By Ricardo Evangelista
The economic fallout from the COVID-19 containment measures is well known, with GDP contracting across the globe at a pace not seen since at least the Second World War. City centres normally effervescent with activity became almost deserted, as did the busiest roads and railway stations, with most of us confined at home.
While many long for a return to normality, doubts persist over what the new normal will be like. Will things just go back to the way they were, or will some of the changes forced upon us remain in place in post-coronavirus societies?
Employment is one of the areas where the impact of the coronavirus is more visible. In the United States more than 36 million have become unemployed since the pandemic took hold, while those fortunate enough to keep their jobs had to, in countless cases, start working from home. This trend is not limited to the US and can be observed in many other countries, including of course The Bahamas where some companies like ActivTrades have gone the extra mile, offering its employees a full set-up at home, including four monitors. Others only had to provide a laptop and mobile phone, but generally speaking the use of technology allowed for productivity levels to be maintained.
However, will returning to the office be equally straightforward? In the pre-coronavirus world, working from home was, in most cases, seen as a perk. Could it become an expectation, once the disease is brought under control? Well, history is fertile in such changes happening at pivotal points like the one we’re in now. For example, before the Great Depression of 1929 most people worked six days a week; in the aftermath of the crisis, with many countries facing high unemployment, the number of working days was reduced to five, in order to free-up positions for more workers.
While working from home certainly isn’t suited for everybody, many are enjoying the upsides of avoiding stressful and costly commuting and increased productivity due to less interruptions. And an increasing number of employers is also supporting the idea; like Twitter, who last week announced that most staff will be allowed to work from home permanently. There are obvious advantages: the available pool of talent for recruitment would increase dramatically if you’re no longer restricted to just one city or region. Also, with most staff at home, savings can be made by running a smaller, more cost-effective office, perhaps geared up towards client meetings instead. Society at large may also see benefits, as less commuting means less pollution and more quality time spent with family is likely to have a positive social impact.
The coronavirus created the conditions for a social and economic experiment, with early signs pointing at a change in paradigm, as working from home is set to become a megatrend.
The full extent of the change remains unclear, but it is widely accepted that in the future there will be more people working from home than today.