Coronavirus in India Photograph:( AFP )
These changes will impact both the world of work and that of education which, in turn, will be a bellwether for other changes.
Lockdowns and, in some regions of the world, quarantines have become a feature of life in a COVID 19 stricken world. One consequence, among others, has been working and/or studying from home through the facility of the internet and other forms of technology. Will this COVID 19 induced temporary arrangement become permanent? Will it redefine work and study as we know it? The answer is both yes and now. Yes, because much of white-collar work will stand transformed in a post-COVID 19 world; in fact, white-collar work was already in the process of change.
The impetus for change, as ever, came from technology and disruptive forces that were forcing a review of the nature and form of work. COVID 19 adds a structural overlay-howsoever ephemeral- to a trend that was already underway. No, because, in aggregate terms, much of the world does not do white-collar work: hundreds of thousands, if not millions, work in farms across the world, some are factory hands, others do jobs that cannot by a stretch be called white collar. So, it is white-collar work and its form and format that is likely to be fundamentally transformed- as might be delivery of education and learning.
The reasons, in the main, pertain to, one, technological disruption, but more fundamentally the drastic lowering of costs by virtue of technology and the attendant network effects. All this will reduce costs drastically and will add to the savings kitties of firms. But, unlike outsourcing in the recent past, online or work from home will not merely be a strategic choice; it might actually be thrust upon companies by conditions that are likely to emerge in a post-COVID-19 world. Because there will be a recession whose magnitude and nature remains unknown at this point in time and because it will take years to reboot international trade and commerce, and because there will be liquidity constraints on firms because of a not so benign interest environment, firms will be forced to trim costs. One obvious way would be to take recourse to the work from home option.
What about universities and the delivery of education? While bricks and mortar facilities will remain essential and pivotal to teaching and instruction at all levels of education, gradually there might be a shift to the online model. Yet, again costs will be important here but more important is likely to be changed dynamic essentially for Western universities that have gone for-profit and internationalised over the past few decades. Online delivery of education can never be a perfect substitute for bricks and mortar variety but structural forces might propel Western universities in this direction. If this comes to pass, there will be radical innovation in the delivery of instruction and education. The forces of competition will ensure that students remain the centre of gravity of education and as such more empowered than in the bricks and mortar model. The nature of pedagogy and curriculum will be different than the traditional one and as internet and smartphone penetration increases across the world, online education will assume greater salience.
This will have salience on the business and operating models of universities. What might emerge is a synthesis of the bricks and mortar classroom model and the online variant.
All in all then the world of work and study is on the cusp of profound structural changes. While some of these changes were already incipient and in the offing, COVID 19 and the conditions that have emerged from it will hasten these changes. These changes will impact both the world of work and that of education which, in turn, will be a bellwether for other changes. But, this does not take into account the poor and the underprivileged of the world. For them, the world will be the same in some senses and radically altered in others. While firms and governments think of and conceive concepts, ideas and practices to adapt to a post-COVID 19 world and make work user friendly, so to speak, the multitude of the poor and the deprived but visibly invisible must not be forgotten. It is to them and their welfare that attention must be devoted to as well.
One effective method, besides safety nets for the underprivileged, would be their skill development. While it may be the shovel and the pickaxe that might have been the first technological tools that humans mastered for survival, now it is the computer and its concomitants that can even determine the potentiality of livelihoods.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)