That won’t be the case, of course though more of us are going to telecommute. Those of us that have jobs to return to, that is. More of us are going to shop from home. More of us are going to entertain ourselves and small groups of friends at home.
I just heard an interesting discussion on MSNBC. The almost always excellent Ali Velshi led a discussion on how the pandemic will impact work in America. The most obvious impact — that Ali himself was experiencing if only while the pandemic is raging — was working from home. The news networks adapted with remarkable speed to their situation on the ground. They got equipment and lighting to the homes of all their key hosts — green screens and monitors behind them so it looks like a news set. I’m sure everyone got brand-spanking-new computers with plenty of fire power.
Now that we’ve all learned how to broadcast from home — and seen that we can do it — and the audience has adapted to how it looks and sounds — why would anyone doing a TV appearance get in their car and drive to a TV studio when they can do it more easily from home. Or even their hotel room if they’re on the road.
All anyone has to do, really, is open their notebook computer. Or the app on their phone. Telecommuting will not be a small thing. Currently, half the American workforce — that’s 164 million people — are working from home. That 82 million people. If even 10 percent of those people never commuted to their job again (except for special occasions), that would be 8.2 million people.
That’s 8.2 million Americans who aren’t getting into their cars or onto public transportation to get to work anymore. That means less cars on the road (less pollution — good for the planet) and less demand on public transit (at rush hours). Fewer cars traveling all those miles means less gasoline will be needed — suppressing the demand for fossil fuels. Good ripple.
Fewer cars making fewer trips should also put less wear and tear on our roads and bridges. Good thing since we’re not sure how we’re going to repair them right now anyway.
Extrapolating out a bit — less demand for oil and gas will mean the fossil fuel business looks a little less scary to our legislators. Another good ripple.
Fewer commuters also put less wear & tear on worn out public transportation systems.
Fewer cars making all those trips also means fewer second cars needed. So, fewer cars bought. That’s millions of cars that aren’t being bought, financed, serviced or insured.
Ripple, ripple, ripple.
On the local level — not having to go to work except on rare occasion means needing a lot fewer work clothes that have to be bought but also dry cleaned. Not going to work also means having lunch at home — not at a restaurant or fast food place near the office. Lots of lost business for them, a little more found business for your local grocer and local restaurants.
Your power bills will go up. Will our employers help defray the costs of our telecommuting — helping to cover our connectivity (since the better that is, the better our work product will be)? Insurance companies will feel the loss in auto insurance revenues but perhaps they’ll make up for it increased coverages elsewhere based on new-fangled insurance products just “aching” to be invented.
With more people home, burglars will have to be way more careful. Crime patterns could be impacted.
If two working adults are home — what will that do to home life? What will it do to the distribution of labor at home? What will it do to child-rearing when one parent is pretty much home most of the time (unlike now when two working parents isn’t pretty much a necessity). Why, it’d be like living back in the 50’s except either mom OR dad could play June Cleaver.
All those people who created businesses tending to our lives while we’re at work — dog walkers and plant waterers and errand-runners — they’ll have to reinvent themselves yet again. Those gigs just went away, most of them.
The pandemic’s enduring impact on us won’t be fully felt or understood even for a long while yet. We’re just at the beginning, lucky us.
A lot of people will be more devastated by the pandemic’s ripple effects than by the pandemic itself. That’s even more cruel. You survive the sinking of the Titanic — ending up in a lifeboat — only to die of hypothermia. Some people can’t win for losing.
But, as with a lot of things, while one can see the pandemic as a huge obstacle to normalcy and living happily ever after, one can also see it as a huge opportunity. New businesses will have to be invented. New systems. New ways of thinking. New ways of working together while working remotely.
Some of the new inventions will take time to develop, test, market and manufacture — we’re talking years. Who has time like that when you’re trying to get rich? But that’s how we should frame the future: as an opportunity just waiting to be exploited (in a good way).