The divide between insiders and outsiders is probably the most signiﬁcant change. The ﬁrst group are likely to be protected by their employers, who will pay all or most of their salaries as long as they can aﬀord to. The outsiders, whose ties with ﬁrms are looser, may be cast adrift. The divide helps explain a large part of the surge in unemployment claims on both sides of the Atlantic.
The insider/outsider split is one of the trends outlined by William Davidow and Michael Malone in “The Autonomous Revolution”, a new book. Permanent employees are an expensive burden, thanks to the associated costs like health care (in America) and pensions (everywhere). Online tools already let employers forecast workloads and schedule workers instantly. The current crisis may prompt ﬁrms to embrace these, as they reconsider which full-time workers are essential, and which are not.
The pandemic will also accelerate the trend towards automation. In some cases companies will increasingly rely on automated processes to fulﬁl tasks, because some workers may fall ill. In other cases the push may come from outside: more consumers will become used to shopping online, or interacting with websites rather than waiting ages for call centres to answer their queries. Those habits look likely to stick after the pandemic ends, reducing the need for human employees.
A reduction in the supply of secure, full-paid jobs may coincide with an increase in demand for such roles. The crisis will have taught a stark lesson to those who work in the gig economy: they are highly vulnerable. Independence and the ability to manage your own time sound appealing when work is plentiful. In hard times workers will appreciate security, however tiresome the daily commute may be. The spike in unemployment will only increase the desire for stable jobs. That seems likely to keep a downward pressure on wages.
Employees may be used to hearing that “we are all in the same boat”. But this crisis is cementing a class system aboard corporate vessels. The managers have the ﬁrst-class cabins and core workers get en-suite accommodation but the freelancers and contractors are clinging unsteadily to the lifeboats.