TC Global Insights

Future of Work

The Work-From-Home Story: The Nature of Jobs Post-Pandemic

Nothing is the same. COVID has ensured that.

Take work, for instance – the very nature of work has undergone a paradigm shift. We have dived, head first, into the work-from-home economy which might just continue even after the crisis is over. What would be its implications on us as individuals, and on the economy as a whole?

Accessing the world from within our homes…

Work-from-home (wfh) or remote working has existed for a few decades now. It has been a possibility since the first personal computers became available. In 1979, IBM allowed 5 of its employees to work remotely and, with the birth of the internet in 1983, over 2000 IBM workers were working remotely. We haven’t looked back since. A plethora of tech industries have flourished using the wfh model and reduced operational costs – start-ups, crypto industries, digital marketing, anything that can be accomplished with a personal computer and an internet connection. The advantages to this model of work are immense and often talked about.

  • Your options are global and flexible.
  • You save immensely on commuting – both time and money plus the environmental benefits of it.
  • Better multitasking options, managing multiple jobs, work and family and so on.
  • Increased responsibility and confidence levels.
  • You can work in your sweat pants.

The the list can go on.

Work from home has economic and managerial advantages for the organisation as well. And, with the current pandemic, it has saved countless lives and has contributed, to a large extent, to curb the spread of the virus. As long as wfh is an option available to you, it is better to choose it, at least until the COVID crisis is brought under control.

The Flip Side

Wfh is the need of the hour and no-one is questioning that. But, it is important to look at what we are giving up on, in order to make wfh, well, work.

For individuals and organisations 

Let’s look at the individual level first. Work from home has made our jobs more stressful. One survey revealed that 56% of the participants experienced heightened levels of stress and about 62% felt pressure to work beyond what is expected of them. Even if you are managing this well, wfh has blurred barriers between the personal and the professional. Work-life balance seems to have taken a huge hit for most of us. The rules regarding ‘taking off’ have also gotten murky in a the remote scenario. In addition, we must take into account the additional costs borne by the individual (whether it is tech investments, internet bills, etc.) in order to make work possible.

From a mental health standpoint, working from home can also take its toll. It uses higher levels of motivation and concentration that it would normally take when you are in a dedicated work space. When personal and professional worlds collide, there are an increasing number of distractions, often forcing you to multitask. (You have no idea how many times I interrupted writing this piece to check my social media). The potential for a burn out is higher when compared to having separate home and work spaces.

Hierarchies and organisational structures can also feel the strain. The success of this model rests heavily on trust and communication. Without trust, a person in a supervisory role is bound to micromanage. With the members of the organisation telecommuting, organisation culture, or what is known as “company culture” has also taken a backseat.  Security of sensitive data has become a huge concern causing a boost in privacy and encryption industry.

At the Macro Level

A recent study published by Microsoft identified that over 65% of its employees are “craving” for more in-person time with their teams. The study also reported that teams are becoming more isolated which has a direct impact on innovation. Studies like these and overwhelming anecdotal evidence resulted in Gene Marks, a columnist at The Guardian publish a piece on why wfh is a failed experiment.

He is not totally wrong too. While his arguments take into account individual preferences, mental health and work cultures, we also need to look at the larger picture. It begins with the question, what happens to those who cannot work from home? What will happen to the real estate allocated for large companies which are now becoming more dependent on wfh models? What will happen to the workforce then?

Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom has studied this growing trend and given us the societal and economic implications of wfh culture. All its advantages aside, Bloom calls the wfh culture a “time bomb for inequality”. The success of wfh almost entirely depends on the highly skilled, tech-involved or upper-level admin jobs which can be carried out through a computer. So, this group of people are going to continue earning, upskill themselves and forge ahead when it comes to economic and social mobility.

However, people with labour intensive jobs or those who do not have access to the tech required to wfh will, according to Bloom, be left behind. The immediate follow up is “So what? Not all jobs can be done from home. They have to be onsite.” This is true. But with more companies becoming remote first, the onsite job market will keep shrinking. Of course specialised skills will always be in demand. But, think of the labour-intensive, “blue-collared” jobs. Hypothetically speaking, let’s say a large MNC that deals with knowledge processing decides to go completely remote. Its skilled employees are spread across the globe with no one physical location. The work of the company goes on. But agencies that are usually contracted for maintenance or security of the building or to run the canteen are now left without jobs.  Multiply this by the number of people who are dependent on such agencies and by the number of companies porting to remote work. And this is just one example.

Companies can cut down on their overheads by saving on rent. But it also means that teams don’t congregate. At the macro level, this has two main effects. First is the value of a skill/ labour. With remote working, geographical borders are no longer a constraint. That means increasing competition and increase in supply of skills (for the company), resulting in reduced compensation.

The second, Bloom predicts, is the shift from metropolis to the suburbia. Since industrialisation, the general trend has been to move to the metropolitan centres, the cities to find ‘better prospects’ when it come to employment. With wfh, this trend will be inverted as many would choose to move towards quieter, more spacious and cheaper suburbia rather the staying in overpopulated cities. If this trend sustains, then it could also act as a catalyst for rapid urbanisation of those areas.

Sustaining the future

Bloom’s argument is that wfh has the ability to shake things up so much that it can redefine economy as we know it today. The debate is no longer about whether or not this move should happen, for it has already happened. Rather, the emphasis is on how to make wfh sustainable from an individual, societal, economic and environmental standpoints. To that end, it seems like hybrid workspaces are the way ahead.

Date added
17.05.2021

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Future of Work

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