The COVID-19 pandemic has brought an overhaul to our everyday lives, including our jobs. In fact, companies and employees had to adopt to a new reality, which brought new behaviors that are likely to stay, establishing new trends in the workplace. So what exactly are those trends and how likely are they to stay even after the pandemic?
he consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on economic activity, employment, and our way of working have been far-reaching. In turn, all of these changes have the potential to substantially impact our workplace, and how we behave in our jobs during such difficult times.
#1 Remote work and virtual meetings
If we had to choose only one change that took place in our jobs during COVID-19, we would all say remote work. This the most obvious impact of COVID-19, as it dramatically increased employees working remotely. In order to determine how extensively remote work might persist after the pandemic, McKinsey analyzed its potential across more than 2,000 tasks used in some 800 occupations in eight focus.
Considering only remote work that can be done without a loss of productivity, we find that about 20 to 25 percent of the workforces in advanced economies could work from home between three and five days a week. This represents four to five times more remote work than before the pandemic and could prompt a large change in the geography of work, as individuals and companies shift out of large cities into suburbs and small cities
Another finding of the survey was that some work that technically can be done remotely is best done in person. This includes negotiations, critical business decisions, brainstorming sessions, providing sensitive feedback, as well as hiring new employees. These are activities that could lose some effectiveness when done remotely.
Some companies are already planning to shift to flexible workspaces after positive experiences with remote work during the pandemic, a move that will reduce the overall space they need and bring fewer workers into offices each day. A survey of 278 executives by McKinsey in August 2020 found that on average, they planned to reduce office space by 30 percent. Demand for restaurants and retail in downtown areas and for public transportation may decline as a result.
#2 COVID-19 may advance adoption of automation and AI
Two ways businesses historically have controlled cost and addressed uncertainty are by adopting automation and redesigning work processes. That way companies reduce the share of jobs involving mainly routine tasks. Taking this into consideration, the same McKinsey report found that two-thirds senior executives are stepping up investment in automation and AI either somewhat or significantly.
Namely, several companies deployed automation and AI in order to reduce workplace density and cope with surges in demand. The common feature of these automation use cases is their correlation with high scores on physical proximity. Shipping too has increased the use of automation through remote surveys.
According to Kamlesd Kumar, Head of Class Systematics & Operational Centre, DNV, “remote surveys were catching on for ships even before 2020; and for some types of survey, the approach could become ‘the new normal’ after the pandemic.” In fact, a bulk cargo carrier was recently the test site for various remote inspection techniques (RITs) that demonstrated how robotics solutions can ensure quicker, safer and more efficient ship inspections, as remote surveys can:
- Eliminate the need for physical attendance;
- Protect employees’ health by following the social distancing guidelines;
- Give the participants full advantage of technology;
Give owners and operators easy access to the collected data and the ability to create a maintenance plan;
Provide evaluation of a ship’s compliance, through an electronically signed e-certificate, which can be issued when applicable.
#3 Life satisfaction and unemployment
One of the most well-documented findings in the economics of subjective well-being is that the unemployed are significantly less happy than the employed. However, the relationship between employment and well-being also tends to be moderated by background labour market conditions.
More specifically, in times of recession, the negative impact of unemployment on subjective well-being is generally less severe, probably due to to the reduced social stigma associated with job loss. In the that context, the large increases in unemployment and inactivity because of the pandemic may attenuate the negative impact of being laid off or reducing working hours, as the social stigma associated with unemployment is likely to be reduced in times of trouble.
At the same time, workers who experience difficulties associated with COVID-19 and become more unhappy may also become more likely to resign from work or lose their jobs. This fact could lead to even greater declines in well-being associated with job loss for vulnerable workers during the pandemic.
As for seafarers, a recent study has found that prolonged restriction on board without shore leave will likely take toll, especially on the mental state, work performance and health of the seafarer. Moreover, the study also discovered that two out of 5 seafarers felt unhappy, 3 out of 10 felt stressed, and 1 in 6 felt completely fatigued.