After the Pandemic: An Assessment of Remote Work Opportunities in Indiana

April 5, 2021

// Remote Work

Written by Bo Beaulieu, Indraneel Kumar & Chun Song.

Introduction

A number of important changes have occurred in the workplace in the past year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and one of those shifts has been the larger number of workers who opted, or were required by their employers, to work from home during the initial stages of this health crisis. According to a May 2020 study conducted by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research2, approximately 42 percent of the U.S. labor force worked full-time at home during the early months of the pandemic. By October 2020, the number of Americans “always” working remotely stood at 33 percent according to Gallup, with another 25 percent stating they did so “sometimes.” 3

Prior to the onset of COVID-19, the proportion of people working from home was relatively small. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), the percentage of people in the labor force working primarily from home grew from 4.3 percent in 2010 to 5.2 percent by the latter part of that decade4. While the number of home-based remote workers is predicted to decline once the U.S. pandemic is under control and the country has achieved a degree of herd immunity, recent studies have shown that the proportion of people working from home on a permanent basis is likely to be at 3-to-4 times higher than those reported in past ACS surveys. For example, an April 2020 report by Motus estimates that the U.S. workforce permanently spending time working remotely could hover around 30 percent in a post-COVID period.5 A November 2020 study by the McKinsey Global Institute offers a more conservative figure. The report authors state that approximately 22 percent of the labor force could effectively work remotely between 3-5 days a week post-COVID.6 What is certain is that remote work is likely to become an important option for a growing number of workers in a post-pandemic environment.

Not All Jobs are Remote-Friendly

Despite the evidence that the remote workforce is likely to expand in the near future, the reality is not all jobs can be carried out at home or remotely. It is estimated that over half of all jobs in the U.S. are not amenable to remote work. Reasons noted in a handful of key studies include:7

  • Jobs that require face-to-face interactions and collaborations with co-workers and/or customers cannot be accomplished virtually;
  • Positions that necessitate the use of specialized machinery, especially those involving the manufacturing of goods, cannot be performed remotely;
  • Jobs in retail trade, hotels/restaurants, health care, transportation/goods delivery, food services, business services, or waste collection/management represent activities have to be performed in traditional work places;
  • Managers who fear that employees will be less productive if left unsupervised are unlikely to embrace remote work opportunities for their workers;
  • Employees having no designated space available in their homes to facilitate remote work might be unable to shift to this work mode;
  • High quality internet service may be limited or unavailable to some workers, impeding their capacity to carry out their job responsibilities on a remote basis.

 

Occupations That Can be Done at Home/Remotely in Indiana

Our examination of the mix of occupations that have the greatest likelihood of being done at home or remotely in Indiana is guided by an important 2020 study released by Dingel and Neiman, researchers with the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago. The authors determine the viability of work being conducted at home for nearly 1,000 occupations, giving special attention to the contextual features of the work (such as the physical and social factors that shape to the nature of the job) and the general types of activities associated with the job (such as the level of interaction required with the public or the need to operate/repair important machinery). Next, they link their results to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes to determine the number of individuals employed in each five-digit occupational grouping, given special attention to the percentage of jobs in each occupational category that could be performed at home. They are able to surmise that some 37 percent of the jobs in the country can be accomplished at home or on a remote basis.

We draw on Dingel and Neiman’s research methodology to assess the proportion of jobs in Indiana that can be done at home by the five-digit SOC codes8 — doing so for five different points in time (2001 through 2019). As Figure 1 reveals, 34.3 percent of the jobs in Indiana could be performed entirely from home in 2019, about 3 percentage points lower than the figure arrived at by Dingel and Neiman for the nation (i.e., 37 percent). Surprisingly, the proportion of jobs that could be done at home in the state has fluctuated little over the past two decades, inching up from 32.5 percent in 2001 to a high of 34.4 percent in 2010 (a period when Indiana was beginning to rebound from the Great Recession).

