ONAs we begin to think about the possibility of post-pandemic life, we need to look at the positive changes we can make now.
I do not want to downplay the great global hardship that is still occurring and may continue for some time. But pandemics have also brought about fundamental changes in the past. The flu of the early 20th century killed more than 16 million people in India alone, about 6% of our population. Nonetheless, it helped sow the seeds for India’s eventual independence and contributed indirectly to the country’s transformation.
The worst crises often harbor opportunities for profound changes. They force us to adapt and imagine new ways of life. We have evidence that we can. The world, though in dire need, has adopted digital tools so quickly that a decade’s transformation happened almost overnight.
The widespread convenience with digital tools will enable us to reduce commuting time and enable employees to go to the office only a few days a week. We found that few people want to work from home all the time. We keep getting calls from our employees asking when they can go back to the office. They miss direct contact with colleagues, which the virtual time does not satisfy.
We see a hybrid model emerge that allows people to work in three places: at home, in the “office”, and in a third location, perhaps a satellite office near where they live. The model will be structured to maximize the usefulness of both virtual and personal approaches. I once traveled all the way from Mumbai to California to give a 40 minute speech. In the new order, both sides could see such trips as an unnecessary waste of time.
One of the biggest advantages of this new way of working is that it creates jobs for more people and creates opportunities for more diverse recruitment. It will be easier to hire women and people in rural areas – or even in other countries – who are struggling to get full-time office jobs due to distance or responsibilities at home.
In my home country India, a lot of intelligence is being lost because cultural and social structures make it difficult for women to take jobs. Almost 120 million Indian women – more than double the population of South Korea – have at least a secondary education but do not work. More than a quarter of women who have studied medicine are not gainfully employed. Overall, only 23% of all women of working age are gainfully employed. This is tragically wasteful, and one of the many complex challenges facing women’s participation in the labor market is the lack of safe and reliable transportation to work.
We need electricians, architects and engineers. We need them because increasing the participation of women in the Indian economy could increase our GDP enormously – on the order of $ 440 billion per estimate. We suffer from a shortage of skilled workers, while women with these skills are unable to work. When we work in an economically sensible way, productivity increases and more people become gainfully employed.
Ideally, the future of work combines the best of digital and personal agreements. This is a journey, a process, not something that will only take place in the fall. But if we adapt carefully, we can benefit the environment, reduce costs, and most importantly, address people’s needs. We shouldn’t miss this opportunity. Like those who survived previous pandemics, we must consider the pain and devastation of recent history as we find better, more equitable, and smarter ways to move forward.
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