The world found out quickly that COVID-19 would be a major interruption to the way we worked. By now, there is little doubt that the health pandemic — and resulting lockdown measures and travel bans — will leave permanent traces in company policies, employee behavior and our relationship with work spaces and technology.
Yet it goes even further: Since work is so central to people's lives, we are beginning to see how these changes could reshape the broader organization of our economies and societies.
Still, the changes will reveal themselves over time — and as this new edition Work → In Progress shows, the devil will be in the details. What both employees and employers must do right now is begin to think hard about the trade-offs implicit in such potentially big changes to our working habits and policies. Teleworking, for example, has ushered in a new era of flexibility but also raises questions about the potential loss of in-person mentorship; in Ivory Coast, mobility restrictions and closed schools have exacerbated alarming labor issues; while in South Africa, medicine delivery service is helping pharmacy employees handle a growing workload.
TAKE OUT Thanks to COVID-19, the delivery sector has expanded way past pizza and Amazon orders. South Africa, battling both coronavirus and an HIV epidemic, has instituted a medicine delivery service with 240,000 chronic medication packages reported as delivered in mid-June. Although pharmacy employees are struggling to adjust to the unprecedented workload, this new mode of distribution looks like a promising tool for both governments and companies fighting the economic impact of coronavirus. If this trend continues, delivery driver may be the next hottest job on the market.
ETHICS MATTER There's lots of talk about how quarantine has accelerated new work trends, but it has also exacerbated alarming labor issues. According to the International Cocoa Initiative, lockdown in the Ivory Coast has led to a rise in child labor. The combination of closed schools with a lack of adult workers due to mobility restrictions has caused the number of children performing dangerous tasks such as heavy lifting or working with chemicals to increase from 16% to 19%. It's an urgent example of how labor legislation should not take a backseat during the pandemic. On the contrary, it should be front and center, an integral part of every country's fight against the growing economic depression.
LOST MENTORS "I can only sustainably work from home because I have 40 years of office experience behind me," wrote Richard Harris, a Hong-Kong based CEO and investment manager in the South China Morning Post. In an age of coronavirus and Zoom meetings, he wonders how younger employees will be able to grow professionally without hands-on help from a mentor. HR departments should think carefully about how educational relationships between colleagues can be fostered digitally, or the results may be dire for the future workforce.
HOT TOPIC As the climate continues to change, so do our work habits. Vietnamese rice farmers had their work hours turned upside down by a recent heat wave, forcing them to pick the paddies at 2 a.m. instead of during the day. Temperatures of 40 °C have made outdoor labor impossible after 8 a.m., and the only source of light during night shifts are small head and pocket lamps. Because of this, workers are half as productive and their family lives are heavily affected. It's another item on the long list of reasons why fighting global warming is our most pressing issue.
GOOD INVESTMENTS Social and political issues can spill into workplaces of every sector, and industries around the world felt the effects of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and protests against the murder of George Floyd. Big corporations are seeing pressure to make real change, as some investors are turning away companies that aren't committed to diversity. One resulting example is BlackRock announcing a plan to increase their number of Black employees to 30% in the next four years. According to the Financial Times, however, "shaping investment portfolios to achieve racial justice is incredibly difficult, primarily because of the lack of data." It looks like companies will need to combine technological savvy with CSR in order to attract tomorrow's investors.
ARTIFICIAL ACTING "LOL," as the kids say: The most beautiful robot in the world is unemployed (until movies can start filming again)! When we hear about robots stealing our jobs, the first thing that comes to mind is probably not the movie industry. Yet, the android Erica will be the lead lady in Life Productions' $70 million sci-fi picture, "b," which tells the tale of a scientist tasked with creating perfect human DNA. Created by Hiroshi Ishiguro, a roboticist at Osaka University in Japan, Erica's features were modeled after Miss Universe pageant finalists to make her the most beautiful robot in the world. As an aspiring actress, Erica is great at remembering lines but struggles with adapting her tone of voice to a given context. As she keeps practicing lines with human actors, the developers hope she will be ready to perform when production resumes.