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Work → In Progress: Second Wave Seals A New Future For Work

COVID-19 shook up the world of work last spring. Since the virus (and lockdowns) returned this fall, the changes underway have only accelerated.

As long as there's good WiFi ...
As long as there's good WiFi ...
Rozena Crossman

As the year comes to an end, much of the world is re-confining — or never left quarantine. Although COVID-19 has been with us for nearly 12 months, many of the questions it's triggered about our way of work (and life) have yet to be answered. How do companies factor in their employees' cost of living when so many are moving away? How do workers unionize when they're all working remotely? Can we efficiently network at online conferences? While we may not have all of the solutions just yet, conversations around these themes are swiftly ramping up as businesses prepare for an increasingly remote, digitized world — even post-vaccine.

From Sweden to Silicon Valley to the screen of your computer, this edition of Work → In Progress looks at how companies around the globe are shifting their attitudes as the pandemic rolls on, planting the seeds for the workplace trends of tomorrow.

HERE AND THERE Remote work: Some love it, some hate it. How do companies adapt to the mixed feelings of their employees? Brazilian magazine Epoca highlights how Brazilian companies such as IFood are preparing for a "free model" once the pandemic subsides, meaning that employees will decide where it's best for them to perform their activities (with guidance from HR and management, of course). According to the article, Milton Beck, LinkedIn general manager for Latin America, says that employees were working 28 more hours per week since the pandemic, as work-life balances were thrown into chaos. He believes we can expect to see more hybrid models incorporating both in-person and at-home solutions in a post-COVID world.

PRODUCTIVITY DEVELOPMENT After one of the world's strictest lockdown regimes returned to France, some have begun to ask if it's time for employers to change how they measure productivity. While unions fight for more telework days and the legal acknowledgement of more work-at-home professions, numerous companies are worried about not being able to monitor their employees' efficiency from afar. Philippe Emont, of the AlterNego consultancy firm, argues in French daily Les Echos that this is actually a fantastic opportunity for progress in HR, as companies have necessary conversations not just about how we work, but how we recognize work. "The trust necessary between employer and employees cannot rest exclusively on indicators of control," Emont writes.

GAME ON While last year's International Conference on Distributed Artificial Intelligence took place in Beijing, this year's conference took place in … a video game. While many salons and symposiums have moved online since the pandemic, few have allowed participants to dress their own avatar. The conference could be the next step in digital events, and perhaps even lead to better online networking — a pet dragon is a great conversation starter.

STAT DU JOUR

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION COVID and the ensuing rise of telework has brought about a migration boom as people leave cities for more spacious homes. Now, companies who already had a significant number of employees working from home before the pandemic are thinking about adjusting employee's pay based on where their home base is. Facebook was criticized for considering the idea of changing the salaries' of employees who now have a lower cost of living, while Stripe offered a $20,000 bonus to employees who left New York, Seattle or San Francisco — followed by a 10% pay decrease. This burgeoning phenomenon may turn into a global conversation about how best to establish a cost of living, and how much it should factor into employee compensation.

UNIONS.COM? How do workers unionize in digital industries? Spanish media El Pais wonders if the traditional codes of employee organization will still apply in a future world, or if it's time to find new methods. How can employees assemble if they're all working remotely? How do the self-employed monitor their working conditions? Which government should digital nomads appeal to? What will define a trade union as jobs rapidly shift and no longer fit into old categories? Whatever the outcome, classic methods of negotiation will surely see an upgrade in years to come.

THE ODD JOB

TRIP OUT According to Swedish website Vagabond, 79% of Swedish employees in the private sector believe business travel will significantly decrease from pre-pandemic levels after COVID subsides. While it may seem logical that companies would rush to meet their customers, partners and contractors, 33% feel that remote meetings are sufficient to get most jobs done. Many Swedes, however, feel that trips will increase in the form of digital nomadism. It seems the travel industry may be taking on less work and more play!

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Geopolitics

Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.


The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.

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David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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