Will COVID-19 kill the traditional workplace? The impact of lockdowns and social distancing policies to contain the spread of the pandemic on labor markets has been unprecedented, especially for contact-intensive industries that require physical presence at the workplace or high levels of personal interaction. Workers in such industries are consequently at a higher risk of reduced hours or pay, temporary furloughs, or permanent layoffs. In contrast, occupations involving the use of information and communication technology (ICT) are less likely to experience disruption.
How is the risk of job disruption spread across different economic sectors? How does the level of “tele-workability” relate with worker characteristics (age, educational attainment, gender, employment status, and income level)? How does the ability to work remotely vary across advanced and emerging market economies? Answers to these questions can inform the policies needed to support workers both during and after the lockdown period.
Recent IMF research has estimated the distribution of tele-workability across sectors, occupations, age groups, gender, income, and education levels in 35 advanced and emerging market economies, including 30 OECD member countries and Cyprus, Ecuador, Kazakhstan, Peru, and Singapore. Worker-level microdata from the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) allows the authors to unpack differences in job task characteristics—and therefore tele-workability—among workers within the same occupation, as well as across different occupations, sectors, and countries. The existing literature on tele-workability uses aggregated data at the occupational level (Dingel and Neiman 2020; Hensvik and others 2020; Mongey and others 2020). This type of data cannot establish risk and exposure at the level of individual workers.