The Future of Work: What’s Unknown?

While COVID-19 might be coming to a close with the dissemination of vaccines, it’s impact on work will be long lasting. In this article ModBox explores the unknowns of how post-pandemic work will be impacted on a macro level and unpacks questions around gender equality, globalization, and dehumanization.

The coronavirus swept the globe in the spring of 2020. What we thought would be a temporary illness for some has become a pandemic for all, for months on end. While the continuous spread of the virus might be coming to an end shortly, the wounds are deep. Work-wise, the impact is mixed; some negative and some positive. As I began pondering the future of work post-pandemic, I found I had more questions than answers.

If you read my article from last week, you know that remote workers aren’t interested in going back to the office full-time. However, they are also missing the collaboration and community that in-person interactions bring. Companies are happy to reduce their expenses by not paying for large office buildings while maintaining a productive workforce. But they also recognize the need for some physical space at least part-time.

The future of work will move towards a hybrid model. Gone are the days where all employees commute to the same building and sit at the same desk from 9-5. However, working in isolation from makeshift home offices 100% of the time will not become the new normal. Companies will allow purpose to dictate the use of office space and employees will have a choice. But more is unknown than known about work in 2021; these are the macro questions I’m grappling with…

Will remote work be an equalizer or widen the gap?

Remote work might provide more opportunities for underrepresented populations to thrive in the white-collar job market. On the other hand, going virtual might be one more thing that boxes them out. Specifically, I am interested in the impact remote work will have on women and gender inequality in the workforce. In a BBC interview, Melinda Gates said that women were clustered in low-paying jobs pre-pandemic, and therefore were 1.8 times more likely to lose their jobs. Women who didn’t lose their jobs were forced into balancing housework and work in an environment where they are both constant and competing.

In my eyes, there are two potential paths. First, remote work will help partners share household duties more equitably. Plus, the flexibility will prevent women from having to make difficult choices between children and career. Without long commutes and strict office hours, both parents will have the ability to work full-time if they choose, and participate in household chores such as cooking dinner, doing laundry, and picking up the kids. Men can spend more time inside the home engaging with their children and contributing to household chores, giving women more time to advance in their careers.

However, just because they can doesn’t mean they will. Jean-Nicolas Reyt states that women have a more difficult time advancing professionally because they are more likely to prioritize their family responsibilities over their careers. In the future, working from home might intensify these feelings making women less present, focused, and productive.

Future of Work, Hardly

Will companies start to employ a more international workforce and what does that mean for domestic workers?

Remote work has expanded opportunities for international teams, but are domestic employees still more desirable? This year, our company hired four international employees, all in different time zones. From Thailand to Japan to London, Hardly has been able to pull talent from every end of the globe. Part of me thinks we are trendsetters. Without location being a factor, the talent pool is only narrowed by language and experience. With new platforms to make working with international teams seamless, distance will play a less prominent role in hiring.

Now, we have a “virtual first” style of work: designed for the remote worker rather than adapted. Everything will be saved to a cloud, and onboarding processes will be automated. Hiring international remote workers won’t require managers to do duplicative work or go out of their way, it will just be the standard. While there are many positives to hiring internationally, there could be negative consequences for the domestic workforce. US workers might be pushed out by companies trying to maximize profits by hiring people from countries where the cost of living is significantly lower and therefore, so is their wage. But currently, companies are rewarded for supporting America and Americans through job creation. Just like there has been a push to buy local, hiring local might become a new grassroots movement.

Future of Work, Hardly

In the future, will workers and companies alike be dehumanized?

The pandemic has caused many of us to become more humanitarian. While some believe a shutdown is the best way to save lives, others believe keeping the economy running is the protection we need. Either way, we all agree that human lives have value and should therefore be treated with care. But what makes someone human and what makes us care about them? Without the break room chats or company holiday parties, the person on the other side of the email becomes faceless. 

Some say they know less about their coworkers since working from home. People don’t discuss their children in passing, their quirky habits aren’t observable from across the room, and personality goes unseen with more communication via email. Without the ability to connect in-person, we run the risk of being degraded to worker bees.

However, some have had the opposite experience. Zoom has provided them a window into coworkers’ lives outside of the office in a very real way. A colorful painting in a colleague’s living room may lead to a conversation about their experience in Thailand, or seeing books may lead to a conversation of Russian authors.

If video chats and Slack conversations aren’t enough to help management form relationships with their team, they might not be as empathetic when a personal matter comes up. Employees won’t feel cared for and therefore won’t feel connected.  On the company side,  a lack of physical spaces makes it more difficult to embody a mission or culture. In other words, companies could become empty shells where people simply work to earn a paycheck and nothing more. A soulless company attracts soulless employees who only complete the bare minimum because they don’t believe in the work they are doing. To avoid this, companies will have to encourage coworkers to converse on a personal level and find a way to keep the company’s personality alive and well in a virtual setting.

Final word

If I’m honest, I have so many more questions about the future of work. Will people become more or less defined by their work? Will there be a great migration from urban areas to small suburbs? What new skills do you need to be a competitive candidate in the remote work scene? These topics may be seeds for next year’s articles but until then, use them as food for thought and if you have any predictions about the future of work, leave us a comment on our social media below!

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