[By David Heacock]
Since March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused record numbers of Americans to transition to remote work. As COVID cases have surged across the country, recent CDC guidelines suggest that workers should be allowed to work remotely if they can. While many jobs are suitable to a remote work environment, most are not. Using data from the Census Bureau as well as a recent study by University of Chicago researchers, about 31 percent of U.S. workers are employed in remote-friendly jobs, but this varies substantially on a geographic level. Additionally, not everyone who works in an occupation that can be performed remotely is well positioned to do so. Differences in computer and high-speed internet access, as well as available space in the household, all impact an individual’s preparedness for remote work.
Working from home typically requires both a computer and a high-speed internet connection. According to data from the Census Bureau, nearly a quarter of U.S. households don’t own a computer and close to 30 percent lack broadband internet, such as cable, fiber optic, or DSL. Not surprisingly, owning a computer and having high-speed internet tend to go hand in hand. At the state level, states where more households own computers are also home to more households with high-speed internet. On a regional level, the South is less prepared to work from home—Southern states tend to have lower rates of home computer ownership and fewer households with broadband internet.
In addition to having the necessary hardware and internet access, being able to create a clear boundary between your home life and work life can make all the difference when working from home. Having a suitable home workspace is associated with increased telework satisfaction and self-reported productivity. Workers with a spare bedroom at home will find it easier to create a dedicated workspace than those whose only option is a shared living area, such as the kitchen or dining room table. For example, while the San Francisco metropolitan area is home to a disproportionate number of laptop workers with high-speed internet access, a majority of these workers don’t have extra space for a home office, making full-time remote work more challenging in the Bay Area than in areas with more affordable housing.
To find the most prepared places in the U.S. to work from home, researchers at Filterbuy analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the University of Chicago. They created a composite telework preparedness score based on the following factors:
- Percentage of workers in remote-friendly jobs
- Percentage of households with a laptop or desktop computer
- Percentage of households with broadband internet, such as cable, fiber optic or DSL
- Percentage of households with at least one spare bedroom that could be used as a home office
- Median number of rooms per person in each household
At the state level, many of the most-prepared states to work from home are on the East Coast. The two states flanking Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, rank the highest in the country according to the composite score. Over one-third of jobs in each of these states can be performed from home, and a large proportion of households in both states have computers and high-speed internet access. The South tends to be less prepared to work from home. Arkansas ranks the lowest in the country according to its composite score. Just 26 percent of jobs in Arkansas can be performed from home, while less than two-thirds of Arkansas households own computers. Only 56 percent of Arkansas households have high-speed internet.