C Gopinath

Coronavirus will reshape the future of work

C Gopinath | Updated on March 30, 2020

As people adapt to achieving efficiency while working remotely, new economic opportunities will arise

The information circulating about the coronavirus and its effects seems to be balanced equally between what we know and what we don’t. This provides conditions rife for speculation without fear of embarrassment. That said, how are business and management going to be reshaped in the future in a post-coronavirus world?

As more people are forced to work online and remotely, companies and employees are developing new skills and comfort levels. Low-priority work is being ignored and may vanish. Companies will learn what jobs really need to be done and will attempt to re-engineer the workplace. This will result in many jobs being cut and redefined.

Companies will also realise it is convenient and productive for many more people to work from home. As people don’t waste time travelling, work productivity will go up.

Overhead costs for businesses will fall as they regularise home-working protocols and the need for commercial real estate will shrink, affecting prices and making more space available for alternate uses, perhaps even homes for the poor.

The development of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics will get a boost. Even the sceptics will start re-thinking their positions about where and how it can be used. AI will begin to permanently eliminate many more jobs. Robotics and AI will make an impact in transportation and material-handling activities. Manufacturing facilities will be designed to allow quick changes between very different product lines. Resilience and versatility will be key phrases in work design.

Areas that required face-to-face interactions will begin to change significantly. The medical and healthcare systems will significantly transform, requiring fewer personal visits. Self-testing kits will become standard and telemedicine will become routine.

The trend towards urbanisation will be reversed, as people will not see the need to congregate in close proximity for work or pleasure. Suburban expansion will increase, impacting transportation requirements. Public/mass transportation will expand along with changes in public policies that aim to balance the need and regulation of private and public transportation.

Universities will finally make a big move to online learning, allowing increased enrolment and lowering tuition fees. Those that make the transition to online instruction successfully will thrive, resulting in the closure of many second and third tier institutions. Those facing closure will affiliate themselves to the thriving universities to provide geographically distributed spaces and supervision of courses that require face-to-face instruction (lab work, engineering workshops, etc).

The retail industry will see accelerated shifts between brick-and-mortar versus online consumers. The entertainment industry will have more data to understand what works. Travel and tourism will revive as people, more used to isolation at work, will seek more experiences outside their home.

Supply chains will shift from global to local or regional. What this means is that China will have to downshift from its role as the manufacturer for the world. Chinese companies, with significant manufacturing expertise, will shift operations to other locations. Growth opportunities will move to many more regions around the world. Governmental efforts in building infrastructure and policies which give preference to local companies and entrepreneurs will spread the prosperity to many other regions. The inequality between nations will fall.

There’s more to globalisation than international trade and supply chains! Cultural and sports exchanges will return to their normal trend lines. Countries will be more willing to share and learn from each other, having seen the need for cooperation the hard way.

And the dark side to all this? Mischievous governments will shift their budgets from the development of nuclear and long-range weaponry to biological warfare.

The writer is a professor at Suffolk University, Boston

Published on March 30, 2020

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