Local futurists say COVID-19 pandemic will continue to shape work practices, priorities into 2021

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ByDavid Louie KGO logo
Friday, December 18, 2020
Pandemic will shape future of work into 2021, experts say
Local economic futurists say that the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to shape workplace practices and employee priorities into 2021. Emphases on health benefits, work-life balance, and smaller cities are among their predictions in the coming year.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The coronavirus pandemic has had a dramatic impact on our lives during the past nine months. It is likely to shape what lies ahead for the economy in 2021.

If the pandemic created the Year of Remote Work, 2021 could usher in some minor changes.

Google, for example, has already said it will have employees work three days a week in the office to allow collaboration while doing two days remotely.

RELATED: US unemployment claims rise to 885,000 amid resurgence of COVID-19

Much larger issues loom ahead.

"Traditional jobs with benefits and set hours and stability and all of that, they're really declining," said Marina Gorbis, executive director of Palo Alto-based Institute for the Future.

More than a million Californians end the year unemployed with no end of the pandemic predicted.

The biggest losses in the hospitality and foodservice sectors.

"A lot of people were moving into the ranks of the long-term unemployed, which means it's going to be harder for them to regain jobs in the future, so I see that as a huge threat, and I don't see how we can come out of it without some major government initiatives," said Gorbis.

Layoffs put thousands behind in rent and left them without health benefits if they had any at all.

So futurist Marina Gorbis sees health a big concern in 2021.

"This crisis has revealed how connected we are, you know, you're only as healthy as the homeless person down the street from you," she said.

Remote work also had parents juggling child care and schooling at home, which employers may have to deal with.

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Jeffrey Pfeffer is a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford's Graduate School of Business.

"The separation between work and family, which never was really working very well, now it doesn't really work at all, and hopefully companies will learn and do something to try to provide more work-family accommodation," he said.

One by one, companies are leaving Silicon Valley for other states.

That could lead to job losses or lack of job growth in 2021.

Other cities and states are becoming more attractive to employers.

RELATED: Oracle moving headquarters to Austin, Texas, joining other tech companies in California exodus

"I think the competition is going to get tougher, and the Bay Area, San Francisco, needs to raise its game if it's going to play well in this domain," said Prof. Pfeffer.

There's also one wild card possibility no one wants to think about with hopes so high for the COVID-19 vaccines.

"Six months after we've vaccinated people, there's something that turns out that's wrong with the vaccine, or the virus has mutated in some way where vaccines are not working," said Institute for the Future's Gorbis.

Lots of issues to tackle in the short-term future.

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