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This software sales job isn’t really in Remote, Ore., a tiny town 200 miles south of Portland. This internship isn’t either. This job is probably not in Remote, Mich., a place that doesn’t appear to exist.
When the pandemic hit and millions of Americans left physical workplaces, some employers left blank the location fields in online job listings or filled in “remote.” Career websites’ computer systems still went through the motions of tying a do-from-anywhere job to a city and state.
That’s how, as Brian Feldman wrote in the BNet newsletter a few days ago, Remote, Ore., seems to have become America’s job capital.
This is a relatively trivial example of computers not being as smart as we’d like. But there’s something profound here, too. Career websites reflect the collective mood of millions of American job seekers and companies. If you want a glimpse at our complicated feelings about work during and after the pandemic, job search sites are a good place to start.
I talked about this with Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the career website ZipRecruiter, who told me that she had a window onto how quickly Americans’ work preferences changed at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. She noticed a mismatch between what employers and the rest of us want.
In the last year, Pollak said, the most common job search term by far on ZipRecruiter has been — you probably can guess — remote work or similar terms. There has been a big increase. For every 100 searches for remote work before the pandemic, now there are 330, Pollak said.
She said that many don’t want remote work to be temporary. In ZipRecruiter’s surveys of job seekers, 45 percent of respondents indicated that they preferred to find a job that would let them work from home after the pandemic is over. (An article on Wednesday from my colleagues cited similar survey results.)
To give job hunters what they were looking for, ZipRecruiter completely reprogrammed its computer systems to try to parse whether job listings that offered remote work were intended to be jobs from anywhere temporarily or permanently.
I’ll add an important reminder: The debate about whether remote work will become permanent is only about a fraction of jobs. About one in four Americans who worked outside the home in July 2020 had done at least some work remotely in the prior four weeks because of the pandemic.
That means three-quarters of American workers aren’t doing their jobs from home, and working from anywhere will not be the reality for most Americans. (The added wrinkles are whether remote work means doing a job away from the workplace five days a week or occasionally, and whether employees or companies make that choice.)
But for the types of work that might be done remotely, there is a mismatch. A significant percentage of job hunters are saying that they want to work remotely. Employers aren’t sure they want that. Career websites are seeing this tug of war firsthand.
Job postings have indicated that while initially many employers didn’t want to commit to letting people work from anywhere forever, that’s starting to change. “We’re seeing a gradual shift to more and more jobs that can be done remotely that are listed as such,” Pollak said.
ZipRecruiter now classifies about 8 or 9 percent of job postings as permanent work from home jobs, up from about 2 percent before the pandemic. The job listing websites Monster and LinkedIn also told me that remote jobs are still a fraction of open positions but have sharply increased.
The career sites’ computer systems are starting to adapt to job seekers’ desire for more flexible work. The human bosses will still have the last word.
The fight over online piracy
Some people have long complained that copyright law is being abused to protect people and companies from accountability.
This is one of the longest running debates over the internet, and I don’t know how to resolve it. But I wanted to chew it over as an example of the high-stakes fights over internet expression that most of us don’t often think about.
Vice News has recently reported on several instances of police officers playing songs on their phones while bystanders record interactions with them. Civil rights activists have said that they believe this is an effort to ensure that the videos will be taken down from websites like Instagram and YouTube.
Many internet companies have automated systems that block people from posting material that contains popular songs or movie clips. Sites like Google and Facebook also handle billions of requests each year from people, organizations and companies big and small to remove material that they say belongs to them and that they didn’t give permission for others to post.
This is all in response to a 1998 law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which requires online companies to remove copyrighted material. There are many gripes about how the law has played out.
Big entertainment companies in particular frequently say that the law and the ways that internet companies enforce it are too lax about pulling down material that they believe is improperly posted online. They also don’t like having to make so many requests to enforce their copyrights.
As we’ve seen from Vice’s reporting, some digital rights activists and smaller fish in music and entertainment effectively say the opposite — that internet companies’ copyright policing too often errs in ways that protect powerful institutions or removes newsworthy information from the public record.
Writing laws is difficult. The DMCA shows that it’s even harder for laws related to the internet to both keep up with people’s fast-changing habits and get enforcement right.
Before we go …
When being online is your job: My Times Opinion colleagues made a short film chronicling the demands on internet celebrities in China who livestream their every move. Related: Taylor Lorenz wrote about the new bureaucracy building around professional internet stars.
Fancy exercise classes for cheap: My colleague Brian X. Chen tried to create the experience of a Peloton-style internet-connected indoor bicycle without spending big bucks. Don’t miss the awkward moment when Brian’s barbell routine was interrupted by a YouTube ad for soap.
A homage to internet desserts: Eater’s fun history of decorative cakes said that the creative desserts now swarming Instagram and other social media sites are “a trend fueled by quarantine baking, but inspired by everything from the Instagram- and Pinterest-famous bakeries of South Korea to the video game Animal Crossing.”
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