2.6 billion people ask: What is the WFH?
As the richest, best-vaccinated countries in the world begin to emerge from the pandemic, there is a lot of talk about “the office”.
When are we going back? Do we go back ? What is an “office” now anyway?
The vast majority of business executives say they expect employees to now split their time between home and office, according to a recent McKinsey study. Designer salad companies are eager to serve the wave of office returnees, while savvy entrepreneurs are doing special speakers so teleworkers feel like they’re in the office even when they’re not.
The debate in the office is certainly important – full disclosure: this article was written from home! But for billions of people around the world, it has nothing to do with their work or their lives.
This is because they have tasks that cannot be done remotely: like cutting hair, serving food, or caring for critically ill or injured patients. Or their jobs are in professions like agriculture, deliveries, sanitation or transportation which are essential but not limited to a specific space.
How many people are we talking about? According to the International Labor Organization, only 18% of the global workforce, or about 557 million people, were able to systematically telework during the pandemic. This is triple what it was before COVID. But there are still 2.6 billion people around the world to whom the “back-to-office debate” looks like something from another planet.
These 2.6 billion people and their families have been hit hardest by the pandemic in terms of lost hours and wages, psychological stress and unemployment.
Work from home, you say? “Most of us in the Philippines don’t have that luxury,” said Liezl Gayeta, 30, who runs the kitchen at Manila-based health food delivery company The Sexy Chef. “If we don’t come to work,” she told us, “we don’t get paid. If we want to feed our families, we have to run for our jobs.
But the divide between the “Zoom class” and the rest of the world also closely follows some of the broader fault lines of inequality that run through our societies.
Rich countries vs poor countries. Even in rich economies, only a small portion of workers can telecommute consistently. In the United States, it’s about a fifth. But in low- and middle-income countries, the size of the “laptop class” is collapsing. In India, for example, where more than 450 million people work solely in retail or agriculture, only 5 percent of workers can zoom in on the work. The figures in sub-Saharan Africa are similar, according to the ILO.
Part of the reason is that in-person service jobs are more prevalent in less economically developed countries – you are six times more likely to be a street vendorr in a middle-income country than you are in a rich country, and 16 times more likely to work in agriculture.
But it is also about the limitations of connectivity and Internet service. Most countries simply do not have internet infrastructure to support massive populations in teleworking.
And many of these countries have suffered the added blow of the evaporation of remittances from their citizens working overseas in professions that are often not “remotely operable.”
Ramshid, a 34-year-old driver from southern India who has worked in Qatar for more than a decade, told us the pandemic has cut his monthly income from about $ 2,000 a month to less than half, leaving him with no money he had left to send him home to India to his wife and children.
Meanwhile, high debt and scarce cash means governments in low- and middle-income countries cannot roll out the kinds of unemployment benefits or infrastructure rebuilding programs we’ve seen in Europe and states. -United. Rich countries have cleared nearly 30% of GDP to cushion the blow of the pandemic. Others barely gathered 7 percent, said the IMF.
This is one of the main reasons why the pandemic took decades poverty alleviation backwards. Last year, more than 120 million people fell below the poverty line globally, and the number of people living in extreme poverty rose for the first time since 1997.
Well-off vs well-off. Even in the richest countries, the jobs not far away are predominantly in low-income and economically vulnerable occupations. According to a Bench study, more … than three quarters of low-income workers in America cannot work from home at all.
In addition, according to the ILO, non-remote jobs have higher proportions of women, ethnic minorities and young people – groups who entered the pandemic at economic disadvantage and all suffered disproportionate economic losses during the crisis. herself.
What to do ? There are two distinct things to focus on, says Janine Berg, senior economist at the ILO. Globally, rich countries need to address the thorny issue of debt relief for cash-strapped low-income countries.
But even among the richest, better pay and better job protection for “essential workers” are, well, essential.
“It’s really nice to be out on the balcony cheering them on,” Berg said, “but unless you start offsetting them more, what if another pandemic hits?”
Let us know where you work and what you think about it all here.