On-site to Digital: How Covid-19 has changed the work paradigm

George Westerman, principal investigator at MIT, described digital transformation as using technology to radically improve an organization’s performance and reach. “When digital transformation is done right, it’s like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly,” he said. [Mas quando se dá erros], all it has is a very fast caterpillar.”


For many companies, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for the evolution of the organizational caterpillar. However, after the crisis, it is still unclear which companies have wings (butterflies) – and which ones will simply crawl a little faster than before.


For companies that had already started a digital transformation process, the situation was manageable. Technology has allowed people to stay connected, continue to work and ensure business continuity. In China, an IDC survey, carried out in March, concluded that the three main positive impacts of the pandemic were ‘improvement of the corporate capacity for collaborative work at a distance’, ‘gain of skills in online marketing and business development’ and ‘wide recognition of the value of digital transformation and information technology among all employees’.


Digital nomads: from niche to close to normal

Despite international travel limitations, start-up Outsite, by Emmanuel Guisset – which offers professionals spaces for co-living and co-working around the world in places like Hawaii, Mexico, Portugal, Bali and the west coast of the United States – is currently focused on what is termed the “digital nomad lifestyle” promoting its mass adoption for a post-COVID- 19.


“Before the pandemic, we were part of a niche of people… the nomads, freelancers, programmers and others. Because we can work remotely, we opted for a different lifestyle,” said Guisset, founder and CEO of Outsite. Currently, this business model attracts more people looking for a long-term stay in the world, rather than a fixed desk in a cosmopolitan office.

Opportunities to work remotely from anywhere in the world are currently very limited. In the US, cities and states have banned short stays from AIRBNB’s and others, including in Tahoe and Hawaii, areas where Outsite has locations. In many European and international destinations, a US passport has gone from a long-standing advantage to a handicap. Another negative aspect is that there are still many mandatory quarantines around the world, so that a traveler arrives at a destination and is not free to travel.

The Outsite location in Bali is closed because there is no local tourism and Costa Rica has only a few residents of the capital San Jose, as well as American expats. But European locations, especially coastal ones (Ericeira and Biarritz), “are full of Europeans and some American expats,” Guisset said.


Some countries are now encouraging foreigners, including Americans, to obtain special visas to stimulate local economies. The quarantines, in fact, are creating the need and desire for longer stays. “Traveling is now much more difficult, so people want to stay longer to make it count,” he said.


When thinking about working abroad as a Portuguese professional, some continents and areas make more sense: Western Europe, South America, United States and Canada (despite being cold).


“Professionals still need to put in hours, which is good, but it’s not difficult to work from 1 pm to 9 pm or from 2 pm to 10 pm in Europe. We are free when it’s time to have dinner and we can go to a cafe in the morning, this can be a beautiful lifestyle”, said Joaquim, a Portuguese computer scientist, who currently works and lives in Paris, France. On the other hand, for remote workers who aren’t on a specific company’s watch, it opens doors everywhere.”

Currently, younger professionals who travel through the nightlife and bars are not able to have the experiences they want, “but if they like a good meal, a glass of wine and don’t need to have a busy life, it’s great” Joaquim spoke of his experience in Paris. “It’s a bit quiet, locals like it too.”

Another example, an NGO, All Hands and Hearts, due to its status also cannot offer the same financial support as companies, even if it can attract a demographic of young workers with similarly desired backgrounds and mindsets. This led Dyson to look for ways to use quality of life as a way to offset the nonprofit’s inability to compete for pay.

“We made the initial decision to adopt, as a recruitment strategy, that anyone can live wherever they want and earn less money, while being mission-oriented,” he said.


The demand for remote work is getting stronger, Adzooma (disclosed) recently carried out an analysis and found that:


  • 83.5% of people like to work from home.
  • 67.6% more productive when working from home.
  • 60% of people would work from home if they had the option.
  • 52.6% said they don’t want to go back to a regular office after COVID-19.


If this shows anything, it’s that demand for remote work is on the rise. It might not come from every employee, but most people enjoy working from home and are unlikely to want to give it up so easily.


The current crisis can therefore be an opportunity to effectively address the challenges and conflicts that will arise over the coming months. Historically, crises tend to lead to a surge of automation, driven by fear and the suffocation of markets. The COVID-19 pandemic is also triggering this increase. Perhaps we are already much closer to digital transformation than we think. In fact, we’re already in the middle of it.

The fear of rising infection rates and the constant closure of public and private institutions and organizations has been widespread in all areas of life and ends up forcing the population to face the fact that humans, as unique and also social beings, are vulnerable to various hazards of work, including disease, while machines are obviously immune. Even in areas where social contact until now seemed necessary – for example in care work or the hospitality industry – digitization and automation are now progressing faster than expected.




Sources consulted:

Lisa Herzog, Como podemos fortalecer a lógica contributiva do trabalho ?, 14 de maio de 2020.

Martin Krzywdzinski, A crise do COVID 19 acelera a mudança estrutural no mundo do trabalho, 15 de maio de 2020.

Elena Esposito, The Need for De-Integration in Pandemic Times, 18 de maio de 2020.

Dirk Helbing, The Corona Crisis Revela a Luta por um Futuro Digital Sustentável, 21 de maio de 2020.

Laure de Verdalle, “Útil”, “Indispensável”, “Essencial”: a crise da saúde está mudando as categorias com as quais consideramos atividades profissionais ?, 25 de maio de 2020.

Jürgen Kocka, Como a crise da Corona afeta o futuro do trabalho e nossa visão disso ?, 28 de maio de 2020.

Bénédicte Zimmermann, Preocupado com o que guardamos e os objetivos finais do trabalho, 1 de junho de 2020.

Michel Lallement, A crise como início de uma nova relação com o mundo profissional ?, 8 de junho de 2020.

David Stark, Who or What Is Being Tested in Pandemic Times ?, 11 de junho de 2020.

Bruce Kogut, Covid e Procurando a Saída, 15 de junho de 2020.

Sasha Disko, The End of the Pandemic of Productivism ?, 18 de junho de 2020.

Felix Sieker e Anke Hassel, The Future of Shopping: Corona as a Catalyst for the Transformation of Work, 22 de junho de 2020.

Constance Perrin-Joly, Rearticulando Globalização, Solidariedade e Trabalho na Etiópia, 26 de junho de 2020.

Marianne Braig, Léa Renard, Nicola Schalkowski e Theresa Wobbe, Pensando no aumento global do trabalho forçado: formas antigas, novas e em mudança de exploração do trabalho em tempos de crise, 29 de junho de 2020.

Maria Rebelo
Maria Rebelo

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