Employees who have been excited about their ability to log in from anywhere might do well to consider the opposite situation: an employee in another location can probably do their job—at a lower cost.
That could cost them their jobs in the long run.
The fact that many jobs that can be done from home can also be done from anywhere in the world is often missed in the discussion about remote work, says Anna Stansbury, an assistant professor of labor and organizational studies at the MIT Sloan School of Business, which offers a course on the future of work.
Companies haven’t yet internationally outsourced many jobs that require higher education, Stansbury says wealthadding that many call center jobs or remote-first jobs like software design or back-end engineering have already been outsourced.
But if high-paying office jobs can be done remotely, outsourcing to cheaper areas could “quite clearly” yield huge savings. The potential for change “would be huge if all these high-paying office jobs were suddenly outsourced to less affluent countries,” she adds.
“If people who code for Google and Facebook were able to live anywhere in the US they wanted and [work] for a year and a half without ever going into the office, it seems very, very likely that many companies will reconsider in the longer term and will outsource the types of jobs that used to not be outsourced,” Stansbury adds.
I’m afraid, I’m very afraid
Stansbury isn’t the only person having alarm bells ringing about remote working. Experts have said that outsourcing remote jobs is a real opportunity, one that could fill the void of a tight job market, but one that could also bode ill for workers during a recession.
Stansbury cites research by Richard Baldwin, an economics professor at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Switzerland. “If you can do your work from home, fear. Be very scared,” Baldwin said in November. “Because someone in India or wherever is willing to do it for a lot less.”
This fear has been well-documented for over a decade by Baldwin and his research partner Jonathan Dingel, according to an October 2021 National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) paper. In the paper, titled “Telemigration and Development: On the Offshorability of Teleworkable Jobs,” they categorize jobs into one of four groups: highly offshore-capable, offshore-capable, difficult offshore-capable, and non-offshore-capable.
To end up in the “highly offshoreable” category, only two questions need to be answered “no”: “Does a person in this occupation need to be physically close to a specific U.S. place of work?” and if not, “Do they need to be physically near a work unit?”
In the post-Covid workplace, tasks that can be done remotely will inevitably be done by telemigrants, not domestic workers, predict Baldwin and Dingel.
Certainly such a shift is easier said than done “Social and cultural contexts between countries [make] A PR specialist or sales engineer in Hanoi is less likely to be a perfect replacement for one in Seattle,” they add.
According to that The Washington Post Analysis of Labor Department data on remote work during the pandemic: “The more a job pays, the easier it is to work remotely,” and the highest-paying industries — like software and internet publishing — have the most remote workers. The lowest paying jobs in sectors like retail and hospitality are also the least likely to be moved remotely.
In other words, knowledge workers, who have thoroughly enjoyed the ability to work from anywhere, may need to prepare for the possibility that their luck could run dry.
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