Vaccines are slowly arriving, but many of the shifts COVID has created will be lasting. These reverberations are much deeper than just working from home or increased digitization — society's priorities have evolved. Thanks to the pandemic, people all over the world are completely rewiring their lives. They're leaving once-vibrant cultural metropolises for serene greenery and fresh air, turning away from foreign exports to support their local communities and embracing vacation time as an important tool for productivity.
This edition of Work → In Progress explores how these changes in ethos are manifesting in business and labor. In a world rethinking everything from agricultural models to freelance contracts, here are some of the latest trends in the workplace:
ENTREPRECARIOUS From Italy to South Korea, we've seen how the pandemic has fueled a freelance boom. But people may also be turning into entrepreneurs against their will. Silvio Lorusso, author of the book Entreprecariat, noted in an interview with French media Welcome To The Jungle that in Europe, many employees have been pushed to continue working as freelancers so companies can cut costs. He wonders if the post-COVID self-employment boom is really entrepreneurship, or just more "uberisation" of the workplace. He also warns that the "roll up your sleeves' attitude towards the crisis propagated by governments and companies is implicitly asking workers to do more labor for less pay, as their suggestions for adapting to the "new normal" have included mastering new digital tools, organizing their home office, coordinating modified hours with coworkers ... all activities that are seldom recognized as work.
AFRICA RISING If African nations were poised to become an investing hotspot before, the past year has only accelerated their potential. For starters, the pandemic seems to have had much less of an impact there than on other regions of the world, due to factors like a younger population and high public support for safety measures. An even more important factor, however, is the innovation currently taking place. According to the professional services network Ernst & Young, "A surplus of workers, more stability and technology are transforming Africa's economies, making it less dependent on extractive industries." Examples of African entrepreneurship include developing facial recognition technology for African populations, harboring the largest African genome bank in the world and, since COVID, a boost in locally-made pharmaceutics, the pan-African francophone media Jeune Afrique reports.
AGRICULTURAL REVOLUTION Agriculture in India, which accounts for about 58% of the population's livelihood, is in distress. Farmers in the subcontinent have one of the highest suicide rates in the world, a symptom of conditions of extreme poverty. An op-ed in the Delhi-based news outlet The Wire argues that in order to improve the agricultural sector, governmental policies should "have a clear vision of what our future villages should be" and plan accordingly to ensure the stability of local populations. It's an idea that could ensure employment for farmers around the world, as many Europeans have been calling for the EU's Common Agricultural Policy to align with their Green Deal's Farm To Fork strategy, which aims to put small farmers at the heart of the food distribution system.
FROM STATIC TO AGILE In times of uncertainty and unpredictability, companies will accelerate the transition from static vertical structures to agile, self-managed teams. According to America Economia, the pandemic and the rise in remote work made companies realize the drawbacks of the traditional style of leadership, which sometimes verged on micromanagement. Throughout 2021, companies will seek to put in place new processes and structures, giving teams more independence and clearer fields of action. Leaders will be expected to create a safe space within a team, setting clear goals, roles and responsibilities and then limiting themselves to motivating and empowering autonomous workers, leaving them free to do the rest.
REMOTE VS. 5-DAY WORKWEEK Old habits die hard, and that includes the five-day work week and daily 9-to-5 grind. But if the pandemic has taught us anything, Fast Company argues, it's that standard practice isn't necessarily the best practice. For one thing, worker engagement and performance tends to start strong on Mondays but gradually drop during the week. Also, remote work and digital technologies mean we hardly stop checking our screens at 5 p.m. — and people relinquish hours of unaccounted work in the hope of some downtime in the weekend. What if companies instead allowed employees to get the work done "whenever they can," logging their hours when they'd like — including early mornings, late, nights, weekends? If done right, that would allow workers to live their lives not only a couple of days a week but every day.
A NEAT TWEET
URBAN ARRIVEDERCI An increasing number of young Italians are leaving cities and offices to rediscover a love for the countryside. The biggest farmer's association in Italy reports a 14% rise in the number of young farmers over the last five year. The group said the rise was partly propelled by the coronavirus crisis. Many of these young farmers came from different professional backgrounds, allegedly looking to reconnect with nature and a more genuine lifestyle.
PRODUCTION VALUE The way we think about productivity is changing, with more managers, workers and employers considering meditation, family time and vacation elements that boost productivity rather than a waste of time. While our society's decades-old obsession with productivity has seemingly worsened during the pandemic and remote working, the Brazilian weekly Epoca Negocios reports that it also taught some people about the importance of a more holistic approach to getting things done — boosting professionals' well-being and time spent off work, emails, and screens.