Let's not forget that well before COVID-19, we often referred to the "revolution" underway in the workplace. Automation, digitalization, climate change and other seismic shifts were bringing upon major changes in the ways we work. Now, the economy — and life — as we know it seem more unpredictable than ever.
Yet after several months of living with the current pandemic, clear trends have emerged. Around the world, living rooms have become home offices, seminars have become webinars, and industries that have nothing to do with medicine are dependent on a vaccine.
How many of these changes, such as the proliferation of big data and AI in healthcare, were already in the works and simply accelerated by coronavirus? What's in store for the sectors, like travel and hospitality, that have come to a screeching halt in a way no one could have possibly predicted? What changes will stick, and what will eventually slip back into business as usual?
In a time of both unprecedented job losses and new appreciation for "essential workers," the world of work seems to be riddled with paradoxes whose answers may not be answered any time soon. French business writer Jean-Marc Vittori noted: "Of course, we'll have to start returning to the office, to exchange, to learn and to strengthen ties with clients and suppliers who have finally left home as well," he wrote. "But as further details are brought to light, the period of lockdown highlighted the complicated relationship people have with work, being somehow both over-invested and unsatisfied."
This edition of Work → In Progress sifts through the workplace's foggy future and shines a light on the potential paths where the world of work may take us.
COVID AND COWORKING Even before the pandemic, co-working was on the rise as remote employees and freelancers looked for a cheaper, more flexible alternative to the landlord-tenant system. Argentine daily Clarin argues that, given the pandemic's impact on the economy with rentals as a main expense, we'll see a second spurt of co-working as renters and landlords alike try to find creative ways to optimize their spaces.
THE ZOOM BOOM In November 2019, Andrew Wait, an economics professor at the University of Sydney, co-authored a study about how teams work together. In June 2020, he used his expertise to council fellow Australians on how to keep Zoom meetings fruitful. In an article in The Canberra Times, he explained that familiarity breeds innovation, meaning that informal water cooler chats often lead to great projects. Wait advises to keep meetings small and create time for social interactions between the team members that aren't necessarily work-related and where senior management are not present. And, whenever possible, ditch the screen for in-person meetings.
NATIONS IN AUTOMATION A new study published by McKinsey has found that COVID has fast-tracked the trend of workplace automation in Europe. McKinsey projects that, due to coronavirus, around 59 million jobs in Europe — 26% of the market — are at risk of unemployment, furloughing or diminishing to part-time. According to the report, this will lead to a shift in occupational skills that will, in turn, further expand the same 48 largest cities that currently account for most of Europe's job growth even further.
START UPS AND DOWNS It seems that in some parts of the world, COVID-19 has dampened the entrepreneurial spirit. A survey by Workstadiator found that in the Czech Republic, only 18% of workers are considering giving up job security for a more adventurous business career. France, which allocated 5 billion euros to its tech start up scene not so long ago, saw a 25.5% drop in the creation of new start-ups in the month of March.
MEANWHILE, IN ITALY The pre-COVID freelancing trend has seen an uptick since the pandemic. The Italian Union of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Crafts and Agriculture reports that the loss of jobs in sectors like hospitality is leading to a burst of newcomers to the ICT industry, and many of them are freelancers. The unemployment wave may just lead to a boom in digitally enterprising Italians who specialize in everything from marketing to programming.
A SARI SITUATION When musing on the topic of industries affected by coronavirus, we often mention in-person sectors such as events, travel and hospitality. Quarantine, however, has had a serious impact on businesses whose dependence on a physically social world is less obvious but just as important. India's weavers are a perfect example: Sari sales have plummeted as many vendors sell door-to-door and at open markets, and festivities for holiday seasons — the biggest selling period — may be cancelled. To make matters worse, sari fashion changes so fast that customers may be looking for a totally new trend in six months. This could present a double problem for manufacturers, who will have difficulty both supplying new fashions and getting rid of their old stock.
THE COMMUTE HOME In the United States, "working from home" is now becoming "working from car." CNN reports that even CEOs and senior management have set up shop in their vehicles, searching for a change of scenery and some privacy. It may seem like an unlikely office, but cars are designed to accommodate sitting down for long periods of time, and the mobility means that the view beyond your computer can change every day. Bluetooth makes cars a great place to take a call, and consoles can double as a desk.
LOANING STUDENTS While students are accustomed to working with their brains, the agriculture industry is making good use of their hands. As education remains on standby, the German Ministry of Agriculture created a platform connecting farmers with students who can provide seasonal work. The very same student-to-farm concept is being pushed in the Czech Republic, by a Communist Member of Parliament. As travel restrictions have left hundreds of thousands of job vacancies on European farms, hiring idle students is one way to keep the farming industry — and the economy — afloat.
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