Figure 1. Percent of Jobs in Indiana that can be Performed at Home/Remotely: 2001 to 2019

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Table 1 provides more detailed information on share of jobs that can be done at home by the 21 major two-digit occupational groupings present in the state (see the Appendix for the total number of jobs in Indiana by these 21 SOC codes)9. The following captures the type of the jobs that are most and least amenable to being performed at home/remotely as of 2019.

  • Most Amenable (50% and Higher): There are nine major occupation groups that have a sizable percentage of their jobs that can be done at home or on a remote basis. Computer and Mathematical occupations have their entire workforce that could work from home/remotely, closely followed by Educational Instruction and Library (98.7%), Business and Financial Operations (91.9%), and Legal-related occupations at 91.2%. The next slate of major occupations that are a large share of jobs that can be performed at home or remotely includes Architecture and Engineering (80.9%); Office and Administrative Support (78.3%); Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports & Media (72.3%); Management (71.9%); and Life, Physical and Social Science (70%). Taken together, these represent 1,140,508 jobs – or 28.4 percent of all jobs in the state that can carried out at home/remotely.
  • Moderately Amenable (25-49.9%): Major occupations that have a modest level of jobs that can be conducted at home include: Community and Social Science (48.8%), Personal Care and Service (37.2%), and Sales and Related (25.9%). Just over 201,000 jobs in these three major occupation groups are capable of being performed at home or remotely, constituting 5 percent of all jobs in the state.
  • Least Amenable (Less than 25%): The following nine major occupation groups have a very small share of workers, if any, whose jobs will allow them to do carry out their job responsibilities at home/remotely: Heath Care Practitioners and Technical (8.4%); Protective Service (4.4%); Farming, Fishing and Forestry (4.1%); Transportation and Material Moving (3.4%); Health Care Support (2.9%); Production (0.9%); Installation, Maintenance and Repair (0.8%); Construction and Extraction (0.1%); and Food Preparation and Serving Related (0.0%). The nine groups constitute nearly 1.5 million jobs in Indiana but less than 45,000 of these jobs can be done at home or remotely (as of 2019).

Work from Home: What’s Changed?

Overall, we know that jobs that can be done at home or remotely have not experienced any appreciable growth in Indiana since 2001. But, what is unclear is whether certain occupation groups (at the two-digit SOC code level) have witnessed any expansion in the number of jobs that could be performed at home since 2001. Figure 2 offers insights on the changes that may have occurred in remote work opportunities by the 21 major occupation groups in Indiana.

Figure 2. Shifts in Remote Jobs in Indiana: 2001 and 2019

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There are two of the major occupation groups that experienced the most significant growth in the share of jobs that could be done at home or remotely between the 2001 and 2019 time: Management (from 58.2% to 71.9%) and Architecture and Engineering (from 76.3% to 80.9%). Of the nine occupation groups with the largest share of jobs that can be performed at home, six experienced some growth in such jobs, two remained relatively stable (i.e., Computer and Mathematical as well as Educational Instruction and Library), while one experienced a minor dip (Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports & Media). All but one of the major occupation groups – that being Office and Administrative Support – experienced an expansion in the number of people employed in these occupations between 2001 and 2019.

Concluding Thoughts

One of the key struggles that many Indiana-based employers experienced prior to the pandemic was the shortage of talent available to fill the scores of jobs that remained unfilled. The past year put a pause on efforts to attract talent for many of these businesses, industries, agencies and organizations in the state. But, there is growing evidence that Indiana is on the rebound and efforts to attract talent will likely begin anew in the not too distant future.

According to a June 2020 report by McKinsey and Company, a sizable number of workers who found themselves having to work at home during the COVID health crisis stated they enjoyed the opportunity to work remotely, felt they were more productive, were better able to balance their home and work life, and appreciated not having to commute to work.10 While many of these individuals may ultimately return to their work place once it is safe to do so, several will wish to continue working remotely. One option that will likely to gain favor is a hybrid work model, one where employees will spend part of the time working at their work sites and other days working from home.11 Accommodating a hybrid work schedule can improve job satisfaction and promote employee retention. Furthermore, it can position employers to have a competitive edge when it comes to recruiting individuals to join their workforce.

