Remote work is a two-edged sword


The New York Post warns:  “Remote work could cost Americans their jobs within decade, experts say“.

Remote work may be a blessing for Americans who enjoy not having to commute to the office, but experts are warning that workers should be careful what they wish for because companies could easily hire someone overseas to do the same job for much less money.

High-paid tech workers could find themselves out of a job within a decade if companies continue to outsource those positions overseas, the experts said.

. . .

Companies that employ remote workers could pay lower wages to those who do the same job but from overseas, according to analysts … “Because somebody in India or wherever is willing to do it for much less.”

There’s more at the link.

That’s something I’ve been worried about ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.  Anything that can be done for an employer from your home can be done from their home, no matter where it is, by anyone else suitably qualified.  That’s already happened in the hi-tech sector to a considerable extent.  In south-east Asia, computer programmers, analysts, engineers and specialists will work for about one-quarter to one-third of the standard US wage – so they’re being hired instead of US workers.  Even in the USA itself, many companies have brought in lower-wage staff to replace their more expensive local IT workers.  It’s also happening in health care, thanks to the growing local shortage of nurses.

Even support staff such as secretaries, receptionists, etc. can work remotely, provided the telecommunications network and the Internet are available.  If you can order a burger at a fast-food joint using a touch-screen, there’s no reason a caller to a company can’t navigate his way through today’s ubiquitous (and extremely annoying) voice menus to reach a human operator, who can then redirect his call – but the operator might be thousands of miles away.  It no longer matters.

I don’t think this will matter much to blue-collar workers, but anyone in a white-collar occupation might be looking at a “Brave New World” of employment that may not be anything like the old one.



  1. Locally, Fruit of The Loom moved all IT offshore a few years ago. Need a new cable for your PC, Good luck with that! System crashes in manufacturing, it will be awhile. Warren Buffett maybe a wonder for investors but he makes a shitty boss for employees.

  2. Another step in the collapse – when they find that those offshore workers aren't quite as competent as they claimed to be.

  3. My kids / their spouses are in love with work-at-home, and they're young enough to be outraged at the first signs that it might end. At the beginning of COVID they came and stayed with us in our big (well-provisioned) country home rather than be cooped up in their city apartment during the lockdown. Then they built, moved in, popped out a baby: Loving work-from-home. But now maternity/paternity leave is over, and at the same time the bosses are trying to get their mojo back. Managing staff development and monitoring performance remotely and trying to keep the brand intact, with the normal feedback, can't be done with a worker diaspora working in their pajamas independently. I've been waiting for the management structures to reassert themselves, if nothing else then for quality reasons.

    It's a valid point: If one can work from home, the home can be anywhere, including a third world country with lower-paid help. The thing is, a foreign call center almost certainly won't be run from home: It'll be in a miserable, high-density cubicle farm, or worse. You know why? Because that gives the business a distinct competitive advantage at being able to manage their business optimally.

    We've replaced 'work' with 'woke', called, and then raised it by a shutdown. Business/Commercial Competition has become de-prioritized and replaced, temporarily, by throwing freshly-printed money at it, backed up with ass-deep distributions of cash-to-citizens and EBT cards. But you know what? Competition is alive and well in places where people go hungry still.

  4. This cannot end well. Anything that can be done remotely can be outsourced. But anything built by low payed programmers willl be at best a shoddy product.

  5. This is not a new concept. Offshoring was tried years ago for the software industry, and yet local hires are still the majority. It turns out there are significant inefficiencies with offshore teams, and in some circumstances there are security issues with US companies sharing access to foreign teams. It has not hurt my career at all and I've been in the business over 20 years. The kind of companies that are trying to save a few pennies using offshore teams usually learn other costs are increased, and they stop after a few years.

  6. I work for a software start-up. Total headcount has actually gone up from about 175 to 300 people this year with about 240 regular and 60 contractors.

    Since we're a software company, we need coders. Most of the contractors are overseas coders in either Colombia or Vietnam.

    We have some physical data centers locally, so I'm reasonably safe "for now" in my Sys Admin job, but we are in process of migrating to cloud solutions instead, and once that's done, then yeah, my job can be done by anyone with an internet connection, so… It's definitely a concern, though not for a few more years yet.

  7. These offshore companies hire for family ties not for competence. Pay third world waves get third world quality.

  8. I suppose I've never really thought this all the way through, but this has more facets than…
    If American white-collar (general office) workers have been directed to remain secluded (stay at home) – or are otherwise unable to reach their worksites by easily available transportation, what is to prevent companies/government from off-shoring their jobs to much cheaper labor available in foreign countries.

  9. As mentioned above, the biggest hurdles are quality and training.
    Many of the places that went overseas for IT and other educated support have started bringing it back, and as demand rises in those other countries, so do wage requirements. A great example is Chinese factories complaining they can't get Walmart contracts anymore because they're too expensive – the same is happening in a lesser degree in other industries.

  10. In the software world offshored work has been a fact of life since the late '90s early 2000's. Much stuf especially older maintenance work is farmed out to various Indian, Vietnamese and many Eastern European companies (including folks from the Ukraine). The skill of these folks that I have worked with is HIGHLY variable. Some are darn good, comparable with the best US folks I've worked with. Lots are mediocre, many are downright dangerous causing more damage than they fix. If you train them they have a tendency to go to some other company for a higher salary. I've seen HP run into this issue back in the early 2000's. I've seen other companies go for the cheaper bid vs known US vendors and have their projects fail in an epic fashion. There's actually a large business in doing "rescues" where some company tried to get work done on the cheap and is now desperately up against the wall for schedule or other reasons and will happily pay us cost+ just to have a working product.

  11. I recently discovered that the US Coast Guard has outsourced much of their mariner licensing, testing and credentialing… not overseas, yet, but to a company owned by a family member of a powerful senator.

    I discovered this because whoever the company is, they're absolutely awful and mariners are in danger of losing our jobs because we can't get licenses or credentials renewed or upgraded. Since 90% of all goods move by sea, and the US merchant marine has an average mariner age approaching retirement, this is bad.
    Imagine being a privately held company so bad at your job that the US Government is actually more efficient than you are.

  12. Like everything else outsourced it never ends up saving money. You just spend that labor "savings" in other areas to enable or because of outsourcing. Programmers for example. It costs 1/3 but takes 4 of them to do the same job. If you have decent onshore employees originally.

  13. I understand how someone can think you can just offshore a lot of these jobs until you get into the weeds. On the programming front, an area where I'm familiar having worked remotely for most of the past decade as a developer and dealt with managing outsourced work (onshore and offshore), the layer of added work in managing offshore generally makes it not worth it. In my experience even the best english as a second language speaker will miss at minimum 5% of what's trying to be outlined for a project. That last 5% is usually what makes or breaks a project. James has already pointed out that onshore coders tend to be considerably more productive. This degree of the difference depends on the offshore coder's country, but it applies in my experience to everywhere but Western Europe. Eastern Europe it's not as noticeable, but the language barriers are worse. There's also the management issues of coordinating meetings. Trying to coordinate with China/India/etc… is a serious pain and usually not worth it when you factor in the other issues.

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