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How Will The Pandemic Change The Future Of Work?

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This time last year, many people began working from home while the essential workforce continued going to work at the risk of their health and the health of their families. Many others have lost their jobs and don’t know if those jobs will ever come back.

Speaker 1: 00:00 This time, last year, many people who worked in offices packed up their computers and headed home to fix up makeshift workspaces. Other people who had to continue going to work did so at the risk of their health and the health of their families. Many others have lost their jobs and don't know if those jobs will ever come back. Joining me to discuss how the pandemic has changed. The future of work is San Diego workforce partnership, senior economist, Daniel and Mark. Daniel. Welcome. Thanks for having me. So once we start fully opening up, do you think those with office jobs will continue to work?

Speaker 2: 00:36 I would say that there's a lot of path dependency in this question of whether people continue to work from home. And what I mean by that, when I say path dependency is that it might be that some businesses, some leading businesses choose to let their workers work from home indefinitely and other businesses will have to respond in kind, um, you know, to remain competitive and employment. And we've already seen some of that with companies like Salesforce and Facebook and, you know, a lot of tech companies certainly saying we're moving to indefinite flexibility to work remotely if people so choose.

Speaker 1: 01:20 And what do you think, um, working remotely has taught you?

Speaker 2: 01:23 Yes. I think that the best lesson from working remotely is that workers are human beings and that we all have families and lives and that work needs to fit within those lives and adjust to and accommodate for those lives. And you know, when we see people's cats and dogs and children and spouses in the background of a zoom call, it's, it's harder to ignore the fact that we all have competing demands on our time and attention. And so, uh, I think greater flexibility in this time is the biggest learning. It's the biggest space of growth in terms of improving work culture.

Speaker 1: 02:07 At the beginning of the pandemic, employers talked a whole lot about increased productivity due to remote work. Do you think that that will continue once the state is fully open again? I mean, there aren't as many distractions at the moment, but as soon as summer rolls around,

Speaker 2: 02:23 The choice is always good. You know, some people say we've not been working from home, we've been stuck at home trying to get work done. And so getting to a place where workers have the option of going into the office when that's helpful and of working remotely, when that's helpful, that's where you're going to get the greatest productivity is when workers have some say over their work environment, obviously in collaboration with their managers and their teams. But, you know, there are some jobs that are perfectly capable of being done and some components of jobs that are perfectly, perfectly amenable to remote work. And then there are other components of the job that really do require us to get together face to face. So I think having that flexibility is what will be great about reopening the economy will not be remote by default or remote because we have to, it will be remote by choice and that's a totally different thing.

Speaker 1: 03:23 How do you think the need for less office space will impact San Diego's economy

Speaker 2: 03:27 As a whole? I don't think we know yet. I certainly have talked to some employers who have tried to get out of leases some successfully and some unsuccessfully. I wouldn't want to be getting into the commercial real estate market right now, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the market's going away or that, you know, there's going to be a dramatic decrease in demand for office space. But I would say that we'll see more innovation in that world moving forward, you know, more localized, shared workspaces. We shouldn't expect the work culture to look the same after the pandemic, as it looked before.

Speaker 1: 04:11 Speaking of which, you know, we've talked a lot about remote work, but not all jobs can be done remotely. What are some of the ways the pandemic has changed in personally?

Speaker 2: 04:20 Yeah. A lot of in-person jobs have become harder during the pandemic. Partly because these days, especially people who are frontline, retail, food service, et cetera, workers are both doing their job and enforcing public health guidelines, which is just crazy. It'll be really great when we move back to a world where enough people are vaccinated that your local grocery store clerk doesn't have to ask somebody to put their mask back on while they're checking out. Um, that's a, that's a stress that we shouldn't be asking those workers to take on. And, and it's something that I think is, uh, a real will be a real positive development of increased vaccination work has been hard for people who have to go into work and deal with people and take on the risks, the health risks of being exposed to COVID. But, but you know, that's a, that's a time for this present that is declining every day and that hopefully will go away.

Speaker 1: 05:26 What are some of the industries that you think will be forever changed by this pandemic?

Speaker 2: 05:31 Uh, a recent report by McKinsey suggested that the last thing to recover will be things like industry conferences, trade shows, exhibitions, and those things are important to San Diego's tourism economy. You know, that convention center exists for events like that. And what does it look like in a world where what used to need to be at a conference or at least some kind business travel can now be a zoom call. So I think the need for travel will decline, especially in the business world. In the short term, you know, one thing that's a potential positive is savings rates are at an all time high. So there's a lot of pent up demand for food services, retail, you know, these kinds of experiences that we used to really enjoy going out to the movies and having dinner, you know, and so, you know, in this short term, I would expect there to be a really positive development as we open up our economy to people having plenty of savings and wanting to spend some and missing some of those great experiences, then, you know, let let's hope that the restaurant economy is booming, um, in the coming months.

Speaker 2: 06:42 But I think travel and tourism is really where we'll see the biggest decline.

Speaker 1: 06:47 This pandemic widened the gap between low wage and high wage workers.

Speaker 2: 06:51 If you look at a work and you divided it into high wage and medium wage and low wage work, high wage work, which is anything over 60,000, employment's actually up in January, 2021 compared to January 20, 20, it's up 4% medium wage work. 27 to $60,000 is only down 2%, but low wage work, people who are making less than $27,000 employment in low wage work is down 30% year on year. So the vast majority of people who've been affected by pandemic on employment, particularly since July have been low wage workers and not just any low wage workers, workers, and leisure and hospitality sector workers with less than a high school diploma, uh, workers who are black and Hispanic and young workers. So there are certain segments of the economy that have been really negatively impacted. And in any effort to recover, it's got to focus on the people who have been most impacted by pandemic unemployment

Speaker 1: 07:57 Speaking with Daniel and Mark workforces, senior economist, Daniel, thank you so much for joining us.

Speaker 2: 08:03 Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.