Quantifying the future of remote work

Our 2018 Vanguard research paper The Future of Work found that, contrary to some reports, technology isn’t widely causing jobs to disappear, but it is profoundly changing nearly all of them. A job is broadly the sum of its tasks. Our paper examined the 41 work activities, or tasks, that make up the nearly 1,000 occupations tracked by the U.S. Department of Labor and found that, since 2000, tasks have widely shifted from being basic and repetitive toward “uniquely human” tasks that rely on creative problem-solving.

In that study, we focused on the number of jobs needed in the future (answer: more in total), without worrying about where those jobs were located and whether certain ones could be done remotely. But as the graphic above shows, we’ve now done just that. We updated our task framework within the Labor Department’s universe of occupations. Now, though, we’ve scored each occupation’s associated tasks on a scale of 0 to 10 for remote-work potential. A score of 0 represents a task that can’t be accomplished remotely at all, while a 10 represents a task that can be performed entirely remotely with equal effectiveness.

We then looked at which tasks were critically important to a given job. For example, a bartender’s work includes the critically important task of mixing drinks but also the not critically important task of data entry.

Finally, we assessed which occupations had a high overall remote score among critically important tasks. We find, as you can see in the graphic, that roughly 15% of all U.S. jobs could be conducted remotely. Although that percentage may sound small, it represents potentially over 20 million U.S. workers. That’s a large number.

Our assessment included a conservative threshold of 60% for critically important tasks, meaning that some effectiveness could be “lost” with certain tasks being done remotely, but that 60% effectiveness was good enough to complete the task. A higher threshold would mean that fewer occupations and workers could permanently work remotely.

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