It caught us by complete surprise. No one could have ever predicted the events of the year 2020. Life changed drastically for everyone on the planet. The new coronavirus disrupted our lives with devastating effects on millions of people.
It was like simply, one day, we all woke up to the news reports coming out from China of a contagious new virus strain, and before we knew it was a global fast-spreading pandemic. I read somewhere it is being called the Great Virus Crisis “GVC.”
Front and center, healthcare capabilities were put to the test all over the world. It wasn’t just the CDC and the World Health Organization and the such, but every nation was suddenly faced with the need to provide emergency healthcare options for their citizens. Nothing was looking more disastrous than the situation with healthcare and healthcare professionals in undeveloped countries, but that doesn’t mean that the developed countries were by any means prepared for a global pandemic. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, and every other type of healthcare professionals, they are the true heroes in a world fighting COVID-19. These people are on the vanguard of the fight and they’ve been stretched thin and overburdened in every single country in the world that is serious about fighting the disease.
The slow at first, but then rapid, measures taken by governments and companies were too fast for us to process and most of us found ourselves in a new situation overnight. Everyone had to stay home and limit their exposure to other people to the bare minimum. Kids were kept from going to schools, curfews were applied and cities were on lockdown.
Naturally, entire professions and industries crashed unexpectedly literally overnight. The worldwide situation forced people into unemployment.
Incidentally, the situation was optimized for certain professions that were already positioned to transform their business interactions, communications, and commerce through the internet. But not all jobs and professions did have that luxury, and they found themselves stranded in a transient new economy that had no place for them.
Everyone in politics, government, economics, and finance had to know and expected the inherent dangers of obliterating entire markets and job segments that depend on people getting together or being at certain locations in large numbers; but with panic rising, the situation was unavoidable.
Months ago, during the early weeks of the pandemic, I had a conversation with a friend from Edinburgh about where the world was heading. And with everything wrapped up in a state of constant fear, it seemed obvious that the way we live is fundamentally going to change from here on out.
Even now, it’s not all that clear what is going to happen in the future. Back when it all started no one could foresee how the world would adapt, but everyone knew that it would eventually. It might take a year or two, who knows! One thing is for certain, things have changed for better and for worse, depending on your perspective.
Job markets and unemployment rates were certainly going to take a serious hit in the immediate aftermath. For businesses like hotels, travel, restaurants, sports venues, etc., the situation looked bleak.
Good things happened to some people nonetheless. For example, being spared long-distance commutes, or actually using a vehicle for transportation was actually good both for the environment and the average household monthly expenses.
New solutions and technologies had to be created and implemented to accommodate the needs of businesses and commerce.
Some big technology players in the world such as Facebook are betting heavily that VR and AR will play a significant role in a world post-COVID-19. I’m not such a believer in these technologies and I don’t think we’re just there yet.
Everyone has their own perspective about the topographical changes in the world markets on a macro level, which makes it tempting to speculate on the many ways the mechanics of globalization itself might change.
I had another talk with a rather chatty gentleman from the UK who was especially not happy that he wasn’t able to spend the summer at his summer house in Spain. There are clear signs and intentions to restore travel and commerce and get people out of their homes again. The question is whether these markets are going to fully recover or their recovery could be curtailed by a new wave of widespread infections. Only time will tell.
Out of forced necessity, companies and businesses had to act fast to limit their employees’ exposure to the pandemic. That led to some companies transforming their business into a remote work environment, permanently.
Major leading companies like Facebook, Google, Uber, the retailer REI, Zillow, Twitter, Square, Microsoft, Reuters, Salesforce, Amazon, Spotify, Hitachi, Coinbase, Mastercard, Nielsen, Nationwide insurance, are trying other solutions like a work-from-home “WFH” policy until further notice, a delayed return to office till 2021 or a hybrid model where some office location resuming business and the rest to continue working from home.
