Coronavirus Lockdown: A paradigm shift in how we work

Coronavirus Lockdown: A paradigm shift in how we work

Representative image. (Credit: iStock Photo)

We are living in an inevitable intersection of life and the modern economy. The restrictions that the government are placing to save lives have had an adverse on the growth of the economy. No other outbreak in the past has demanded such drastic measures. Companies are getting ready for slow business over the next few quarters and are looking at slashing marketing budgets, recruitment and new investments. Funding has slowed down drastically. From the kids selling roses at traffic signals to industry giants, everyone is facing a slowdown. Start-ups are already seeing a 5 to 50% decrease in their top line. Other industry numbers will soon be out and not going to look pretty.

While the hard numbers are readily available, the softer and indirect impact to the economy is more difficult to measure. As organizations evacuated workspaces to ensure social distancing, remote working seemed to be the natural solution. But all industries and roles are not conducive to remote working. The IT industry and most technology jobs, in general, seemed a little better as work could be accomplished with good internet connectivity. But even in those cases, remote working has had a mixed impact.

During the initial days, people tweeted about seeing families taking walks in the park and playing with children. But within a few days, the oft-ignored inequality in domestic work has surfaced. For working women, housework has doubled or tripled with the children staying back from schools and the entire family staying and working from home. To understand what this means, before Covid-19, women put in 352 minutes a day into domestic work while men put in only 51.8 (WEF). With support system crumbling like this and travel impacted, people are under stress and quality of work is taking a hit as a result. 

The second factor that is emerging is the increasing number of hours spent in managerial oversight to ensure employees are actually working from their homes. It is evident that culture of trust cannot be seeded overnight; in stark contrast to the pace of the virus. This is leading to low employee morale and fatigue. 

Anxiety levels are on the rise as well due to the uncertainty in the air.  However, there is also a sense of optimism as we hear about companies protecting and supporting the welfare of their employees by coming up with innovative measures of compensation and funding health care costs. There are also generous offers to provide services for free and give short term relief from payments due to help customers. Such efforts are commendable. 

But being realistic, there is going to be a sharp dip over the next few weeks on availability and accessibility to business infrastructure. However, this is also an opportunity to focus on the following measures:

Using technology to build innovative solutions. Using technology to combat the virus (solutions are desperately needed to build scale to test for and contain the virus) and for new modes of working will be pivotal.

Taking a cue from the current practices that we have been forced to adopt and making them standard, thus saving costs and impact to the environment. Many of us have discovered that not all travel is essential and working from home is not ineffective.

It is crucial for governments to step in to offset income losses in the short term and provide funding relief for long term revival of the economy. We are seeing many governments already taking to the front foot on this. The support in terms of tax reliefs, lower interest rates and industry-friendly laws will play an important role in helping economies bounce back.

The current situation should allow new economic models to emerge, which are sustainable and not dependent on consumer spending. There are many interesting conversations and experiments happening in the space of alternate economies. Future-proofing humanity relies on giving such initiatives a louder voice.

As we understand the virus more, it poses a unique challenge we seem unequipped for, now. Success lies in us emerging cleverer from the lessons we learn from humanity and technology rather than the economic structure we have come to rely on.

(The writer is the Managing Director of AnitaB.org, India)