID) according to the ACS Five-Year Estimates and Household Pulse survey, cited by Rockefeller. However, the residents living and working in the top four metropolitan areas: San Francisco, CA; Washington, DC; Boston, MA: Seattle, WA experienced tele work rates approaching 50% as of August 2022.
The Multiplier Effect of Remote Work
As alluded to earlier, another interesting aspect of the availability of remote work opportunities is the variance by industry sector. The data analyzed by the Rockefeller Institute found employees who worked in primarily in-person dominated industries such as agriculture, retail, construction, transportation, manufacturing, arts, and trade rarely had the chance to tele-work at rates of 90% to 74%. At the same time, employees who worked in education, finance, insurance, professional and information were more likely to be given the opportunity to work from home at rates hovering around 60 to 50% with information technology lagging at 32%.
In addition to sector differences, opportunities for remote work varies in accordance with worker qualifications, years experience, and the level in which one is positioned. In reference to the Canadian study, the researchers found on average that lower wage workers, workers lacking a four year degree, workers employed in the private sector, workers who worked for small businesses, and workers who were either younger, male or single “tend to be employed in jobs for which remote work is less possible.”
What does this remote work data mean for economic advancement? How does remote work improve society?
On the face of it, it looks pretty grim. But, then again, offering remote work opportunities to residents living in rural areas, small towns and inner city ghettos far removed from the traditional mega city hubs of economic activities seems like a no brainer.
Six Societal Benefits of Remote Work
There are six societal benefits of remote work. Remote work, work from home and work from anywhere initiatives are of interest to all of society. The increased availability of remote job opportunities to workers who don’t live near economic hubs represents just one key societal benefit of the normalization of remote work. Entrepreneur explains that remote work can have a multiplier effect. It serves to:
- expand and diversity the talent pool for employers,
- lower the dense concentration of high paying jobs traditionally situated in the 15 major metropolitan areas,
- lower the unemployment rates experienced by job ready candidates living in remote, rural towns and inner cities,
- reduce the dependence of workers upon public and personal transportation to secure a good jobs,
- increase the economic vitality of flyover towns destabilized by lack of jobs, and
- lift a chronically unemployed or underemployed worker out of poverty and/or to better paying jobs.
As an example of a societal benefit of remote work, Michael Cornett, director of TeleworksUSA, which is a website created by an economic development hub located in Kentucky. It promotes the value of remote work and advocates strongly for the way in which remote work opportunities can drastically improve the financial conditions of rural worker. He says, “our clients appreciate that they can work from home while saving funds that would otherwise be used for gas, work attire, dining out and other expenses associated with brick-and-mortar jobs.”
Cornett’s colleague, Trae Miller, stressed the remote job opportunities afforded to rural workers reduces the costs of relocating to another town or metropolitan area, lowers the requirement to uproot from family and friends, and reduces the need to move just to obtain work or remain employed.
We would hope that this model of remote work promotion and outreach could be used to improve the economic plight of jobless youth and adults locked into destitute communities just steps away from vibrant and bustling metropolitan areas for which, to them, it seems like an entirely alternate universe.