For those companies in Indiana that employ people in the occupations that can be done at home or remotely, developing a plan (in concert with employees) that facilitates and builds a comprehensive support system for its remote workforce could prove beneficial. Such assistance could include: (1) quality IT equipment (such a laptops, monitors, printers) that can be made available to employees who may lack such resources at home; (2) ready access to the company’s IT support personnel; (3) technologies that can support a host of digital communication and virtual collaboration activities; (4) delivery of educational programs to strengthen the digital skills of employees; (5) regular activities to help remote workers feel a sense of connectedness with their employers; (6) coaching/mentorship to guide career pathways of remote workers; and (7) access to an online reporting system to document work activities and track performance metrics. This proactive approach for supporting remote work is likely to result in a positive and productive work environment for employees and serve as a magnet for new talent that could be attracted to jobs that can be performed remotely.

As for those occupations that simply cannot be done remotely, employers could take stock of what jobs are at greatest risk of being automated. By doing so, employers can be in a better position to determine the upskilling/reskilling these individuals may need to successfully transition to the new jobs that may come about with the adoption of artificial intelligence systems and robotics. This is a topic we will address in one of our future blogs.

What’s Ahead?

This article is the first of a series of reports being prepared on remote work and related topics in the coming weeks and months. In our next blog, we will continue to focus on jobs that can be performed at home/remotely, given specific attention to remote work trends for Hoosiers employed in metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas of the state.


Footnotes

  1. (Title) This study was funded by the CARES Act Supplemental funding provided by the Economic Development Administration, Grant Number
  2. Nicholas Bloom. “How working from home works out.” Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research Policy Brief; June 2020.
  3. Megan Brenan. “COVID-19 and remote work: An update.” Gallup; October 13, 2020.
  4. Michael Maciag. “What does telecommuting’s rise mean for traffic and transit?” Governing: The Future of States and Localities; October 30, 2017; Drew Repp. “How communities can attract and retain remote workers.” Emsi; March 30, 2020.
  5. “Remote work: A new advantage.” April 2020. https://www.motus.com/motus-remote-work-report-reveals-workforce-trends/
  6. Susan Lund, Anu Madgavkar, James Manyika and Seven Smit. “What’s next for remote work: An analysis of 2,000 tasks, 800 jobs, and nine countries.” McKinsey Global Institute; November 2020.
  7. These observations from drawn from the following sources: Nicholas Bloom, “How working from home works out.” Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research; June 2020. Jonathan Dingel and Brent Neiman, “How many jobs can be done at home?”  Becker Friedman Institute, University of Chicago; June 2020.  Susan Lund, Anu Madgavkar, James Manyika, and Sven Smit. “What’s new for remote work: An analysis of 2,000 tasks, 800 jobs, and nine countries.” McKinsey Global Institute; November 2020; Drew Repp. “How communities can attract and retain remote workers.” Emsi; March 30, 2020.  Kate Lister, “Work at home after COVID 19: Our forecast.” Global Workplace Analytics; Not Dated.
  8. We limit our analysis to the 251 five-digit SOC codes that can be done at home or remotely.
  9. Military occupations were excluded from or analysis since O*Net does not provide sufficient information to allow proper classification of remote jobs to be determined.
  10. Brodie Boland, Aaron De Smet, Rob Palter, and Aditya Sanghvi. “Reimagining the office and work life after COVID-19.” McKinsey and Company; June 2020.
  11. A February 2021 report by the McKinsey Global Institute titled, “The future of work after COVID-19,” estimates that 20-25 percent of workers could continue with a hybrid remote situation, working 3 or more days a week from home. The study was based on a survey of 800 corporate executives from around the world.
Written byBo Beaulieu

Dr. Bo Beaulieu is Professor Emeritus of Rural and Regional Development, Purdue Center for Regional Development and the Department of Agricultural Economics. Bo has played a...