In March 2020, when most people shifted to the remote working model, no one knew what impact it would have in determining the future ways of working. Now, after nine months of successful remote working for a large section of the world, we have better clarity about the limitations and advantages of remote working.
A recent report by McKinsey sheds light on how the pandemic has reshaped work forever – in different ways for different countries. After analyzing 2000 tasks and 800 jobs in 9 countries, the report found over 20% of the global workforce could shift to remote working for 3-5 days a week – implying that the number of people working from home permanently would rise by 3-4 times from pre-Covid times.
However, not all countries are equally positioned to avail the potential benefits of remote working. That is because the remote working model is more feasible in certain sectors and occupations than others. For instance, in the UK economy, financial and business services occupy a large share, while in the Indian economy, manual labor-intensive sectors like manufacturing and agriculture are high contributors.
As a consequence, advanced economies like US, Japan and European countries can have about 28% – 30% of their workforce, work from home effectively without compromising productivity. To the contrary in emerging economies like China, India and Mexico, only 12% – 21% of the working population can work remotely without experiencing a dent in their productivity.
The potential for remote work is determined by a number of factors like the different activities underlying each occupation and its spatial, physical and interpersonal context. There are many occupations where certain equipment needs to be used at the location, or physical presence is required on site – the likes of using lab equipment, providing care, in-store customer transaction processing, operating machinery, etc.
On the other hand, occupations that involve activities like information processing, coding data, communicating or coordinating with others, teaching and counselling can be efficiently done from remote locations.
However, during the pandemic, employers found that certain occupations like teaching and counselling that can be theoretically done remotely suffered a drop in quality and hence continuing with the work from home module in the long run does not make sense for occupations that include such activities.
In general, the study confirmed that highly skilled and highly educated workers (with the exception of certain professions like the medicine, legal, etc.) are more likely to be working remotely without experiencing a loss in productivity. However, the actual ability to productively work from home lies with the worker himself and the environment at his home.
India is well known globally for its knowledge-oriented sectors like financial services and high-tech industries, however, a huge chunk of its workforce, about 464 million is working in job roles like agriculture and retail service for which physical presence is a key requirement.
The pandemic has also highlighted the inequality across economies, when it come to remote working. In several countries including India, lack of proper infrastructure, space and facilities like air-conditioning and Wi-fi, have emerged as key factors in determining workers’ preference of office working over remote working module.
Hence, while the developed economies are celebrating the shift to remote working, emerging economies like India and China are unable to join the festivities unequivocally. Whether the government, with private and public collaboration can help people to become more accepting of remote working is something that only time will tell.