Remote Work Remains Popular in Australia Even as Economy Recovers
While local transmission of COVID-19 is low and most industries are operating at normal capacity, work-from-home arrangements remain as popular in Australia as they were at the height of the pandemic.
- Remote job postings on Indeed Australia remain near COVID-19 highs and show little sign of moderating.
- Such postings are most prevalent in tech, social sciences, marketing and media & communication.
- The trend is broad though, with remote posting share for most occupations at or near pandemic peaks.
The COVID-19 crisis has triggered a drastic change in the relationship Australians have with their workplaces. Millions have been forced to work from home, at least temporarily, and that has influenced the types of jobs that have been created.
By the end of February, 8.9% of Indeed Australia job postings featured keywords related to remote work in their job descriptions, up from 4.3% in January and February 2020. Meanwhile, remote posting share on Indeed hasn’t declined at all despite Australia’s success in controlling the spread of COVID-19 and reopening its economy.
Indeed data on job postings, including job descriptions, show how employers use remote keywords across occupational categories, providing answers to three key questions: First, a year into the pandemic, which occupations have the largest shares of remote job postings and which the smallest? Second, which occupations have experienced the largest increases in such postings? Third, have remote postings fallen back to pre-COVID levels in some occupations?
Most occupational groups have registered a sharp and largely sustained increase in use of remote keywords. To be sure, the prevalence of remote jobs has moderated a bit in some occupations, especially social science, hospitality & tourism and beauty & wellness. However, this has been offset by a range of occupations where remote job postings are either at or near record highs.
For most occupations, there is little evidence that business has returned to normal. In December, more than twice the normal share of the workforce worked most days from home, according to the Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey.
Tech leads sectors that use remote work keywords most
During the pandemic, use of remote keywords has been most common among white collar occupations, particularly in the tech sector. One-in-five job postings for IT operations & helpdesk feature remote keywords, while remote jobs account for 18.3% of software development and 14.3% of information design job postings.
Remote work was common in IT operations & helpdesk before the COVID-19 crisis, with outsourcing to other countries or regions prevalent. During the pandemic, remote opportunities rose sharply in other tech roles as well. For example, the remote share for both software development and information design more than doubled compared with pre-crisis baselines.
Remote jobs accounted for 17.2% of media & communications job postings from April 20 to Feb. 21. Media was turned on its head during the crisis, with everything from print to television shifting from the workplace to the home. Marketing and social science roles, largely reflecting psychologist postings, have also frequently been performed remotely.
At the same time though, remote job postings for some occupations have remained exceedingly low, even when they have increased considerably during the crisis. Through Feb. 21, just 1.1% of retail positions, 1.9% of dentist jobs and 2.1% of driver roles featured remote keywords. In some occupations, remote work simply isn’t possible — even in a pandemic.
Occupations where remote share jumped most include marketing, media and math
Remote posting shares have doubled or more in more than half of occupational groups during the COVID-19 crisis. Categories with the biggest remote posting percentage point gains are led by marketing, media & communications and mathematics, which each rose by double digits from pre-pandemic baselines. Software development and architecture were not far behind, rising 9.8 and 8.7 percentage points respectively. These five groups are all well suited for remote work, relying on technology or not requiring a central workplace.
Some occupations have gotten creative in adapting to social distancing requirements. For example, real estate agents have moved auctions and inspections online. Physiotherapists now work with patients, while entertainers stage their performances via the internet.
For most occupations, remote work postings still gaining ground
In three-quarters of occupational groups, the remote posting share was higher from December 2020 to February 2021 than the averages from April to November last year. That is, in these occupations, the remote posting share has continued to rise even as the economy opened.
In arts & entertainment, the remote posting share from December to February was 4.6 percentage points above its average during the earlier period. Meanwhile, the share in banking & finance jumped 4.1 percentage points.
In logistic support, the share climbed 3.7 percentage points. The increase in IT operations & helpdesk — the occupation with the highest usage of remote keywords — was 3.6 percentage points.
Many of the occupations that used remote keywords most increased usage further in late 2020 and early 2021.
In a handful of occupations, job postings had lower remote keyword shares in the most recent period, suggesting these workplaces are gradually returning to normal.
In social science occupations, the remote posting share from December 2020 to February 2021 was 2.5 percentage points lower than its earlier average. Meanwhile, in beauty & wellness and hospitality & tourism, the remote posting share fell 1.8 and 1.2 percentage points respectively.
Many of the roles with falling remote posting shares are difficult to perform outside the workplace. Hospitality, beauty & wellness, driver, veterinary and childcare are examples of jobs that cannot be performed from home effectively and are likely to return to normal fastest.
Workers and businesses alike want to know whether work-from-home arrangements are the new normal. Though it is too early to say, our data show little moderation in use of remote keywords thus far. Remote posting shares remain near record highs for most occupational groups. Of those groups with falling shares, declines have been gradual and have only partly offset the early COVID-19 spike.
Recent short-term lockdowns may have delayed the return to offices and other workplaces, creating uncertainty for Australian businesses. The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the months ahead will provide clues whether elevated work-from-home shares are here to stay.
We identify job postings as open to remote work if the job title or description include terms like “remote work”, “telecommute”, “work from home”, or similar terms, or if the location is explicitly listed as remote. These postings include both permanently and temporarily remote jobs, though the duration is often unspecified.
We use April 2020 to February 2021 as the COVID-19 period. January and February 2020 are used as the pre-pandemic baseline. March 2020 is excluded from this analysis since lockdowns began mid-month, which means it does not fit cleanly in either bucket.
Callam Pickering is an Economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab with a focus on Australia. Previously he was an economist at the Reserve Bank of Australia focusing on household spending and house prices. He also worked as the economic editor at online publications the Business Spectator and Eureka Report where he covered economic issues relating to Australia. Callam earned a Bachelor of economics and Accounting from Monash University.