RALEIGH – A recent analysis finds that North Carolina ranks just 17th among all U.S. states and the District of Columbia when it comes to states that are great for remote-based workers.

Last year, the state ranked second.

According to a spokesperson for WalletHub, which conducted the analyses both years using the same methodology, North Carolina- the nation’s 9th largest in terms of population  – dropped in 2022 as several key indicators changed in the state.

The state’s overall ranking was measured by financial resources site WalletHub based on 12 metrics relevant to a successful work-from-home setup and environment.

The fall came despite the fact Raleigh and Durham both appeared in a ranking of the top 15 U.S. cities to move to for working remotely. That was based on  an analysis conducted by Orchard in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Overall, North Carolina scored a 63.91 in the 2021 study.  Delaware finished first in 2021 with a total score of 65.51.

But in 2022, North Carolina scored a 59.53 overall, and the top-ranked state, New Jersey, scored a total of 66.75.

What changed?

In work environment, North Carolina finished 16th in 2022, but for living environment, the state finished 26th.

While the state ranked highly in terms of the average square footage of residential property, finishing fifth overall, it ranked 46th when it comes to the cost of internet service.

The largest change between 2021 and 2022 came in the share of homes for sale that had lot sizes of greater than 1,000 square feet, according to the WalletHub data.  In 2021, North Carolina ranked 13th in this category with 85.29 percent of homes meeting this criteria.  But in 2022, North Carolina ranked 22nd, with 83.81 percent of homes meeting the criteria.

North Carolina also dropped three spots in the share of homes with swimming pools and three spots in the share of workers who work from home.  The state also fell one spot in each ranking of the median square footage per average number of persons in a household, cybersecurity, and the retail price of electricity in 2022 compared to 2021.

The state of working from home

Work from home has risen dramatically in importance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But as employees return to offices, the appeal of WFH remains for many. Why?

“Ultimately remote workers do care about having their own work space,” said Dr. Michael Walden, a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor Emeritus at North Carolina State University and a regular contributor to WRAL TechWire.  “But I would expect adjustments to be made over time.  Also, remote workers can locate where housing prices are lower, thereby allowing them to afford more space.”

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The pace of change is slower for internet service providers and broadband access, said Walden, though North Carolina can address connectivity and access issues, as well as issues on affordability.

“A game-changer will the availability of high-speed internet from low-orbiting satellites, such as Elon Musk is developing with his company Starlink,” said Walden, adding that if Musk is successful in this effort, other entrepreneurs including, perhaps, Jeff Bezos, will follow.

And the state can benefit if it follows progress, as well as streamline the pathways to increasing internet access in underserved areas.

“One issue that has arisen is potential issues with internet companies using telephone poles owned by other companies to string cable lines,” said Walden.  Projects in rural municipalities and counties will help, though it is a classic “chicken and egg” challenge, said Walden, where providers have to be reasonably assured that there is and will continue to be a user base for internet service to justify the up front expenses associated with broadband internet.  “But that user-base may not appear until the service is available,” said Walden.

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Future of work location in flux

Regardless, as the number of job openings in sectors and roles such as technology, finance, and professional services grow, the share of potential telecommuters will expand as well, said Walden.  And as North Carolina may continue to attract in-migration from other states, the share of the workforce that lives in North Carolina but works remotely may increase over time.

Of course, workers may be fully remote, or in roles that allow some form of hybrid work environment.

“Surveys show workers want the option and flexibility to work remotely, at least some days of the week,” said Walden.  “Businesses are recognizing this, and a challenge for businesses will be accommodating these desires for workers with businesses’ needs for control and coordination.”

“That’s why a business model that, for example, has the worker at the office one or two days and at home the remainder may become common,” said Walden.

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