Report: How COVID-19 Reshaped Nature of Work


By Obinna Chima

The COVID‑19 pandemic has accelerated trends that have reshaped the nature of work, which is expected to continue even after the pandemic recedes, a report by McKinsey Global Institute, a global management consultancy services company, has stated.

The latest report by the firm titled: “The future of work after COVID 19,” noted that the pandemic had brought about massive disruption to the workforce, highlighting the importance of physical proximity in work and spurring changes in business models and consumer behavior, many of which are likely to endure.

This research examined the long-term impact of COVID-19 on work across several work arenas and in eight economies with diverse labor markets: China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

It considered potential enduring workforce effects by analysing three groups of trends accelerated by COVID‑19 that may persist after the pandemic recedes, disrupting how and where work is done.

These, it listed to include the shift to remote work and virtual interactions; the surge in use of e-commerce and other digital platforms, and the deployment of automation and Artificial Intelligence.

According to McKinsey, in each case, the pandemic has pushed companies and consumers to rapidly adopt new behaviors.

“We consequently see a sharp discontinuity between the level of adoption before and during the pandemic. The extent to which these trends persist after the pandemic remains to be seen, but there is growing evidence that many of the new behaviors will persist, even if at somewhat lower levels than the peak.

“We aim not to be predictive but instead to identify a few key factors for each trend that might alter the trajectory of change and momentum in consumer and business behavior in the years to come. For example, the level at which remote work persists depends on companies’ ability to devise work models that balance worker flexibility with the greater effectiveness of in-person work for several key activities. “The potential acceleration of automation depends on whether firms continue to invest in those technologies to reconfigure work and capture broader opportunities after the pandemic. A set of assumptions on the possible trajectory for each trend, with country variations, forms the core of our post-COVID‑19 scenario modeling,” it added.

It stated that remote work and virtual meetings were likely to continue, albeit less intensely than at the pandemic’s peak, with knock-on effects for real estate, business travel, and urban centers

Furthermore, it noted that perhaps, the most obvious impact of COVID‑19 on the labor force was the dramatic increase in employees’ working remotely.

“While telecommuting has been possible for many years, remote work during the pandemic was supported by rapid deployment of new digital solutions, such as video-conferencing, document-sharing tools, and expansion of cloud-based computing capacity.

“Countries quickly designated essential workers who had to be on-site and told everyone else to stay home. That experience proved some of the benefits of remote work, including greater flexibility for workers and more efficiency for businesses.

“How much will stick is uncertain, but employers and employees who can work from home agree that remote work—at least for part of a workweek—is here to stay,” it added.

To determine how extensively remote work might persist after the pandemic, the firm analysed its potential in more than 2,000 tasks used in some 800 occupations across the eight focus countries.

It revealed that the pandemic demonstrated that much more work could be done remotely than previously thought, including business sales calls, legal arbitration and trials, doctor visits, classroom learning, real estate tours, and even expert repairs of the world’s most sophisticated machinery made with the help of virtual reality headsets.

It also found that some work that technically could be done remotely are best done in person. For instance, schooling went online during the crisis, but parents and teachers alike noted a loss of effectiveness, particularly in the instruction of young children and students with special needs, it added.

But, negotiations, critical business decisions, brainstorming sessions, providing sensitive feedback, and onboarding new employees are examples of activities that may lose some effectiveness when done remotely, it added.