White collar workers’ bubble

It seems that many white-collar workers think that just about everyone can just work remotely.

We’ve seen that recently with the big hype about Covid-19, social distancing, and working from home.

Columnist Michael Strain writes in Bloomberg and National Review about remote work being overhyped and emphasizes that the future of work is still going to be in the office.

This is true, and we do have a tendency to overhype something that’s trendy. Some think that commercial real estate will be decimated by the Coronavirus and that business people will ditch their offices and just work from home. Some may it’s feasible, but business people would have done this already if they had figured out a way to eliminate their rent payment.

There has been a growth in remote work in the past several years. Accountants, recruiters, some call center positions, marketers, engineers, and several other professionals are able to work from home. But still most aren’t able to.

write about the growth and methods in which more companies can work remotely in Remote: Office not Required. There are certainly ways that some companies can benefit from remote work and can provide additional flexibility to grow their companies. And those that can benefit from doing so should look into it.

However, let’s not make the mistake in thinking that most people can work from home. As Strain notes in his column, there are many benefits to working in offices, including mentorship for new employees, teamwork, and office cohesiveness.

But the biggest challenge is that many professions simply can’t work remotely.

When it comes to remote work, many white collar workers often live in a bubble and tend to think we are living in a purely post industrial era. But we forget just how many people work in the restaurant industry, manufacturing, construction, transportation, utilities, mining, leisure and hospitality, etc. You can see the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ chart with numbers of employment by industry.

I don’t mean to minimize white collar workers. Because the economy does need us. But I think our society sometimes gets things backwards and tends to think that white collar workers are somehow “higher class” workers. Many white collar workers tend to live in an ivory tower.

In a way, folks who work with their hands in manufacturing, construction, transportation, health care, law enforcement, utilities, etc. are the heart of the economy. Those of us in white collar jobs are the support system.

I believe we tend to forget this, because our politicians, media, and think tanks are often surrounded by white collar/support role positions.

Take manufacturing, for example. Washington, D.C.: 0.13% of the workforce is in manufacturing, or 0.2% share of gross product, less than any of the 50 states. Compare that to Wisconsin, where manufacturing comprises 16.4% of the workforce & 25.9% share of gross product.

Or compare that to Pennsylvania, Michigan, or Indianapolis.

This is the problem with when we overhype something like remote work. Office employees get excited about it because they think they can work from home more. Meanwhile, the working class and the folks you fix your cars or household appliances just see this hype as being disconnected from reality.

Perhaps remote work will increase some over time. Maybe it will grow from about 5-7% of positions.

But the future still requires people to be present and hands on with their work.

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