Working from home (WFH) isn’t some unique idea that just recently appeared. Telecommuting has been around since we’ve been able to communicate and conduct business at a distance. But, its recent explosion in popularity — whether that be out of necessity or ability — is striking. In fact, we’re currently in the largest work-from-home experiment in history.
In recent months, trends in Google searches for terms like “work from home” have spiked in popularity to the highest levels recorded since at least 2004. Interest in search terms is quantified by Google Trends using a scale of 0 to 100. The higher the number, the higher the interest, with 100 signifying peak interest in that term.
Google Trends Shows Spike Across U.S.
In particular, the trends for the term “work from home” in California, Washington, New York and Texas show how much of an influence the pandemic is having across the nation.
Washington state, which confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. on January 20th, registered the highest popularity reading in our study on March 5th. With 70 cases of the virus reported at that time, residents started looking at working from home as a definite possibility, if not a necessity.
But it wasn’t just Washington. Indeed, the nation started taking this seriously with a noticeable uptick in searches beginning in early March. As news traveled, cities around the globe started taking various measures to slow the spread. We can see a general rise and fall across the country for the search term, but the trend is, undoubtedly, upward.
But working from home is not a new phenomenon. It’s actually been expanding across the nation — and the world — for years.
Colorado: Largest Percentage of WFH Workers
We compiled data on working from home from the U.S. Census Bureau. Specifically, we compared how the millennial cohort especially is adopting and transitioning to working from home and which professions were most common for WFH from 2014 to 2018 in all 50 states. Of the total U.S. labor force, 4.49% were working from home in 2014. Four years later, that number had increased to 5.34% — representing a total of 8.25 million people working from home.
The map below breaks down these statistics by state. Hover over the states for more details.
Colorado leads the nation with the highest percentage of WFH jobs at 8.56% — representing more than a quarter of a million people. Not far behind, 7.46% of the workforces in Vermont and Oregon have WFH jobs. However, in Vermont, that represents just over 24,000 workers, while in Oregon it’s nearly 150,000. California has the largest labor market, so it makes sense that it also has the largest absolute number of people working from home in the nation — more than 1.1 million, or 6% of all jobs in the state.
Fastest Growing WFH Workforce: South Carolina
The vast majority of jobs in the country are in a relatively small number of states. We took the top 20 states by workforce size and identified how WFH evolved between 2014 and 2018. In all cases, the number of people who worked from home increased at least 29% over that time period.
South Carolina experienced the largest growth in working from home with an increase of 58% in just four years. It was followed by Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Texas and North Carolina, all with growth rates greater than 40%. In most cases, the professions that experienced the most WFH growth were professional and scientific services, which management and administration fall under.
Millennial Remote Workers: Built for This
Millennials were built to work from home — maybe not as much as Gen Z, but Millennials are internet natives, nonetheless. So, it comes as no surprise that Millennials are the fastest-growing generation that’s working from home. Nationally, 4.61% of Millennials worked from home in 2018.
The interactive chart below shows the share of working Millennials that work from home in each of the previously listed states, by year. You can switch years using the tabs above the chart.
From 2014 to 2018, roughly 2,600 Millennials started working from home in Alaska and more than 17,000 in South Carolina — registering an increase of 67% in both states. Similarly, Louisiana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, North Carolina, Tennessee and Colorado jumped by more than 50%. Notably, Utah also has the highest share of Millennials working from home at 7.68%, followed by Colorado at 7.4%. Surprisingly, Millennials in Oregon, which has the 30th largest workforce of the 50 states, have 7.1%.
Beneficial Trade-Offs of WFH
If more people are working from home, that means fewer are spending time in traffic every morning. So, how many hours per year could we save? Obviously, it varies by state and even city, but it works out to quite a lot. Think about your job. If you didn’t have to commute, how much time would you save? We broke it down by state averages.
But, saving time isn’t the only factor that affects your work-from-home experience. We’ve also included internet connectivity by state to see where access is optimum for internet-heavy activity. You can also check out the top cities for these metrics, as well.
The Future of WFH is Wide Open
Intuitively, all of this makes sense. Our interconnected world is increasingly allowing us to conduct more and more business virtually. Conferencing technologies like Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Teams make managing teams, clients and projects extremely easy. And, right now, we’re experiencing just how far we can push these technologies.
It’s not just the obvious office work industries that are transitioning either — education and healthcare services are also a large part of the professional community that’s working from home. For instance, the high cost of education have led to a surge in online education courses. In addition to being easier on our personal finances, they also can handle larger class sizes and offer students more flexible schedules. But we also have an aging population and they’re in need of more care. This presents intriguing opportunities within telemedicine.
Interestingly, hardship has a way of breeding innovation and creation. Looking forward, it’s not hard to imagine a world that emerges from this crisis as increasingly more anti-local — further expanding the classification of traditional work-from-home jobs. As a result, we may start seeing occupations that had previously been dependent on physical presence begin to shift toward the comfort of your own home.
Keyword research from Google Trends.
All data obtained from U.S. Census Bureau 2014 – 2018 ACS – Means of Transportation to Work by Age.
“Millennials” defined using age range cohort 25 to 44.
All forms of commuting were used to calculate commuting time, including: car, public transit, biking, and walking.
The number of paid internet subscriptions by total number of households was obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, 2018.