The Globalization of Remote Work

The boom in remote working has certainly changed the conversation about economic and community development here in the US.  For example, cities and towns are aggressively recruiting remote workers, especially in rural places that might not have been viable options for skilled talent in the past.  However, as we embrace these new opportunities, we must also assess the long-term repercussions of this shift to remote work.  One potential looming issue concerns the offshoring of this work.  Will remote work opportunities stay close to home or will they be offshored to reduce costs? 

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This legitimate concern is the focus of an interesting new RAND Corporation Issue Brief:  “The Globalization of Remote Work: Will Digital Offshoring Make Waves in the US Labor Market?”  The report assesses the potential for significant offshoring of digital services as remote work becomes more ubiquitous.  This is not an idle concern as we have already faced numerous waves of offshoring in the past.  Even worse, past policy responses—in terms of assisting impacted workers and communities—have clearly been inadequate. 

Overall, various estimates suggest that anywhere from 20-25% of current US service industry jobs could potentially be offshored.  To date, there has been limited offshoring of remote work, but the potential for such offshoring does exist.   The report’s author, Tobias Sytsma, argues that it is too early to make definitive conclusions on future trends. He does recommend that key state and federal worker transition programs, such as the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, be updated to provide support if the offshoring of remote work increases in scale and scope.  At present, these programs are poorly designed for supporting remote and independent workers seeking retraining and other types of assistance.