As I was watching the funny blooper reels of people working from home attending meetings in their shorts or taking conference calls into bathrooms, I couldn’t escape the sobering fact that not everyone was so lucky to have a job that allowed for such funny videos, to begin with.
There is nothing funny about losing your livelihood in the midst of a worldwide health crisis. We can’t turn our eyes from the swathes of severely affected people whose livelihood depends mainly on doing manual labor, for example, anyone working in service industries that necessitates close proximity to lots of people.
When it comes to the economic situation, it’s not all dark and gloomy, though. I’ve been doing some reading online and it seems that somehow professions on both extremes of the workforce don’t have much use for interpersonal communication, like low tech occupations such as agricultural workers and loggers and high-tech professions like statistical analysts and social scientists.
As indicated by an MIT research team that constructed an index of 30 countries that analyzes the economic impact of remote work: “The results show that developed economies will likely do better–primarily those with a mix of industries and occupations that are more conducive to working from home, along with supportive conditions such as internet access and high-quality connectivity.”
I can’t foretell their readiness to pivot their business model for certain types of companies like The Happiness Company as a workplace culture consultancy depends almost entirely on maintaining a healthy office culture. That’s definitely going to be tough when there’s no one at the office, I think!
By necessity, corporate policies had to adapt. Changes had to happen, for better or worse, with certain restrictions on the number of people who can work closely together. There was a shift in the economics of running an office space as opposed to following an aggressive remote teamwork structure, we are feeling the ripple effects now that the year is almost over.
As the saying goes, “one man’s loss is another man’s gain,” the whole situation pretty much spelled out a good fortune for organizations that are completely built on remote teamwork and the companies that provide dedicated solutions for such organizations like Slack, or Basecamp.
I have a ton of respect for the founders of Basecamp, David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH), and Jason Fried literally wrote the book ‘Remote,’ on working from home. You can check their live stream session on Periscope in March explaining the intricacies of running a business with a work-from-home workforce.
Meetings and interviews are all being done over a multitude of online platforms that offer video conferencing and a virtual office environment that allows screen sharing, hand raising, one-on-one sessions, team meeting, team collaboration, task assignments, progress reports, chat and messaging capabilities, and apparently, plenty of embarrassing moments.
Naturally, home is where we let loose, let our hair down, act as our true selves, and where we let go of the formalities associated with “being at work.”
Not everyone has the luxury of dedicated space at their home they can use for work as a home office or library. I can only speculate about the stress-related issues that must have arisen since people were stuck working at their homes in a make-shift location commandeered from the rest of the family.
You can forgive people their slip-ups under the influence of the numbing effect of boring long meetings, people would become oblivious to being on a conference call with the cameras catching all the glorious details of them acting with their normal home easiness while attending important and serious meetings.
So, yeah, maybe the clips were funny but they shed light on the challenges people face after suddenly flipping habits acquired while holding an office regular job with coworkers who are other people that are NOT your immediate family.
There is a certain amount of superhuman effort required to juggle doing some serious work at home with family while trying to stave away distractions.
It’s not a big secret that our habits are closely related to the environment in which we develop them. Habits associated with driving a car click-in just as soon as you’re in the driver’s seat.
There’s also, of course, an issue of violating work/home boundaries. Being unable to physically and emotionally disconnect from the working environment adds a significant stress factor.
We all employ different modes of behavior that we use according to where we are and who we’re dealing with.
A cold calculated stern manager has to project a different attitude than the caring loving father he reverts to at home with his family. To such an individual being trapped at home makes it very difficult to act professionally.
This dilemma has always been known to all creative people like writers and designers who do not have to report for duty at an office building.
The trick is to figure out a dedicated space that is isolated from the rest of the living space in the house to actually do some work.
There are incalculable merits to setting physical boundaries between work and home.
Creatives have a long history of making this point clear by creating a special place for their work and crafts that would be converted into an office, a workshop, or a studio. It sometimes goes beyond an extra room in the house, an attic, a garage, or a garden shed to actually renting an office for professional use.
