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Working remotely has meant huge salaries, for a lucky few.

todayAugust 31, 2021 2

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Who wins and who loses when companies can hire from anywhere?

Some employees and freelancers who can work remotely will have vastly expanded opportunities and the possibility of significant increases in pay, but remote workers in general figure to face more competition.

One thing that seems unavoidable, research suggests, is an intensification of inequality.

A 1981 paper, “The Economics of Superstars,” described the impact of recording and broadcasting on the incomes of athletes and entertainers. As technology enabled individuals with specialized skills to reach a giant market, fewer stars captured more of the rewards.

Over time, the paper posited, many other professions would follow a similar pattern. A teacher’s income, for example, was traditionally limited by the number of students who could fit into one classroom.

But today on Udemy, an online learning platform, teachers like Chris Haroun have earned millions from courses they created, especially after Covid-19 lockdown pushed enrollments up. The vast majority of teachers on Udemy don’t come close to Mr. Haroun’s earnings, however.

A meaningful shift in the distribution of income can also be seen in platforms where remote instruction is more similar to traditional teaching. On Outschool, an online marketplace for virtual classes for children, hundreds of teachers earn more than $100,000 a year, and dozens earn over $230,000. Most Outschool teachers earn far less.

Remote work is also affecting more traditional institutions. Scott Galloway, a professor at N.Y.U.’s Stern School of Business, has said that “because all my classes are remote now, the school asked me, ‘Can you go from 160 — dictated by the size of Stern’s largest classroom — to 280?’ That’s 120 fewer seats for the other marketing professors to fight over.”

Similar dynamics can be seen in professions that were assumed to be inherently “in-person.” During the lockdowns, most fitness instructors were out of work. But a handful were thriving. By the end of 2020, Peloton had about four million members — equal to the number of gym patrons in New York State.

The company’s members were served by several dozen instructors who could live anywhere they liked. While most fitness instructors could not work at all, some Peloton instructors earned more than $500,000.

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