The global pandemic that began in early 2020 brought an abrupt shift to remote work for many employees whose industries were remote-ready, and the percentage of people working remotely remains higher now than in pre-pandemic times in many countries.
Decisions about the use and impacts of working remotely, both on a micro and a macro level, could affect many sectors including government agencies, industry structures, real estate values, the environment, population densities and even career choices. Providing insight to make these important decisions using quantitative analysis of some of the variables is valuable. What percent of jobs are remote-ready? Of the jobs that are remote-ready, can we predict whether individual workers will be permitted to work remotely, and who will choose to do so? For a given city or metro area, can we predict the percentage of workers who will go remote?
These issues and questions were all part of this year’s MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge (M3 Challenge) problem that 612 teams comprised of more than 2,700 students examined while competing for $100,000+ (£75,000) in scholarships. A program of Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), M3 Challenge is designed to motivate students to study and pursue careers in applied mathematics, computational science, data science and technical computing.
During the intensive M3 Challenge weekend (February 25-28), teams of high school juniors and seniors across the United States and sixth form students in England and Wales used mathematical skills, research and brainstorming to evaluate data and propose answers to the questions about the future of remote work. Teams had to submit their solutions within the strict 14 consecutive hour time limit, akin to the way things often happen in the real world.
“Any question regarding the workforce is an incredibly interesting one, particularly due to the data-driven nature of the field,” was a comment sent in by a team of students from Leicester Grammar School in Leicestershire, England. “It’s a unique feeling to be modeling an issue which you know millions across the world will be thinking about. Including the U.S. and the U.K. adds a layer of complexity to the model and it is fascinating to see the effects of cultural differences between England and our neighbours ‘across the pond.’”
As Challenge weekend ended Monday, judges looked forward to seeing the creative ways teams used data to predict and model the future of remote work. “As a result of the global pandemic, many people suddenly shifted to working from home. While they may have initially been unprepared, for lots of people work from home is the “new normal,” says M3 Challenge judge and lead problem developer Karen Bliss, associate professor at Virginia Military Institute. “We’re at a critical juncture where businesses are deciding whether to allow workers to stay home, go back to the office, or have some hybrid model moving forward. There are many facets to consider, not least of which is the current labor shortage in many fields. It will be exciting to see how teams think about remote work and whether they predict that it is here to stay.”
While many students are motivated by the chance to win scholarship money for college, some are happy to compete simply because it is rewarding and fun. “The practicality of the question makes me feel like I am actually solving for something useful and that is the only way the 14 hours is doable. If the question was not applicable, a lot of the fun and satisfaction from creating models would be gone,” says Owen Appel, senior at West Catholic High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
After two rounds of judging by more than 150 professional applied mathematicians over the next eight weeks, six finalist teams and three technical computing awardees will be selected to present their solutions to a panel of mathematical experts on April 25 in New York City, with their expenses paid by the M3 Challenge. In all, 37 teams will be recognized with scholarship prizes, with the champion team receiving $20,000.
About Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is an international society of more than 14,000 individual, academic and corporate members from 100 countries. SIAM helps build cooperation between mathematics and the worlds of science and technology to solve real-world problems through publications, conferences, and communities like chapters, sections and activity groups. Learn more at siam.org.