Digital-by-default workplaces risk leaving marginalized workers further behind

posted on January 6, 2021

December 31, 2020

By Marianne Bulger and Matthew Lombardi, The Globe and Mail

In the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, several major employers (largely led by Big Tech companies eager to demonstrate a forward-thinking approach) took bold action to declare that their work forces would become fully digital – not just for the foreseeable future, but by default even after the pandemic ended.

Having proved feasible at scale after a nine-month stress test across most parts of Canada, any continuation of this new reality will require adaptive ingenuity on the part of major urban centers. Most poignantly, big-city governments will have to reconsider how the evolution of urban density will affect commercial real estate (a key source of tax revenue) and spinoff consumer spending habits (driven by daily downtown commuters) that previously shaped civic life in downtown cores. Indeed, many large companies could permanently abandon physical offices in the name of cost savings, having discovered that their remote work forces are no less productive under the new normal.

But the simple calculation that a fully remote work force is equally beneficial to both businesses and employees would be an error driven by a focus on short-term savings. It calls to mind the quote attributed to Oscar Wilde: that the cynic “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

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