Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 20, 2020
The future of employment

I have a very old-fashioned type of employment: I work 8 hours per day, 5 days a week; I get paid every month, with an annual bonus. This sort of employment used to be the standard, but over the last decades changes in attitudes and technology led to more and more people having more flexible forms of employment, the gig economy. In many cases, young people today can't get the sort of employment I have, and in other cases they don't even necessarily want it. However, I wonder how the current crisis is going to change that.

Old-fashioned my employment might be, and not very flexible, but it comes with a huge safety net attached. The building I usually work in is closed due to the coronavirus crisis, but my employer couldn't simply stop paying me. So he sent me to do home office, at full pay. Now in my case I will actually be able to do most of my job from home, but colleagues whose job usually is to operate machines have also been sent to do home office, not that they will be able to do very much. I'm pretty sure that my employer doesn't really like it, but the finances of the company are solid, and for the employees this certainly is rather comfortable.

In the gig economy the situation is a lot less comfortable. Large parts of it just evaporated into nothingness, like the whole hospitality industry. In many cases there are no safety nets at all, employees simply have no more jobs and aren't paid anymore. The gig economy has revealed its most ugly face in this crisis, and people don't like it. Countries which have the least safety nets installed, like the USA, are suddenly discussing Universal Basic Income solutions during the crisis, even on the political right. And that tells me that the political landscape has changed. There is quite a high probability that this crisis will last longer than most people think; once it is over, maybe the political discourse will have changed. Less identity issues, and more bread and butter issues, with more people clamoring for worker's rights and safety nets.

And then you have people like me who work for my state government but still forced to go into the office when I could do my job from home for "reasons".

Not all facets of government are willing to change. And until Americans actually start voting in large enough numbers I dont have much faith even this will cause a major shift. Already long term solutions like more mandated Paid Leave have been shut down here in favor of temporary measures like cutting everyone a one time $1200 check.
....this is literally the reason people have been deeply critical of the "gig economy" for years. It's nothing new to those who work in it. I have read a lot about how "young people want to work in the gig economy", but almost exclusively from older people, rarely from the workers themselves. The Prekariat have been full aware of how little safety they have, in terms of reliable income.

I'm lucky I got a "real job" four years ago, so I'm also working at home now. Dodged the bullet!
Unless this is truly catastrophic in the USA (millions dead), it won't change. Even right now 40% of the public thinks Trump is doing a great job with the virus, even though anyone paying attention knows his actions have already made it far worse than it should have been. There is simply no getting through to those people, not when all they know of the world is what Fox News tells them, and Fox is telling them to be mad at China and 'the libs'.

And if by some miracle millions don't die, guess what? Fox will tell them its all because of the 'decisive action' Trump took, and it would have been the best recovery ever if not for the deep state libs blocking him at every turn.
"In the gig economy the situation is a lot less comfortable. Large parts of it just evaporated into nothingness, like the whole hospitality industry."

The gig economy isn't at fault. It's the underlying hospitality industry that is suffering and thus affecting it's gig workers.

If your gig is to code websites, you are barely affected.

"The gig economy has revealed its most ugly face in this crisis, and people don't like it."

People don't like bad things. That's isn't news. Neither is discussing political measures to gain ground.

You cannot look at this in isolation and then build your case on it.
Yes, the gig economy is bad without gigs. So is a pandemic without enough hospitals, sanitizer or toilet paper. While we need to consider it for the future and prepare better, it doesn't mean we are going to build and stock enough to cover a pandemic at all times.
> If your gig is to code websites, you are barely affected.

To be fair I've never worked so much. My clients are grounded at home and they're submerging me with requests, ideas, projects for the future, etc. The only thing they can do is "using the web" and they're hysterical about "doing something". As a web developer/coder/whatever I struggle to find the time to sleep.

A travel agency who's been working with for the past 10 years just asked me to dump the current website and convert it to some kind of "podcast/video storyteller platform" where the agency basically lets you "travel from home" aided by audio and video guides (hosted by history teachers, they sell very expensive world tours for rich retired people). Will it work? I don't know. But the client isn't crying over the situation and instead asked me to team together to find new avenues.

The web-based professions may have a good opportunity because the web is one of the few things that never stops and lets people connect/buy/interact/sell even in the most difficult times.

It's been two weeks that I seel 2-3 hours per night. I fear the days that will come but I am doing my best to help my clients any day.
I'm pretty pessimistic when it comes to people realizing they are voting against their own best interests year after year, but it's going to be pretty awkward when things quiet down and companies try to remove the hitherto "impossible" things like paid sick leave.
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