These are the jobs we couldn’t do from home until 2020 rewrote the rules of work

All over the world, there are countless millions of staff now working from the kitchen table or spare room. From education and healthcare to manufacturing, many of these roles were not supposed to be performed remotely. Now we know they can.

More companies are hiring for remote positions now than ever before. "FlexJobs saw a 12% increase in remote job listings in August over July 2020," Kathy Gardner, Senior Director of PR at the online recruitment service told me. Her company saw a 10% increase in advertised positions for remote workers in Q2 over Q1, and a "53% increase between Q3 over Q2," she said.

Online jobs search engine, Adzuna claims the number of remote jobs being advertised has risen by 147%, while the number of searches for such jobs has increased 660%. "Our best estimate is that 25%-30% of the U.S. workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021," Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics, told me.

There's opportunity, of course. Companies embracing remote working will be able to hire the best talent regardless of geography, will save money on office support costs and will use the fact that they support all-remote working practices as a company perk. Employees should get a lot more flexibility around how to structure their working days and will save money on commuting, and all parties now report improved productivity.

So, what sorts of jobs can you do from home now that you couldn't before?

Office work (all types)

Office work has become virtual. Lister explained: "COVID-19 has proven just about any office job can be done at home. A recent survey we did with a partner firm showed nearly nine in ten are working from home during the pandemic."

Pre-pandemic, the following office-related industries were the most advanced in terms of supporting work from home (WFH), according to data from the University of Minnesota: computer and mathematical; business and financial; arts, design, entertainment, sports and media; management and sales and related. In the UK, remote customer service and sales vacancies are booming across multiple sectors, some of which are heavily regulated.

No wonder regulators are now becoming aware of the need to impose protections around the impact of remote working on security of confidential data and insider trading, particularly in the financial services and legal industries.

A school where you are

While the pressure to open schools remains intense and this has happened in some nations, distance learning has certainly entered the mix. From universities to schools, pedagogues have sometimes painfully gotten to grips with using Zoom and education-specific tools for everything from tracking student progress to teaching, classroom management and assignments. Many professionals in the academic space have struggled with these new technologies, but they had better get used to it. Over half of the schools in the UK now intend increasing the number of staff working from home.

Winners and losers in transportation

Warehouse workers, couriers and messengers are some of the rare industries that have seen employment growth during the pandemic. However, there has been a move to using socially distanced technologies in warehouses, on farms and for oil and gas exploration. Drones, automated systems and remotely controlled automatons are seeing increased deployment, but we still have some way to go until these industries reach critical mass.

A Zoom consultation a day keeps the doctor away

Health professionals quickly embraced remote working. They understood the risks of the pandemic more than any other industry and quickly adopted tools to limit exposure. Telemedicine and remote health assessments have become normalized, while even bedside hospital visits are being transacted using mobile devices to protect both doctor and patient from unwanted viral transmission.

This extends to mental health provision, where telephone-based services have stepped up to offer support remotely at the same time as innovative support networks emerge offering talking therapies in virtual space. Some health industry-related jobs may seem surprising: for example, one FlexJobs notice sought a remote teleradiologist – but the truth is the operator doesn't necessarily need to be physically present to understand the data received.

Don't fear the dentist…

By its nature, dentistry requires close interaction with patients, but digital technologies can help reduce the risk of viral transmission during chair time, argues Nishan Dixit, President of the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He sees an opportunity for remote delivery of initial patient consultations and aspects of monitoring following intervention, which should mitigate some of the concerns for those who fear the dentist's chair.

Architecture and engineering

While it's fair to say that architecture and engineering are likely to be hybrid remote/on-site roles, a recent recruitment ad for a Railroad Bridge Engineer recognized that field engineers don’t need to be in an office at all. Much of the collaboration with officials, construction teams and stakeholders can be virtual. On an industry basis, water supply sewage waste management is one of the top five sectors that will increase WFH, according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Those same statistics also show that 15% of manufacturers plan to base more workers at home, but virtually no businesses in food, transportation or storage industries intend to do so. Meanwhile, use of drones in the precision agriculture and oil and gas industries is climbing, as employers seek to make as many tasks as efficient as they possibly can be while remaining remote.

Creative industries

While live events of every type are suffering deep misery, some creative roles have found the transition to remote working much easier, in part because the computers and devices we use to get things done have improved so much. Video FX and post-production, digital painters, web developers, editorial and similar creative roles have very quickly become remote. Some of the big media companies are hiring remote journalists to monitor and collect news from their local area, across broadcast, online and print media.

Product development

Unlike software development, hardware product development requires a high degree of collaboration and access to tools that just aren't available at home. This has led to hybrid models for development, use of video collaboration and AR, and has generated challenges for some of the world's biggest companies. (Apple, for example, is very focused on collaboration and presence in its teams but has confessed to being “satisfied” with staff performance during the challenging times.) However, remote-first companies such as Shopify or PSA have experienced far fewer problems adjusting to the new reality.

Yoga instructors and personal trainers

While gyms closed, Peloton revenues climbed 172% during the pandemic, and fitness app downloads climbed 46% worldwide. The trend has been reflected across the industry, with personal trainers, yoga teachers and many other physical health practitioners moving to offer their services online. The pandemic has driven audiences online, attracted new customers, and provided some source of income to people in this space.

Director of homeworking

There are new jobs emerging. A growing number of enterprises are searching for executives with the knowledge and experience to lead their WFH initiatives, seeking skills as varied as Zoom call etiquette to best practices around data handling, security and new ways to lead remote digital teams. Facebook, Twitter and Quora are all advertising for such posts, with new job titles such as “remote work director,” “head of remote,” or “director of home working.”

We can’t predict the next crisis, but businesses can prepare with robust contingency plans and innovate to ensure business operations can continue, no matter the disruption. As businesses develop strategies to adapt quickly to the new normal, telecommuting and effective collaboration between remote workforces have become an important area of concern.

In this ebook, we share tips on fast and seamless transition to remote work arrangements.

Jon Evans

Jon Evans is a highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men's interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.