Wyoming Leads the Nation in On-Site Work

Cowboy State has the fewest remote workers on a percentage basis

Wyoming is the top state in the nation when it comes to having the lowest percentage of workers who labor remotely. That’s largely because the state's economy is heavily skewed toward industries like mining, oil and gas exploration, construction, ranching, tourism and health care. This Feb. 26, 2021 file photo shows an oil well east of Casper. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver, File)

By K.L. McQuaid

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Wyoming is the top state in the nation when it comes to having the lowest percentage of workers who labor remotely.

New Census Bureau figures show that just 13% of Wyomingites work from home, half the national average.

Unlike much of the U.S., which saw its telework numbers spike to about 46% of all workers in early 2021 at the height of uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cowboy State’s percentage of remote employees has remained fairly steady, according to Department of Workforce Services (DWS) statistics.

That’s largely attributed to the tight focus of Wyoming’s economy, which is heavily skewed towards industries like mining, oil and gas exploration, construction, ranching, tourism and health care – all fields where on-site work is mostly required.

Most notably, Wyoming produces about 40% of all the coal that is mined in the U.S.

“Wyoming has a very different sort of workforce than much of the country,” Anne Alexander, assistant dean in the college of business at the University of Wyoming and  director of outreach and engagement at the school’s Center for Business and Economic Analysis, told Wyoming Truth.

“There’s just not a lot of work that can be done remotely given the cluster of sectors that dominate.”

States with a similar focus on energy industries, including Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, also report work-from-home percentages that have fallen to about 15%.

The steady percentage of remote workers also stems from the decision to maintain open workplaces and schools amid the pandemic, at a time when many states mandated shutdowns or companies voluntarily elected to allow remote work.

“In many industries, including some state government [agencies] such as DWS, Wyoming’s employers did not shut down during the pandemic,” Holly McKamey Simoni, DWS Workforce Programs Administrator, stated in an email.

“Many organizations and businesses in Wyoming went to more of a hybrid telework model [during the pandemic],” she added. “I think that has played a role in why Wyoming doesn’t have a lot of full-time telework workers overall.”

Still, Wyoming during the pandemic had an influx of remote workers as people flocked to areas like Jackson and Sheridan. The state even had a program aimed at recruiting out-of-state workers, Wy Relocate, which lured employees with flexibility by leveraging Wyoming’s natural beauty, opportunities for outdoor recreation and its wide open spaces.

Colorado leads in remote work

Perhaps surprisingly, while Wyoming has the lowest percentage of its workforce that labors from home or engages in so-called “hybrid” schedules mixing on-site and remote work, its neighbor to the south boasts the highest percentage of work-from-home employees.

In Colorado, 38% of all households presently has at least one resident who operates remotely, according to the Census Bureau. That’s largely because there’s a large concentration of tech workers and skilled professionals in finance and similar industries whose jobs are conducive to working from home.

Like Wyoming, many of those remote workers relocated to Colorado during the pandemic to seek out natural wonders and mountain recreation—and never left.

Colorado also has benefitted from the presence of Denver International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the nation for domestic flights, Alexander and others noted. Many remote workers now utilize the airport when they need to attend in-person meetings or other events.

Alexander said a lack of access to technology has also contributed to the scant percentage of remote workers in Wyoming.

“Over 18% of Wyoming is still not served by broadband,” she said. “There remain a lot of connectivity deserts, because of geography and other factors.”

Meanwhile, industries that are most reliant on in-person work – such as mining and oil and gas exploration and production – have largely rebounded from declines brought about by the pandemic.

Mining, for instance, added 1,259 jobs in the initial three months of this year, an 8% gain from the first quarter of 2022, according to DWS’s Wyoming Labor Force Trends’ October publication.

Mining and related industries also pay more than other jobs in Wyoming, with wages averaging $2,186 per week, DWS figures show.

Overall, the state during the first quarter of this year returned to pre-pandemic employment levels, DWS data indicates.

Nationwide, only seven states and Washington, D.C., have remote-work percentages at 33% or above, a decline from early in 2021 when 31 states and the District of Columbia had one-third of its employees working remotely.

DWS officials believe that as Wyoming becomes more Internet connected and younger workers enter the workforce and demand increased flexibility, the state’s percentage of remote workers will increase.

UW’s Alexander isn’t so sure.

“People in Wyoming during the pandemic definitely became more accustomed to platforms, like Zoom and Teams, that they hadn’t likely worked much on previously,” she said. “But I think even with that trend, five years from now there won’t be many more Wyomingites who work remotely than now, especially as it compares to Colorado. There economy is different from ours, more based on professional services, and I don’t see that changing a great deal in the short term.”

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