12 Jun 2020

After the Virus: Work

From After the Virus, 7:00 am on 12 June 2020

A leading New Zealand tech CEO says a new global workforce could emerge in the wake of Covid-19, where borders are irrelevant and the office is replaced with video conferencing apps like Zoom. 

Anna Curzon, chief product officer at Xero, made the comments in the RNZ podcast After the Virus, which hosts discussions with New Zealand and international experts about the post-pandemic world.
“You might decide that actually, I don't need to work for an organisation in the place where I live. I can work somewhere else,” Curzon said. “We might actually see more free market, labour movement and the global citizen emerge.” 

Elements of her vision are already emerging with Twitter boss Jack Dorsey saying staff at the social media company could work from home “forever”, and Google and Facebook extending their work-from-home policies until 2021.
“What I'm excited about is having a true, diverse and inclusive global workforce,” Curzon said.  “What we've proven is that you can work from anywhere, for any company. So what you'll see is a separation between where I choose to live and where I choose to work.”
Curzon made the comments in an episode of After the Virus discussing the future of work. 

US author and economics professor Douglas  A, Irwin, who was an economic advisor to President Reagan, said while Covid-19 would accelerate technology and artificial intelligence in the workforce, it may also widen the digital divide. 

Huge disruption to the service industries meant that people who had traditionally worked in areas such as retail could be left behind. 

“If now we're distancing and retail is going away, and moving goods, we do that with drones and robots, then where are the jobs going to come from for that class of citizens?” 

“I think the digital divide is something very, very important. I don't think we really know where we're going on that but it’s something to worry about.”

Robert Reich, who was US secretary of labour between 1993 and 1997, warned the pandemic could accelerate trends which were already making working lives more fragile.  

“The trends toward gig work, toward contract work, the trends toward widening inequality, less and less security in work, the trends toward some people having work that really is only marginally paying, and other people doing exceedingly well.” 

Reich, who served in the administrations of Presidents Ford, Carter and Clinton, said Covid-19 could spark a new appreciation of the importance of unions.

“Workers who are just on their own, who have no union at all to speak on their behalf and negotiate a healthy work environment for them are endangered and I think this may be a wake up call with regard to unionisation.”

Reich also hoped the pandemic would lead to a greater appreciation for workers doing jobs which had been undervalued.

“Ideally, people become, through this horrible experience, more sensitive and more appreciative of many of the jobs that were considered to be undignified and relatively low status, such as people working in warehouses in delivery, in meatpacking, and certainly - especially - nurses and hospital orderlies and people in the caring professions,” he said.

“There is, I think, a new found appreciation of many of these so called essential workers, because they are absolutely critical and essential to people getting by.”

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