The enduring pandemic has forced the world to develop new ways of working. What once were casual chats at water coolers are now endless WhatsApp group message chains, while cubicles and corner offices have been replaced by everyone's home kitchen table... not to mention your children doing (or not doing!) their schoolwork beside you. The good news is that the health crisis should begin to ease in the coming months, and most of us will be able to return to the office. Still, nothing will ever be the same after the taste we've had of — and the innovation sparked by — our remote reality.
This edition of Work → In Progress explores how the new work environment is bound to be an ever and always evolving process:
ARTIFICIAL ATTENDANCE Zoom filters, avatars at online conferences … Microsoft is taking virtual meetings to the next level with its development of holograms. Its newest platform, Mesh, aims to facilitate "mixed reality," allowing employees from all over the world to meet via "holoportation." In a post-pandemic world where offices reopen, Mesh could change the need for workers to be based in a specific city, as these holograms mean rays of light simulate their body in real-time and allow them to interact with objects and people in a physical space far away from their headsets.
HOME OFFICE BURNOUT In the past 12 months, the pandemic has turned our homes upside down. Usually a safe haven free of work-related stress, we have turned our spare rooms, kitchen tables and (no point hiding it) couches into workstations. Our work life has invaded family and free time, sometimes physically occupying its spaces. No wonder that home office burnout is on the rise, especially in developing countries where a pandemic-free life still isn't on the horizon, like Brazil. According to Estadão, an increasing number of Brazilians report chronic stress, rising anxiety, and lack of joy in their homes, and burnout diagnoses are on the rise, particularly among young women. And what's worse, "The pandemic has created a tunnel where there are no alternatives and the light is still very far away," the paper said.
TRICKY BIOMETRICS Using biometrics — the biological data unique to each of us — in the workplace has been on the rise for some time, as employees identify themselves with everything from fingerprints to voice recognition to access company networks, data, applications and devices. Since the pandemic and contact tracing, this trend has been on the rise as a recent study shows the majority of Americans are in favor of company wearables that could benefit their health, security and safety. However, a recent article in Raconteur points out that people with disabilities such as hand or voice tremors or stutters need to be factored in right away to avoid excluding them from our future biometric world.
WATCH THIS WORD "Workspitality": a post-pandemic trend where hospitality merges with work and hotels use their spaces as co-working stations and rentable offices. The basic premise asks why would you work from home when you can work from a hotel. This took off in India first, with the lifting of travel restrictions creating a new trend of taking work-from-hotel vacations (nicknamed "workations'). Next stop "workspitality". Apparently, nothing is safe from work these days, even your holidays.
NAME AND SHAME "Foosball tables are cool but worker's rights are even better" announces the bio of the Instagram account @Balancetastartup ("Rat out your start-up"). Created in December 2020, it already has amassed more than 183,000 followers and has been the talk of the French entrepreneurial world as it openly shares stories of workplace harassment and mistreatment at trendy young companies. As start ups proliferate, so does the problem of companies too small to have a proper HR department. These kinds of social media accounts are one way to keep these companies in check. And, according to French daily Les Echos, this one is planning to eventually offer consulting on worker's rights.
VIRTUAL INSANITY Being left out of team WhatsApp chats, not being included in a Microsoft Teams session, being dropped from the weekly Zoom apero ... From French media Welcome to the Jungle to The New York Times, there are more and more reports of increased paranoia among remote workers. When a suggestion on Slack is left unanswered, it is possible to read a lot between the lines and imagine all kinds of slights. Small moments are becoming amplified when all the communication is virtual. Maybe you need to change your virtual background!
THE GIG IS UP Uber recently made global headlines by announcing its decision to implement a minimum hourly wage, pensions and vacation time to 70,000 UK drivers. The decision, however, comes from a recent court ruling imposing these new policies on the US-based giant and according to The Guardian, drivers are skeptical. One driver told the British daily, "The court ruling said one thing, Uber said another thing," as the company immediately told drivers that the new wage would only begin from the time they accept their first trip to and end when the last passenger is dropped off despite the ruling's specification that waiting time should be taken into account. "It should be from the time you log on," said the interviewed driver. "It's like any other job: you're paid for the time you're behind your desk, whether or not there's work you can do there."
RETURNING HOME A recent study from Moroccan research institut Intelcia found that 62% of the African diaspora's university graduates and professionals want to be entrepreneurs back in Africa, and around 40% would move back immediately if given the chance. One Senegalese entrepreneur told Francophone African news website Jeune Afrique, "I returned to Dakar because I was frustrated with the lack of opportunities in France. And I wanted to contribute to the development of my country." With lots of niches that have yet to be filled in many markets around the continent, many feel it's the perfect opportunity to become industry leaders in their home country.
Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.
TOKYO — When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.
Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."
Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.
After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.
Born into politics
A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.
He is an excellent actor.
Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.
However, after failing three times the entrance exam to , Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.
An invitation for Obama
After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:
"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."
According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.
In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.
Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima in 2016commons.wikimedia.org
In September, 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.
But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years
When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.
Leftist traditions from Hiroshima
Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.
How long will a Fumio Kishida government last?
Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.
So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.
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