Seen from the perspectives of four types of people
The best way to imagine our world after Covid is not to begin with a big picture view, but to look at several smaller worlds and overlay them on the larger world.
Rather than starting with a bunch of micros, I am going to take just four to test how this process might help us dig deeper, wider and wiser. Let’s start with factory workers, then office workers, then civil servants and finally people in the whole chain of food and beverages.
FACTORY WORKERS: Typically, factory workers do ‘their’ thing in one or more particular locations in their factory. They used to be paid on a piece basis but in recent years have moved primarily to an hourly wage because no one worker can or wants to be a hostage to what is beyond his or her control. The virus appears to push that change further. Workers evidently prefer to manage their own time –for many now more obvious reasons—and it seems very likely that what were several regular shifts may become a basket of personalized shifts to accommodate more workers, with backups on the ready, all as needed from time to time. All of this is made possible by much more sophisticated communications and automated management systems. The consequences are likely to result in employers being able overall to need/use fewer and better skilled employees to produce the same or more goods with fewer defects. No doubt this was underway before the coronavirus pushed us over the cliff; that fall is driving this change further and more quickly.
OFFICE WORKERS: Until recently conventional wisdom held that office work HAD to be done collectively in an office. Various factors supported that unquestioned belief: 1-people need and like to interact personally and frequently; 2-the “out of sight out of mind” worry that off-site workers aren’t considered as productive as their on-site colleagues and miss out on important opportunities (and promotions); 3- casual interactions at the water cooler often lead to inspirations, etc.; and 4- a friendly peer atmosphere contributes to a corporate culture that workers and their customers and clients need, want and value. But, it turns out that may not be as true as previously believed and the Covid virus is making that clearer.
Employees generally HATE their commute. It wastes about 2 hours a day. It is boring and annoying. Those couple of hours have value to both the employee at home and the employer in the office.
The advent of the virus has enabled employers and employees alike in many offices to discover the joys, benefits and overall productivity of hybrid methods – open office ‘places’ used by more than person can use it at various times; employees can work at home 2/3 days a week—this would cut down on commuting, reduce need for office space, improve morale and, with virtual ‘in-person’ meeting capabilities, the modern office will also be cheaper. Zoom calls create in many ways more intimacy, immediacy and imagination than physical meetings.
And many of the fears of telecommuting have proven unfounded. If most everyone is doing it (as the current situation requires), no one has to worry about “missing out.” It also turns out that there are much better ways to ‘observe’ employee productivity than seeing them sitting at a desk. With almost all remote work requiring technological support – phones, computers, the internet — employers can observe and measure their employees work and habits better than ever before, wherever they are.
The overall result of that will be a reduced need for office space, increased work time available for both employees and employers, And, greater morale and effectiveness.
AGRICULTURAL activities and food chains. In recent years, we have seen brilliant advances in planting and retrieving crops. AI has led to more efficient use of crop land as well better-timed harvesting. As part of that, the people ‘driving’ vehicles involved need less training and therefore the available labor force has been effectively enlarged and improved.
The chain of food to the kitchen table has also been modified/streamlined and become more efficient. Amazon and its clones know all the time the rises and falls in consumer demand, which reciprocates back and forth between the farmers and the eaters, which has the effect of meeting demand, more often with better prices. Better prices lead to more demand, which leads to more efficiency.
CIVIL AND LOCAL SERVICES—the need for police, fire people, local government civil servants and public health services has continued to grow. They all are making more and more use of the internet the result of which they are continuing –when they want to—to become much more efficient. The same number of people—and sometimes even fewer people –can achieve more than in previous generations. The virus has decimated the budgets of many states and municipalities that will now be broke for years but will have to maintain public services. Efficiency will be essential to meeting the need with limited resources.
What does the above picture look like overlaid and projected onto the world now?
The demands of meeting the novel coronavirus by themselves probably did not change much directly, but the shock waves increased the rate of adaption across the board a great deal. A lot more may be happening that, in a year or two, will be seen in retrospect to have stimulated our whole world way ahead by perhaps even a decade. That will surely lead to both inequities and opportunities for those who are both lazy and ambitious.
The people who resist the realities of these changes will end up, along with the reality actor named Trump, in the dustbin of history.