Roy Gilbert

The coronavirus may force many Americans to work from home — but only a fraction can actually do that

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Around 36 million workers did at least some portion of their work at home — but will that change if the coronavirus outbreak intensifies? As the coronavirus spreads , companies are increasingly weighing if they should, or even can, have workers do their jobs from home.

Earlier this week, San Francisco-based Twitter TWTR, +0.20% told its employees to work from home to slow the coronavirus’ spread, echoing large-scale work-from-home efforts that are already happening in affected countries like China and Japan .

Even in a time of emails, internal message systems like Slack WORK, +1.30% and videoconferencing like Zoom ZM, -1.33% , federal data suggests it would be difficult, if not impossible, for many people to work from home on a wide scale — and that’s even if they do have a desk job.

Nearly 29% of U.S. workers said they could work from home in 2017-18, and a slightly smaller share, nearly 25%, said they actually did so, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. The BLS looked at all workers age 15 and above who were not self-employed.

These workers tended to have more education and be in administrative roles. Half of workers in management, business and financial operations said they did at least some work at home, and 38% of workers in “professional related” jobs could do so, according to the agency’s count. By comparison, only 5% of workers in the service sector and 7.4% in maintenance and repair said they could work at home.

Higher earners were also much more […]

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