- Technological advancements and shifting work paradigms are reshaping the way individuals approach their careers.
- As AI becomes more sophisticated, multiple job functions will come to an end and so will the hybrid work-from-home setting.
- Many workers must work in person, and this large segment of the working class is left out of this debate regarding the future of work.
As we venture into the third decade of the 21st century, the future of work is experiencing unprecedented changes. One factor that will play a pivotal role in this transformation is the job function of employees. In a recent interview with CNBC, Elon Musk called working from home “morally wrong.” Although controversial, the tech billionaire’s premise of how some jobs simply cannot be performed remotely is true.
Two of Elon Musk’s most successful companies are Tesla and SpaceX; one is renowned for its electric cars and the other focuses on rockets and space exploration. It is hard to imagine the effectiveness of two engineers analyzing torque and resistance on car wheels over video conferencing platforms, just as it would be equally difficult to have a fruitful brainstorming session with two, three, or four engineers taking turns in a virtual meeting, compared to sitting down to lunch and evaluating different propulsion technologies for an upcoming planned launch to Mars.
Around the same time, Shark Tank investor Kevin O’Leary was interviewed by CNN and vehemently proclaimed that certain employees will never come back to the office. These job functions include: finance, compliance, and other jobs that are more easily done with the computer.
Both of these men are correct. The fact is that technological advancements and shifting work paradigms are reshaping the way individuals approach their careers. Each opinion represents poles on a continuum of how certain job functions need or do not need to be in the office.
Financial services and financial professionals lean towards the pole represented by O’Leary’s opinion that they do not need to come back to the office. Whereas, hardware engineers, physical engineers, infrastructure engineers, civil engineers, surgeons, doctors and healthcare professionals, are positioned on the continuum represented by Musk.
What about people and workers who are not on this continuum at all?
Both Elon Musk and Kevin O’Leary represent sides of a debate for professionals who can work remotely. However, a grocery store clerk, an Uber driver, a machine worker, or a waste management professional must work in person, and this large segment of the working class is left out of this debate regarding the future of work.
As AI becomes more sophisticated, multiple job functions will come to an end and so will the hybrid work-from-home setting. Labor will be divided into two categories, one which is completely remote — driven by successful augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and by the growth of financial services and services jobs in the U.S. Then another category of the labor market that is completely in-person, focused on driving cars, cleaning homes and building machines.
The problem goes beyond technological effects. From a financial point of view, the disparities between these two groups of the labor market could not be more different and are evident when it comes to purchasing power, the kinds of goods they purchase, their ability to save, and healthcare costs compared with the money available to spend on healthcare.
When it comes to discussing morality, it is rarely a simple matter of black and white. It involves navigating through a complex range of ethical considerations which make up the gray area. Remote work does not cater to the requirements of all job roles in the present time. Nevertheless, certain positions, particularly those in finance and specific compliance roles, can be conducted remotely with equal, or even improved, productivity compared to in-office setups.
It is important we don’t lose sight of the fact that, unless grocery stores become fully automated like the one in Japan without any human employees, there will continue to be a significant workforce that relies on and is required to work in physical locations. The future of work matters for this segment of the labor population as well. After all, Walmart is the fifth largest employer out of all U.S. companies.