The world seems a bit upside down.  We wear masks to venture out in public, kids are staying out of school, workers are logging in from home, and people who have little experience driving pickup trucks are buying 27-foot towable trailers for vacation.  And don’t even talk about sports.  Baseball was always a slow game.  Taking the fans out of the stands, and therefore the fan cams, removed one of the biggest distractions from the fact that four hours of your life evaporated during the game.

Winners and Losers

Many office workers have been logging in from their living rooms for the past few months.  As this looks to become the norm for some time to come, The Time’s Noam Scheiber considers the profound changes that may endure, beyond all those Zoom meetings.

Good for some, but not for all.  Greater flexibility helps high-skilled workers pitch themselves more widely, instead of being limited to a specific area.  This could be a boon for those who live away from major metropolitan areas.  At the same time, a more remote, transactional relationship with employers may promote companies’ use of contractors—which can be more lucrative but less stable for the people accepting such work.  And when workers are spread out, they may have a harder time sharing information and organizing for better pay or working conditions.

The biggest changes are cultural.  We’ve covered how small talk at the office can have a huge effect on morale, but many companies are also learning that informal, person-to-person interactions are also crucial to the flow of mission-critical information  Businesses that successfully ran largely remote work forces before the pandemic tend to exhaustively document their processes and knowledge.  That enables employees to join projects and get up to speed on their own time, without having to consult colleagues first.  This reflects “sound management that companies with physical offices didn’t adopt simply because they could afford to be sloppy.

What could go wrong?  These 47 things, for starters.  A report out today by a London-based financial industry body makes for bracing reading about the risks of long-term remote working.  Although it’s meant for traders, who were mostly forbidden from working at home before the pandemic, the 47-item “risk register” (laid out in a spreadsheet, naturally) is useful reading for anyone worried about the sudden shift to widespread remote working.  A few of the risks it raises:

  • “Improper behavior may not be identified until much later”
  • “Risk to confidentiality and client privacy if family members or housemates work for competitors”
  • “Individuals feel compelled or coerced to return to offices to gain visibility or for career progression”
  • “Risk of staff disengaging from the culture of the firm leading to reduction in shared values and increased propensity to work around existing controls”
  • “Without the natural rhythm and with no opportunity for decompression from work as no commute time, staff are often working much longer shifts and so more prone to errors and to suffering mental health issues”

What do you think?  What’s the biggest risk from remote working?  The biggest benefit?  Let us know.  Include your name and location and we may include your response in a future newsletter.

Away from COVID-19, we have nightly protests in several major cities that regularly morph into violent confrontations.  At one time in the distant past, just after Memorial Day, the protests were centered on George Floyd’s murder while in police custody and police conduct.  Now protestors appear to be focused on federal buildings, which is ironic because policing, the heart of the matter, is by law a local responsibility.

But these things will play out.

We will develop a therapeutic, and then a vaccine, to deal with COVID-19, which will allow us to shed those dreaded masks and go back to some sort of normal life, albeit with differences.  Office space won’t command such a high price, and inner-city landlords will suffer, as more people move out of town.  But most of us will be thrilled to see many aspects of life return we hope by the start of the college football season.

I don’t know how the protests will end, but they won’t go on forever.  If the protestors in Portland wanted less engagement with federal offices protecting federal property, they could simply stop protesting around those sites and go back to berating their local police, but that doesn’t appear to be the goal.

Peak population is coming, and it will likely arrive much faster than many people realize.

When Japan began losing population around 2010 because they were having fewer births than deaths, the world sort of shrugged.  European nations have been aging for some time, but they’re still growing, however slowly.  The U.S. adds people every year because of migration and because recent arrivals are having kids.  And, of course, the population of India is on the rise.  A new study in the Lancet shows that the world population will grow from 7.6 billion people in 2017 to 9.73 billion in 2064…and then decline…by choice.  By the end of the century, the world population is expected to fall by just under one billion people to 8.79 billion, a 9.6% reduction by choice.  To put that in perspective, roughly 3% of the world population perished in World War II.

Because of increased access to contraception and education among women, the researchers believe that by 2050, 150 countries will have total fertility rates (TFR, the number of children per woman of child-bearing age) below the replacement rate of 2.1.  Global TFR will fall to just 1.66 by 2100.

The group expects the U.S. population to grow from 324 million in 2017 to 363 million in 2062 before falling back.

1 Comment

Filed under Blog

One response to “THE WORLD AROUND US

  1. hmmmmmm. makes me wonder: Even though we have more money, are we really better off than we were 4 years ago?!

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