Could The Pandemic Affect Your Career Security?

Perhaps the most profound societal impact created by the COVID pandemic has been the shift to the virtual workplace. While precise recent figures are hard to come by, the number of people working remotely over the past 5 years has increased close to 1000%.

I hear a wide range of reactions from my clients who were previously working on-site but are now remote. Many are delighted with the change: it enables them to avoid commuting, makes it easier to squeeze in appointments and chores, and saves money both by eliminating commuting costs and reducing wardrobe expenses (you don’t need to wear a suit or dress while talking on Zoom), Many others, however, are unhappy with the situation, particularly since it has lasted now for about 2 1/2 years. They miss the camaraderie of being alongside fellow workers, and in many cases they resent the 24/7 ethic that some employers seem to have adopted in response to the ease with which to reach out to their employees at any time of the day or night.

The long-term career impact of the trend to virtual work hasn’t been sufficiently considered or discussed:

Its impact could potentially be enormous, and devastating to a wide range of job areas.

Last Sunday’s Washington Post featured an article with the somewhat ominous headline “The Pandemic’s remote revolution could lead to an offshoring Armageddon.” The gist of the article is that as employers adjust to their employees working remotely they are likely to begin to entertain hiring way cheaper foreign workers to do a lot of jobs. This phenomenon has already taken place in fields ranging from customer service/help lines to claims processing to website development, and could conceivably begin to cost more and more domestic white collar workers their positions. A particularly gloomy view is captured by a quote from economist Richard Baldwin: “If you can do your job from home be scared Be very scared.” The article also projected by city what percent of pre-pandemic jobs could go fully remote, and the Washington area ranked fifth, only behind tech centers San Francisco, San Jose, Boston and Denver.

How should the potential of this trend impact your long-range career planning? Play devil’s advocate and imagine the worst-case-scenario of a future shift to offshoring at the higher levels of your career. Jobs in accounting, finance, and IT could be particularly vulnerable. Executives in fields that require a great deal of linguistic ability and political acumen (think for example of lawyers, lobbyists, and publicists) are probably quite secure. Also, positions demanding fluency in American culture (e.g. advertising). You can also take some comfort in that, although trend lines point to increasing offshoring, MIT’s David Aurot believes that “this will be more of a ‘little ripple or a little jolt rather than a shock’ since (much) white-collar work simply isn’t a commodity that can be easily swapped across borders.” There’s also the increasingly important issue of cybersecurity, which mitigates against harder-to-monitor offshore work.

In sum, the picture here is hazy, but at least in certain careers you should completely ignore it at your peril.