Which trends will reshape work after the pandemic recedes?
We consider potential enduring workforce effects by analyzing three groups of trends accelerated by COVID‑19 that may persist after the pandemic recedes, disrupting how and where work is done. They are the shift to remote work and virtual interactions, the surge in use of e-commerce and other digital platforms, and the deployment of automation and AI. In each case, the pandemic pushed companies and consumers to rapidly adopt new behaviors. We consequently see a sharp discontinuity between the level of adoption before and during the pandemic. The extent to which these trends persist after the pandemic remains to be seen, but there is growing evidence that many of the new behaviors will persist, even if at somewhat lower levels than the peak.
Will remote work and virtual meetings continue after Covid-19?
Remote work and virtual meetings are likely to continue, albeit less intensely than at the pandemic’s peak, with knock-on effects for real estate, business travel, and urban centers. Perhaps the most obvious impact of COVID‑19 on the labor force is the dramatic increase in employees working remotely. While telecommuting has been possible for many years, remote work during the pandemic was supported by rapid deployment of new digital solutions, such as videoconferencing, document-sharing tools, and expansion of cloud-based computing capacity. Countries quickly designated essential workers who had to be on-site and told everyone else to stay home. That experience proved some of the benefits of remote work, including greater flexibility for workers and more efficiency for businesses. How much will stick is uncertain, but employers and employees who can work from home agree that remote work—at least for part of a workweek—is here to stay.
Will the pandemic change the geography of work?
How the geography of work evolves will depend on multiple factors.
Over the past decade, jobs concentrated in the world’s largest cities and people flocked to them, but remote work could dampen or even reverse that migration.
Prior to the pandemic, the largest cities accounted for a disproportionate share of job growth after the 2008 global financial crisis, while many smaller cities and rural areas fell behind.
Office vacancy rates increased significantly across major cities in 2020, on the other hand, rates have declined in smaller cities. Some companies are discussing opening satellite offices in smaller cities, in part to attract talent there. Other smaller cities developed incentive programs to encourage remote workers to relocate. Whether this migration is permanent remains to be seen.
City governments could tilt the balance with tax incentives for businesses and workers, and future investments in urban infrastructure and spaces could enhance the attractiveness of different locations. After the pandemic, individuals may reweigh their choices about cost of living and neighborhood density versus easy access to major travel, cultural, innovation, and recreational hubs.
In addition, extensive use of videoconferencing during the pandemic has ushered in a new acceptance of virtual meetings and other aspects of work, which many companies expect to replace some business travel after the pandemic. While leisure travel and tourism will likely rebound when the pandemic ends, business travel may take a different path. Our travel practice estimates that about 20 percent of business travel may not return after the pandemic which would have a significant knock-on effect on employment in commercial aerospace and airports, hospitality, and food service.
Thank you for the answers to Dóra Márkus, the Manager of Recruiting Operations for Central Europe of McKinsey & Company!