While most employees will likely return to their offices after the COVID-19 crisis ends, many want to continue as remote workers, leading them to look for the companies, occupations and locations where remote work thrives.
According to a new analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Census Bureau data conducted by CareerCloud, a resource site for job seekers, Utah is the best state for remote job growth, followed by Colorado and the Washington, D.C., area. Mississippi is the worst state for remote work, followed by Louisiana, Alaska and Maine.
To determine which states have the most promising outlook for remote job growth, CareerCloud scored each state across three metrics: employment per 1,000 jobs in a selection of the most common remote-friendly occupations, projected growth rates in these jobs through 2028 and the percentage of people in each state with broadband access at home.
Employment levels in typically remote-friendly jobs is currently highest in Washington, D.C. Utah has the highest projected growth rate in those jobs, and Washington state is tops for broadband access.
Looking at regional comparisons, the West had the highest average score of the four major regions of the country, while the Midwest had the worst average total score. The other two regions in the study are the Northeast and the South.
The findings are similar to data uncovered by FlexJobs, a Boulder, Colo.-based jobs site for flexible and remote jobs. “We’ve found that Colorado is the state with the most remote workers, and Utah is near the top, as well,” said Brie Weiler Reynolds, FlexJobs career development manager and coach. “Our data also found that Mississippi and Louisiana were states with the fewest remote workers.”
She added that the three metrics tracked in the CareerCloud study are key to understanding the future of remote work. “Broadband access is one way to explain the findings because without reliable access to high-speed, broadband Internet, preferably from a number of suppliers, remote work simply can’t happen at scale,” she said.
About 86 percent of people in the U.S. have access to broadband Internet, according to Census Bureau data. Twenty-one states and Washington, D.C., have even higher broadband access rates.
“The West has an interesting combination of lack of public transportation and general access to broadband Internet that makes remote work an attractive option for companies and employers,” Weiler Reynolds said. “The Northeast, by contrast, has broadband access but more public transportation, making the need to augment commuting options slightly less pressing. It will be interesting to see how the pandemic reshapes metrics like these, with so many people finding it necessary to work remotely over the last year and some companies shifting to remote-first and work-anywhere policies that may encourage workers to shift where they live.”
Frank Steemers, a senior economist with The Conference Board, a New York City-based think tank, said some of the differences in remote-work rates among states could be explained by differences in industry and occupational composition. “Working from home is more prevalent in certain occupations and industries, which drives some of the regional differences,” he said. “For example, in Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland and California, a larger share of workers work in computer occupations, which have relatively higher shares of remote workers.”
He added that even after accounting for industry and occupational factors, “workers in states with more restrictive social distancing policies were much more likely to work remotely. Over the course of the pandemic, Washington, D.C., California, Massachusetts and New York have had stricter social distancing policies, and therefore more professional and office workers have been working from home.”
While the gaps in remote work across regions may narrow after the pandemic, some of these regional differences could remain because of habit formation and changing employment preferences, Steemers said.
“For example, employees in the South returned to work sooner over the course of the pandemic. On the other hand, in states in the Northeast and on the West Coast and especially in large cities, many employees will have worked from home for an extended period. This may have changed their habits and preferences permanently. Employers that have invested more in working from home may have also seen the benefits of remote work, such as reducing office space and its cost and expanding their talent pool beyond their metro area by hiring remotely,” he said.
Top Remote Jobs
The 14 most common remote-work occupations analyzed by CareerCloud are relatively uncommon among all U.S. jobs, according to BLS data. Adjusting for population, the most common U.S. job is retail salesperson, followed by fast-food worker and cashier—which illustrates what may be holding back the growth of remote jobs nationwide.
The more common remote-friendly occupations studied however, such as software developer, statistician and information security analyst, are projected to become more numerous over the next several years.
The career fields that generally post the most remote jobs, according to FlexJobs, are in computer and information technology, health care, project management, marketing and sales, accounting and finance, and customer service.
The 50 companies that have posted the most remote jobs so far in 2021 are an interesting mix of industries and company sizes, according to Weiler Reynolds. “From well-established, well-known companies like American Express and Vistaprint, to interesting tech companies like HubSpot and health care companies like Tava Health, a huge variety of companies are turning to remote work to hire large numbers of people.
“As we look at the foreseeable job market, it’s clear that the landscape of remote work will be permanently changed as a result of COVID-19,” she said. “Instead of ad hoc use, we’ve seen the full deployment of remote work across many organizations. The expected growth rate of full-time remote work over the next five years has doubled.”