Covid & Lasting Changes: Remote employment and automation

With the rapid evolution of digitalization, even before the pandemic, remote employment has been significantly on the rise. As of 2021, 16 percent of companies in the world are completely remote. According to Global Workplace Analytics, Since 2009, the number of people who work from home has risen by 159 percent. During the coronavirus pandemic, 58.6 percent of the total US workforce were composed of remote workers and this is considered to be the most significant social change by the coronavirus pandemic.

In the past, the world was conscious of growing too technologically dependent, and major conglomerates and governments have attempted to avoid it completely. Up until the pandemic, it was believed that remote employment would decrease productivity dramatically, and employers were hesitant regarding full-time employment from home. The coronavirus pandemic has truly proven that working from home can make employees more productive through work-related travel being diminished. For the employee, this has also meant increased schedule flexibility, and people have more time for family and hobbies. With a better work-life balance, 77 percent of workers say they feel more productive when working from home. 


These will remain lasting changes made to the world of employment now that everyone has seen that remote employment and working from home is possible. If a physical presence at the office is not required, people can work from anywhere in the world. With more companies hiring cross-border employees, there will be a massive surge in creativity and innovation that will come from people of different cultures working under the umbrella of a company. More companies will decrease their office spaces, and many will make a change to be completely remote with no office space. Furthermore, they can save up to 11,000 per year for each worker that commutes half the time in the US alone. 


As a result of companies leaving remote employment and availability, a good deal of people will move to the suburbs and the cost of office spaces and residential property values in major cities are expected to fall. This will generate a new set of social and environmental changes to the world post covid of its own


By 2028, 73 percent of all departments are expected to have remote workers according to Upwork. This means that the majority of the industries will enable telecommuting. Through this, greenhouse emissions and traffic could decrease significantly. According to the US Census Bureau, the average one-way commute time for American workers was 27 minutes. This is the equivalence of spending nine days in your car each year. The cities that had saved the most time from telecommuting include;


- New York City: 15.2% time gained back

- Chicago: 13.1% time gained back

- Philadelphia: 13% time gained back

- Oakland: 12.6% time gained back

- Los Angeles: 12.4% time gained back


Source: CoPilot (car shopping app)


The State of Telecommuting reported that this would take 600,000 cars off the road. Thereby, the trickle effect of it expands beyond traffic jams and reduces fossil fuel emissions, energy usage, and stress amongst the general population. Cloud-based technology and remote employment, in general, reduces paper and plastic waste. The average American uses papers that are equivalent to seven trees per year according to the University of Southern Indiana. Just one tree saved removes up to 14.9 pounds of CO2 from the air. The environmental factors related to consuming homemade meals and beverages are endless with the amount of plastic saved from takeouts, coffee cups, bottles. 



Additionally, countless companies have also downsized and replaced some jobs with automation. This has certainly contributed to unemployment and the shrinking of the economy, but much global retraining and career changes are taking place. For instance, cloud-based organizations such as Linkedin and Shaw Academy have taken the initiative to offer skill-based virtual training. Before the pandemic, populist agendas across developed countries have promised to bring back the jobs they outsourced to Asia (mainly China). However, now it seems that even if factories are brought back to employ the developed world, there would be far more automation now than there was a decade ago, and more automation than Chinese factories. 


For decades, the concept of automation completely replacing the workforce has been floating around.

MIT Economist Daron Acemoglu says “Automation takes place faster during recessions and sticks thereafter.”

Some examples of recent automation in the workforce include automated voice systems in taking orders from restaurants. In addition to proving to be highly efficient, the automated voice system even upsells the customers on call to upsize fries and beverages. There has also been a new camera system introduced in product processing that can detect foreign objects in packaging such as rubber glove bits in meat processing. 


However, this automation is more about automating specific tasks as opposed to replacing the entire workforce. During the pandemic, employers were unable to find enough new workers which pushed the idea of automation further. The McKinsey Global Institute predicted that one-third of the workforce equivalent to 45 million Americans would lose their jobs by 2030. This means that one-third of the workforce will need to take part in retraining.