The Coronavirus has caused a mass scale experiment in Asia, where companies are mandating partial or full remote work for many of their office employees. According to a report from CNN many companies are considering keeping remote as a permanent option for all employees even after the resolution of the pandemic. In Asia, there is news everyday of companies mandating remote work for a large section of their employee base, the most recent of which being NTT Group allowing 20,000 of their workers to stay at home to avoid illness. As the trend accelerates, social and economic concerns are becoming prevalent as a new iteration of the old coinage: the haves and have nots.
The outbreak has raised concerns about the equality of workers based on employment type. In China, factory workers have a much harder time staying away from the workplace which results in higher probability of sickness. While white collar office workers can easily go remote and not need to return to their legacy brick-and-mortar offices for weeks at a time. In the case of further spread of pathogens the health and safety derived from remote-work may become an unfair economic and personal advantage of white collar work over location dependent blue collar jobs.
In some work places, there are positions that need to be on site and some that do not. In these cases companies are allowing employees to come on certain days and not on others. i.e. Monday: at home paperwork, Tuesday: face-to-face meeting with customers. In other cases such as Tokyo Government sponsored JisaBiz, companies are encouraged to allow workers to commute only at certain irregular times; the primary goal of this is to reduce public transportation congestion. The risk for some employees, is that if a company does not participate in these type of programs they will need to commute in times of high congestion, which results in increased mental stress and higher possibility of contact with contagions.
As awareness increases around the inequality that go-to-office workers face, companies and government officials are looking for new and innovative ways to mitigate social disparity. For example, within the private sector a few companies have come up with innovative ways to remove the dependency on brick-and-mortar offices, with perfectly viable virtual replacements, while others are even allowing companies to promote remote-first mindsets within their existing organizational structures with click to deploy at-home offices. Will a new cast system become prevalent in this decade, where an unlucky portion of our society is forced to commute to work while others are free to live happily with remote options? One group sitting in a cubicle or office room, being distracted every ten minutes by coworkers asking ‘Do you have a minute?’, constantly threatened by those who do not cover their mouths when they sneeze. While the other group may be on a Maui beach, experiencing their child’s first steps, enjoying the full benefits and flexibility of being able to ‘deep work’. How will these groups diverge? Only time will tell.
Calm down. This is a parody.
February 25th, 2020