August 10, 2022

How We View the Future of Work

Theren Moodley
Theren Moodley
Co-Founder

The Working Habits Ushered in by Covid-19 Are Unlikely to Disappear

The covid-19 pandemic continues to take a terrible toll on the workers of the world, where in many countries unemployment has risen to levels last seen during the great depression. To say it’s been catastrophic would be the understatement of the century.

Thomas Piketty in Capital and Ideology views the current era as being as unequal in terms of wealth disruption as no other in human history, bar the run up to WW1, and this was seen no more so than the during the pandemic. ‘’Essential’’ low paid workers were expected to continue to work and expose themselves to the virus while, office works shielded at home.

There are plenty who now fear that the post-pandemic labour market will be one of persistently high inequality and unemployment, with work outsourced abroad or simply handed over to robots.

I for one disagree. Covid is undoubtedly the one of the greatest catastrophes of our generation (at the time of writing.....) but it has ushered in new habits for the labour force that will be hard to undo.

In our latest blog I discuss how we view the future of work and what lessons does it pose for employees and employers alike.

Workers of the World Unite

Labour markets are important, not just because they allow people to earn enough to put food on the table, but because people’s jobs are a big part of their identity. High unemployment is linked with higher crime and worse health. Estimates from America suggest that the rise in unemployment during 2020 will cause 800,000 extra deaths over the next 15 years.

Contrary to popular belief the world of work before the pandemic was actually quite successful. In 2019 the unemployment rate in the developed world was lower than at any time since the 1960s. Pay may not have been rising as fast as many would have wished, but by late 2019 earnings in the developed world were growing by nearly 3% a year. The wages of the worst-paid Americans were increasing 50% faster than those of the best-paid. However, it is also true that income inequality was high by historical standards, as the analysis of Mr Piketty explains, yet by the late 2010s it was no longer rising and might even have been falling a little, as the most disadvantaged people were pulled into the jobs boom. On paper at least, more people seemed to be enjoying their work. In 2019 Gallup, an American pollster, found that the share of Americans “completely” or “somewhat” satisfied with their jobs was the second-highest since its series began in 1993. A study by Burning Glass, a labour-market analytics firm, finds that 50% of young workers were able to translate their first job, one that often requires less than a bachelor’s degree and less than two years’ experience, into better-paying jobs within five years.

Worker satisfaction
Worker satisfaction

The Future

With the pandemic ending (in Europe and North America at least), the big question is whether labour markets of all industries, from fashion to retail can regain these trends, as well as introduce some of the more positive aspects of the pandemic era labour market.

The biggest win for workers from the pandemic is arguably the rise of remote work, with more people having flexibility over when, where and how they earn their living, which is especially true in the fashion industry. The shift to a “hybrid” model of work, with some taking place in an office and some at home, is already forcing managers to become better communicators, as well as companies to build better tools for workers, as we’re trying to do for fashion creators at Make the Dot. It is also stimulating helpful and long overdue changes in employment law.

Remote work stats
Remote work stats

This is not the only way in which policy is changing. What has been lost in the past year has made governments everywhere grasp the benefits of a healthy labour market, especially to families on low and moderate incomes. The pandemic thus presages a bigger role for governments than might previously have been expected, especially in sustaining employment, doing more to reduce inequality and coming up with better-designed systems of employees’ rights and welfare benefits.

The value of work and how to earn a living has also dramatically shifted during the pandemic. With workers unable to see their extended family and friends during to lockdown and the ability to spend more time with their kids, the importance of work has changed. Surveys have found that a higher value is now placed on family and leisure time, as opposed to monetary targets related to work.

Finally, the nature of careers and what that means is changing. Scott Belsky the founder of Behance and Adobe CPO predicted the rise Polygamous Careers, with workers beginning to pursue a portfolio of projects rather than confined to one specialist career, from fashion design, to art and investing.

The rise in the creator economy during the pandemic is a testament to that, with Business of Fashion reporting Americans registered nearly 187,000 new businesses in the first two months of 2021, more than double the same period last year, according to the US Census Bureau. These enterprises range from venture-backed start-ups to neighbourhood boutiques to fledgling fashion lines launched out of living rooms and garages.

“It’s never been easier to start a direct-to-consumer brand with Instagram, with Facebook, and with a lot of factories being open to preorders,” said Cynthia Franklin, director of entrepreneurship in NYU Stern’s Berkley Centre for Entrepreneurship.

The desire to make money and feel fulfilled from multiple projects will increase retention, increase productivity, and help endeavours engage top talent that would otherwise be out of reach.

The Lessons we Learn

The future for workers around the world might be bright, if we’ve learnt the right lessons from the pandemic. Having empathy and compassion for other’s situation. The importance of time spent with families and friends. And where earning a living fits into our overall lives.

Many worry that the pandemic experience might just give bosses the excuse to employ robots instead of people, leading to widespread joblessness. History suggests recessions and pandemics do indeed often provoke a burst in automation, but the purported threat of a world without work is unlikely to come to pass—and could even recede.

More empathises will be placed on human jobs we’ve long taken for granted like service and hospitality, with the loss of not being able to have dinner with a friend or see a loved one still fresh in our mind. After all, the end of the Spanish Flu saw the largest growth in wealth and equality in human history. The American dream, the NHS and the welfare state. If we keep the lessons learnt from the pandemic fresh in our mind the future of the workers of the world may well be bright.

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