I am pretty confident that if I look into it, it’s going to turn out that this is the exact reason why lawyers and doctors started to have their private offices, off-premises, to perform their skills and professions.
As many now have discovered, it’s quite challenging to share the living room table or the dining table with your kids who are pretending to do their homework or playing games on their electronic devices.
On the other hand, there’s no denying that for some people, remote work increases productivity. Unfortunately, it has some serious adverse effects as a byproduct of the inherent isolation and stress of living and working at the same place all the time. It’s analogous to a self-induced unlimited prison sentence.
Some opinions say that lack of human contact can stifle or limit creativity, but I simply do not find this argument compelling. I could be wrong, but I can’t help but think that all throughout history, creative endeavors such as painting and writing have always capitalized on solitude and focus.
when we move on to the issue of focus, remote home-schooling comes to mind immediately with the extremely difficult challenges faced by parents who chose their kids’ safety over sending them off to schools who chose to start getting the kids back to class.
Studying from home has turned every house into a madhouse for parents. All over the world, parents have always welcomed the daily reprieve of sending their little ones off in the morning to enjoy well deserved hours of peace and quiet. Kids trapped at home spend the curfew and lockdown periods literally bouncing off the walls.
It’s quite clear to me, as a tormented parent, that serious pressure from the populations of the world to get things back to normal comes from parents who can no longer stand the deeply upsetting challenges of remote education.
According to some surveys (1,2), 98% of people who try remote work prefer it to have to put on a shirt and a tie to go to work. And that’s even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some of the reasons why people prefer WFH are:
- A flexible lifestyle with flexible attire.
- Flexible working hours (depending on the type of job and the required work schedule).
- Working from multiple locations.
- No long commutes to work (or some dreadful car-pooling, stress from traffic, less fuel consumption, and car troubles).
- The more reclaimed time that was usually wasted going to and back from work each day,
- More quality time with family.
The new modes of communication seem to be naturally optimized for introverts. Extroverted types and people who thrived on one-on-one communication with lots of emphasis on nonverbal cues, body language, and influence through attire, accessories, beauty, and fitness seem to feel a significant loss of their power.
Who can tell, but perhaps someone will start to notice that hard results can take precedence to office politics (Nah! Probably Not).
There are obvious reservations against heavily investing in a fully remote business model.
These reservations might stem from a lack of flexibility in decision making and vision for the management.
Fear of change and sticking with what’s been known to work at different times and different circumstances is a policy of doom that has sunk many ships at sea. (Kodak? Xerox?)
The benefits however are very attractive especially when you account for the amount of money saved on maintaining multiple physical locations in office buildings and the associated costs of relocating staff. to name a few.
Also, there’s the allure of the “work from anywhere” model which had been heavily hyped over social media with those new types of influencers and travel bloggers who romanticized being your own boss and have your smartphone or laptop become your office and the gateway to personal and financial freedom.
Remote corporate workers and worker drones for big companies might still have to keep the tether to their corporate lords but once they’ve gotten a taste of the long forbidden fruit they might not react gingerly to being called back into a traditional office setting.
Flexibility in work location and work schedule is the ultimate perk in a world that is yet to figure out how it will handle a global plague longterm.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the business community though. In the second-quarter profits of 2020, big tech reported a combined record net profit of $28.6 billion.
- Amazon reported a 40% increase in sales from a year ago in the amount of $88.9 billion and its profits doubled to $5.2 billion.
- Facebook’s revenues rose 11% from a year earlier to $18.7 while profits jumped 98% to $5.2 billion.
- Apple reported its sales rose 11% to $59.7 billion and its profits increased 12% to $11.25 billion.
- Alphabet, Google’s parent company, had a bad quarterly earnings report compared to last year and yet reported revenue of $38.3 billion and a profit of $6.6 billion.
