Skip to main content

Return to Normal?

Alex Reynolds

Ever since measures have been set around the World to combat the spread of Covid-19, rightly citizens have queried governments and law makers on how long these measures will be sustained for. Countries such as China, South Korea and now our European neighbours have begun to wind down the tight restrictions placed upon their citizens with a new normal paradigm emerging.

Finding myself having the time to read the newspaper fully everyday (something I haven’t done on a sustained basis since university) as well as other online publications I’ve found myself noticing a number of predictions emerging from the business and economic segments. Most point to the dramatic rise in unemployment being only temporary but it’s clear that industries such as the hospitality sector will continue to face restrictions for the months ahead. Rightly so, we as a society are troubled by this. Given that millions of our  family members and friends work long hours in restaurants, pubs, hotels etc, the lack of returning job opportunities are troubling. 

What I find equally as interesting is the potential effect of Covid-19 on large and traditional corporations. Digital or remote working is not a new thing. The propensity and affinity of companies towards implementing their digital transformation and remote working policies has been mixed. A pronounced hurdle has undoubtedly been culture and a passive fear amongst employees towards being automated out of a job or equally as important, being out-competed by tele-workers. If we were to consider the scale of the ‘shock’ to a company’s cultural system that Covid-19 has already showcased, we must also be aware that shocks also bring seismic change. This may also bring a backlash. 

Now that digital and remote working is the new norm (for the time being), the value of a digital workforce can truly be seen. One of the hurdles, the tradition of being in an office and showing up on time has disappeared in-part. What may disappear next is the vocal in-situ passive hostility workforces once had about automation. In consequence, due to the need for companies to remain efficient and adapt more quickly to the new World, jobs become ‘more digital and remote’, you may see a long list of what were essentially ‘human’ roles being destroyed as the full effects of digital technology and services come to the forefront. Indeed, over the past few months I have been speaking with numerous corporations and startups that feel that Covid-19 has given most companies the kick they needed years ago. 

Whilst automation is one threat, the new simplicity of building digital teams via shared platforms will also bring a new wave of fear to the traditional workforce of a large corporation. Most jobs, if simplified and turned digital can be undertaken by more people remotely and further a field than ever before. Given the growth in the gig-economy over the past decade, I do not struggle to see once middle-class jobs such as brokering being turned into tasks on a hypothetical platform where anyone with the correct skills can partake. At present regulation wouldn’t allow such things to happen but it is not that difficult to imagine it being just around the corner. The impact of Covid-19 will be that these transformations will speed up. 

So in essence, whilst we think the impact on employment may only be temporary, the long term cultural shift and affects digital transformation upon companies will be amplified by Covid-19.