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Some remote jobs will still be hot in 5 years, and others 'might not exist,' economists say—how to know the difference

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Remote jobs are vanishing. 

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, close to half of Americans worked from home full-time, a significant jump from about 2% pre-pandemic. Now, less than 10% of workers in the U.S. have a fully remote job, says Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford economics professor, who has studied work-from-home policies for decades.

While some business leaders embraced the shift to remote work as an opportunity to reimagine how we do our jobs and run our companies, others saw flexible work accommodations offered at the start of the pandemic as emergency measures that aren't sustainable for the long-term and are pulling back on their remote offerings. 

As of November 2022, remote jobs made up less than 14% of postings advertised on LinkedIn, down from a high of 20.6% in March 2022 — even though close to half of jobseekers prefer remote roles. 

The remote job market might be shrinking, but there is a silver lining for the millions of workers craving flexibility: Though some remote jobs will disappear, others will continue to be in demand for a long time.

The remote jobs that 'might not exist' in five years

Companies are hiring fewer people for remote roles in the U.S. that can be outsourced to cheaper workers overseas or replaced with AI, says Bloom. 

"In the U.S., wages are often double or triple those of overseas workers in countries like Mexico, India and the Philippines, and those workers can be just as good as a fully remote employee in the U.S., so it's more cost-efficient and effective for companies to move those jobs there," he explains. 

As for AI, the World Economic Forum has estimated that AI technologies will replace some 85 million jobs by 2025 — Bloom expects that a majority of these jobs will be remote roles that are repetitive and can be easily automated, like customer service representatives and receptionists. 

The industries with the least remote work opportunities that will continue to "limit flexibility" for employees are the ones that require in-person interactions like retail and manufacturing, says Rob Sadow, the co-founder of FlexIndex, a database of companies' in-office requirements.

Other remote jobs that "might not exist in five years" are in industries that prioritize office culture and see remote work as "less optimal, less productive," says Rachel Sederberg, a senior economist and research manager at the labor analytics firm Lightcast.

This includes jobs in education and health care which, along with construction and sales, have seen the smallest increase in remote job offerings between 2019 and 2022, according to recent data from the World Economic Forum. 

"It all comes down to how business leaders and organizations define 'success,' and for a lot of them, that definition includes some degree of in-person work," says Sadow.

The best prospects for a remote career 

The remote jobs that offer the most opportunities and will continue to be in demand are the roles that require specialized skills that can't be easily replaced by a cheaper worker overseas or AI and involve little to no social interaction, according to PJ Lambert, a London-based economist.

This includes jobs in finance, even though big banks on Wall Street are pushing for a full-scale return to the office. Remote jobs still make up about 22% of all open roles in finance, down less than a percentage point from 2022, according to Lightcast.

Some finance jobs, however, are more conducive to remote work than others: Two of the most in-demand remote roles companies are continuing to hire for are financial analysts and finance directors, per recent data from LinkedIn and FlexJobs.

That's because these jobs, like many tech jobs that were remote-eligible even before the pandemic, don't require much, if any, in-person interaction and productivity can be easily measured from a distance, adds Lambert.

"Managers are much more comfortable having people work off-site if they can measure their productivity or output without spying on them in an office," says Lambert. "Take software developers: This job has been traditionally remote and will likely stay fully remote because you can see how many lines of code were written that day."

You don't have to be a computer science major or expert coder to land one of these remote jobs, either — jobs in marketing, entertainment and law, including graphic designers, marketing managers and corporate counsel have consistently had a high number of available remote jobs since even before the pandemic, Lambert adds. 

If you want to permanently ditch the office, Sederberg recommends paying close attention to industry trends: Did companies offer remote work before the pandemic? Are companies starting to ask workers to return to the office? The answers to these questions are clear indications of what to expect, if companies are backtracking on earlier commitments to flexible work arrangements or going permanently remote.

In deciding whether or not to offer remote jobs, "companies are caught in a battle between cultural norms and productivity gains," says Sederberg. "It all comes down to what kind of culture you want, and how remote work benefits or detracts from that." 

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