3 things that show Elon Musk is right about the future – physical work will be a choice

Tesla CEO Elon Musk points a finger upward while wearing a black bandana around his neck
Tesla CEO Elon Musk in Germany on Friday. Patrick Pleul/Pool via Reuters
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk says physical work will be a choice in the future.
  • Musk is building a robot to do physical tasks, and workers are already leaving that kind of work behind.
  • Job searches for remote opportunities are up, as is job switching – workers are leaving in-person industries.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk presented what’s becoming an increasingly less radical idea about work: That physical work will be a choice. His alternative? A “Tesla Bot,”a robot that he’s developing to do the work humans no longer want to do.

As Insider’s Ayelet Sheffey reports, Musk would task that robot with “dangerous, repetitive, and boring tasks” that humans will no longer have to do. Musk said this could necessitate the creation of universal basic income, where everyone is given a certain amount of income, as people may no longer have to work some physical jobs but will still need cash flowing in.

Musk’s takeaway: “Essentially, in the future, physical work will be a choice.”

While the Tesla Bot hasn’t actually been built yet, Musk is onto something about the growing reticence to work in person, and the proof is in America’s famous “labor shortage.” People are already turning their backs on physical work, and the proof is in how workers are acting. They are choosing not to do physical jobs.

(1) Interest in remote work is soaring

Glassdoor Research’s Jenny Zhang wrote in an analysis that “interest in remote opportunities is here to stay.” Zhang found the share of job searches for remote work grew by 460% from June 2019 to June 2021 – and it’s only going up.

While demand for remote work “stabilized” in recent months, according to Zhang’s research, it’s still far above where it was prior to the pandemic. That can be attributed in part to the economy reopening.

In July 2021, 13.2% of employed workers were teleworking due to the pandemic, according to the most recent employment release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In June, that number was 14.4%. Even so, the Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey found that just 5.2% of workers said they worked from home.

A recent survey from PwC found that 41% of workers who are remote want to stay that way.

(2) Job switching is up

Nick Bunker, an economist at the job-search website Indeed’s Hiring Lab, tweeted a visualization of Yale data that shows how many workers were job-switching in July. The result: Over 2% of already-employed workers switching to a different job.

Bunker’s chart concludes that job switching is back up to pre-pandemic rates – and the record number of workers quitting suggests the same. That’s another trend that’s stuck around for three months, as workers reevaluate what they want out of work.

Something that’s emerging as a priority: Better work-life balance. A recent survey from remote and flexible jobs site FlexJobs found 68% of workers are considering changing careers, and they’d rather have better work-life than get paid more.

(3) The people who wait on you are choosing to find other work

Beyond the raw data, countless stories are emerging of workers leaving behind physical work, many of them covered by Insider.This is especially evident in the leisure and hospitality sector, where wages are on the rise, but workers are leaving anyway.

In other words, the people who wait on you at hotels and restaurants are saying enough is enough. Physical labor is a choice and we choose not to.

Stories abound of labor shortages at in-person restaurants and retail locations, and employers scrambling to find new workers. Pizzerias are poaching workers, a limo service had to turn down thousands of dollars due to lack of drivers, and another pizzeria has said it will “literally hire anyone.”

Insider’s Dominick Reuter and Madison Hoff report that there’s currently a 144% turnover rate at fast-food restaurant – a marked increase from the 135% turnover rate two years ago.

Something else that’s up since 2019? The number of jobs available, with 70% more job openings, but the number of people looking for jobs has dropped by 10%.

So if you’re reading this from your-from-home job, you may just be a glimpse of the future – and a harbinger of how the economy has changed permanently during the pandemic.