One consequence of coronavirus is that companies are running a forced experiment in remote working - and some are finding that they like it. Facebook, Twitter, Square and Shopify, among others, have announced
that they will allow employees to work from home permanently. If this heralds a broader shift - according to this study
, >50% of US workers can
work from home - it will have enormous political, economic and social consequences.
One of the most interesting is the impact on worker power. We’ve talked before
about the growing power of talent, particularly in large tech companies. It’s possible, though, that remote work could reverse that. In an excellent discussion
, Can Duruk argues that remote work acts as an abstraction layer that allows companies to think of employees as
their contributions - which in turn makes it easier to get rid of them (The parallels between this idea and Steve Randy Waldman’s new essay on markets, discussed below, are interesting).
It’s worth placing this in the context of the famous elephant chart
, which we’ve discussed before
: over the last 30 years Western working class incomes have stagnated, while those in developing countries and among the rich have accelerated. Remote work effectively exposes a new group to international competition - knowledge workers. Given that remote work pays local rates
, this will likely depress (some) Western middle class incomes. Some argue
that the original version of this trend brought us post-2016 populism, so there could be profound political impact as the elephant continues to plod up the income curve.