Technology at Work v6.0

The Coming of the Post-Production Society

Ever have that déjà vu feeling? Last year about this time, we published our Technology at Work v5.0 report and discussed how COVID-19 restrictions were being lifted and the end of ‘work from home’ was on the horizon. Apparently, that was just a practice run. This time it’s the real deal.

Around the world, businesses are having robust conversations about how employees can safely return to the office. In some regions, restrictions are being lifted at the same speed at which they were implemented back in March 2020. But while we seem to be moving in a direction back to ‘normal’, and talking about returning to our pre-pandemic ways, in reality, things can’t just go back to the way they were.

During the pandemic, working from home became a thing and the stigma around it disappeared. We were okay with losing our commutes and used those hours to work a little more. Our kids didn’t stop learning as education shifted from the classroom to the home. And the use of digital everything accelerated — shopping, groceries, doctor visits, payments, and entertainment.

There are definitely things that were part of the ‘new normal’ during the pandemic that we’ll be happy to lose, but some of the changes are going to stick around. Working five days a week in the office seems a lot — surveys indicate three feels like a better number — and a winter snow day from school might become something only you remember. But importantly, working from home came with the realization that if a job isn’t place dependent and doesn’t need to be done in an office, it can also be done in a cheaper location offshore. Furloughed workers might find their jobs replaced by automation. And as the accelerated shift to digital becomes more permanent, jobs might disappear in brick-and-mortar entities like stores, gyms, and movie theaters

In the report that follows, we look at how the COVID-19 pandemic may have pushed advanced economies into an era where not only manufacturing jobs get outsourced and automated, but service jobs do as well. This is a world where emerging markets no longer look to manufacturing as a stepping stone to prosperity, and instead use technological advances to attract offshore service jobs such as accounting and banking.

The acceleration of digital during the pandemic may jump-start a new wave of automation, meaning the jobs of the future need to be ones that are sheltered from both automation and offshoring. As governments shift their fiscal spending from providing life preservers to providing fiscal stimulus, the focus is on creating jobs through the green and digital economies. Longer term, policies and stimulus need to focus on creating a competitive advantage in innovation and developing environments that foster interactions, social networks, and knowledge transfers