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Business as unusual’: How COVID-19 could change the future of work

Opinion essay by Rui Valongo


Before the pandemic, there was already a lot of discussion about the implications of technology for the future work trends.

The message was clear: the future of work is not pre-determined, it is up to us to shape it.

As the restrictions are lifted, a question on everybody’s mind is whether this ‘business as unusual’ will become the ‘new normal’.

A few large companies in developed economies have already claimed that what has been a large and unplanned pilot – remote working – will become the standard way of organizing work. Employees need not commute to work again, unless they choose to do so.  The ILO (International Labour Organization) estimates that in high-income countries 27 per cent of workers could work remotely from home.

The shift to remote work has enabled many companies to continue operating whilst ensuring the health and safety of their employees. Those able to make the transition to remote work during the health crisis have had the opportunity to share meals with their families. Work has become human-centred to accommodate home schooling and child/elder care. Yet, the lines between working time and private time have become blurred for these individuals, causing an increase in stress and exposure to mental health risks.

While the pandemic may represent a tipping point for the digital transformation in workplace, it has also revealed deep fault lines. It is those in the upper income levels who are the most likely to choose to work remotely, whereas those in the lowest ones probably will have no choice. They will have to continue commuting and are more likely to be time-poor as a result.

Historically, economic shocks, pandemics and wars have exacerbated inequality. The remaining question is whether this one will be a tectonic shift with rising political and social instability, or a shock that leads us to reinforce the foundations of just societies and the principles of solidarity and democratic decision-making that move societies, labour markets and workplaces in the direction of equality.

Looking ahead, the only way to survive is to keep a close look on every aspect of the business, making sure to maintain a lean, light and agile structure, with all the employees engaged with the organization, in order to assure that we are ready to react swiftly and securely to the unpredictability of this new era. All options should be considered, and for that, an outside eye, with a fresh vision, may be your best option. The future is not pre-determined, it is up to you to shape it.