February 23 2021: The pandemic has accelerated existing trends in remote work, e-commerce, and automation, with up to 25 percent more workers than previously estimated potentially needing to switch occupations.
The short-term consequences were sudden and often severe: Millions of people were furloughed or lost jobs, and others rapidly adjusted to working from home as offices closed. Many other workers were deemed essential and continued to work in hospitals and grocery stores, on garbage trucks and in warehouses, yet under new protocols to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.
A report from the McKinsey Global Institute* examines aspects of the post pandemic economy. It assesses the lasting impact of the pandemic on labour demand, the mix of occupations, and the workforce skills required in eight countries with diverse economic and labour market models: China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Together, these eight countries account for almost half the global population and 62 percent of GDP.
In India, ecommerce grew 2.1 times due to Covid.
Before COVID-19, the largest disruptions to work involved new technologies and growing trade links. COVID-19 has, for the first time, elevated the importance of the physical dimension of work. In this research, we develop a novel way to quantify the proximity required in more than 800 occupations by grouping them into ten work arenas according to their proximity to co-workers and customers, the number of interpersonal interactions involved, and their on-site and indoor nature.
This offers a different view of work than traditional sector definitions. For instance, our medical care arena includes only caregiving roles requiring close interaction with patients, such as doctors and nurses. Hospital and medical office administrative staff fall into the computer-based office work arena, where more work can be done remotely. Lab technicians and pharmacists work in the indoor production work arena because those jobs require use of specialized equipment on-site but have little exposure to other people
—Remote work is here to stay: Companies are already devising hybrid remote work models; 20-25% of workers in advanced economies could do their jobs most of the time from home. This could affect custodial jobs in offices, public transportation, and restaurants and retail in urban areas, if fewer workers commute to office jobs. In India, about 5% of the workforce could potentially work remotely for more than three days a week, though this share is as high as 70% for key sectors like financial services and IT.
—Business travel may decline: Virtual meetings could replace 20% of business travel, on average across the eight countries MGI studied, and that will have knock-on effects for restaurants, hotels, and airlines.
—The geography of work could shift: Before the pandemic, highly-skilled workers were drawn to the world’s biggest cities. Now remote work facilitated by digital tools opens opportunities for workers to live anywhere and companies to recruit more broadly.
—E-commerce and virtual transactions follow a new trajectory: Covid-19 forced consumers and businesses to rapidly migrate to the digitally-enabled ‘delivery economy’ and this is shifting low-wage jobs from retail shops and restaurants to warehouses and transportation.
—Independent and gig work is likely to expand: Roughly 70% of 800 global executives surveyed by McKinsey in July 2020 said they expected to hire more independent workers for projects over the next two years.
—Automation and AI could see an uptick: Companies have started adopting automation and AI to reduce workplace density and cope with demand surges, and this may accelerate as the economy recovers. Already, meat processors have installed robotics to reduce density in processing plants, and call centres have deployed chatbots. The greatest growth in automation may occur in indoor production and warehousing, as companies seek to increase space between workers and yet keep pace with surges in demand.
*The full report can be accessed here: The future of work after COVID-19