Some workers can’t wait to be back to work on the premises and they welcome the interaction with their friends and coworkers.
Others simply loath the whole setup and dread the day they have to get back to the office.
Anyways, working from home doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and it seems to be here to stay but working from the office is not going away either. There are some visions of the office spaces of tomorrow that are optimized for social distancing.
I personally think that minimizing the headcount in an office space will be an expensive enterprise. But I guess we’ll have to wait and see if such ideas will see the light of day.
I don’t think it’s escaped anyone’s thoughts that some employers are going to jump on the chance of getting employers back into the office with minimum regard to any social-distancing concerns unless there’s some regulation involved and some serious penalties.
The good news is that the awful trend of open office spaces with no walls seems to be extinct, effective immediately.
Perhaps old-fashioned closed offices will rule the modern office plan.
While it’s all slowly starting to get back to normal, certain things are going to be carefully rolled back to normal, while other things will stay as a permanent fixture of our life from this time forward.
Remote work has been noticed to herald a huge impact on cities commercial rental properties. The real estate market of major metropolitan cities. Working from home is enough incentive to move out from expensive homes closer to the city to live in a farther cheaper location.
The markets for manual labor are slowly coming back in demand. In some professions more than others, of course. It’s going to take a while for life to get back to normal with everyone getting used to wearing a mask around other people. It’s always going to be people working together. Robots from Boston Dynamics are not taking over our fieldwork, they’re not picking up the fruits, laying cables in the ground, installing solar panels, running oil rigs and coal mines. Self-checkout aisles in supermarkets might be starting to replace cashiers but the robot takeover apocalypse isn’t here just yet.
On a more related note, a friend of mine in the US was raising important questions during our conversation regarding the apparent scarcity of qualified candidates in his highly technical academic field and whether the migration of qualified talented scientists and researchers will be affected by travel restrictions and changes in immigration laws (aka Donald Trump). Hopefully with a certain someone evicting the White House such political issues pertaining to skilled expert labor will be fixed.
I’ve learned, a long time ago, not to put too much stock in politicians. Government is a complex enterprise with a tangled web of personal interests and power struggles. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the next politician to make your life easier, they won’t. It’s all going to be what you can do for yourself and your loved ones that is ever going to matter.
And on the same note, I am personally impressed that a viral vaccine to COVID-19 has been developed so fast. I can’t make up my mind if it’s going to be safe to take when it’s widely available or not.
I’m wary about big pharma’s agenda and the push for massive profits from government contracts to provide the vaccine to the masses. Could they have cut some corners here and there in their testing and validation of results? I wouldn’t put it behind them.
The time crunch and the guaranteed market waiting to be filled by the first party to claim a working vaccine with mass production abilities, could sway some people to turn a blind eye to things that could hamper such a massive coup de force to competition.
It’s good practice to be on the lookout for claims that only benefit the party making them.
I guess we’ll have to wait for the evidence and proper certification. I highly doubt anything of such magnitude could have dirt swept under the rug.
Without a vaccine the danger remains looming over the future because of the expected future waves of infection that will eventually and inexorably happen when countries have to reopen their economies and companies start to bring people back into offices.
No one ever wants to witness more shutdowns and lockdowns. We cannot escape that winter is knocking on our doorsteps and it’s the time of year where most people get sick and it’s probably to coincide with another COVID-19 infection wave.
The world is seriously waiting for the vaccine to be able to move forward. Cohabitation and adaptation with the virus aided by working vaccinations is the only possible way forward.
It’s now mid November 2020 and things have started to relax compared to what it’s beenlike in March 2020.
That’s not the case everywhere, of course, with people getting used to taking health precautions like wearing face masks in public, using gloves and hand sanitizers, and proper rules of social distancing, jobs started to come back and businesses started to recover from their steep slump.
I hope that the new year 2021 doesn’t serve us another curve ball and that everyone can be safe and healthy.
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