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Work from home: Adapt to the future: Work-from-home enhances labour force participation rate

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By Amitabh Kant

The biggest consequence of the Covid-19 outbreak is the transformation of the way we work. Large-scale work from home (WFH) experiments are underway, leading the world to radically rethink traditional work assignments. Technological innovations are moulding lives in a manner unimaginable a few years back. The idea of working in a job with fixed timings in an office could well become irrelevant post-Covid-19.

This is now possible thanks to the availability of high-speed, low-cost internet coverage, and increased usage of data-sharing and communication apps that could ensure keeping communication streams and managerial collaboration intact. WFH would reduce time spent on commuting, enhance productivity and improve work-life balance.

In India, WFH offers a unique opportunity for more women (particularly, with children) to significantly contribute from home and significantly raise the female labour force participation rate from a paltry 26% today. Second, the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns on global supply chains has resulted in unprecedented disruption. To flatten the contagion curve, many countries are under lockdown, with their populations staying at home, most of whom are unable to work for a living.

In a globalised world, supply chains were run on outsourcing and thin margins. The scale of China’s manufacturing was so enormous that every product had Chinese components and every company – from auto and mobile manufacturers to pharma firms — had become reliant on China. This now has been severely disrupted. Businesses will look for alternative destinations – like India, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia — and factories will get relocated. Many businesses will create domestic supply chains.

Entire supply chains will undergo massive disruption. This presents an immense opportunity for India. But it would require key reforms across sectors to make the country highly efficient and competitive. Our companies would also require size and scale to penetrate global markets.

We will see the phenomenal rise of telemedicine. The Indian health system is characterised by a severe shortage of doctors and health practitioners. The key to managing the Covid-19 pandemic is to keep sick people out of hospitals. Virtual consultations with doctors will stop the overcrowding of hospitals. In the US, insurance companies reimburse patients for tele-consultations. At the peak of Covid-19, several telemedicine services launched coronavirus clinics and guided patients in China. In India, only recently, GoI released telemedicine practice guidelines that enable registered medical practitioners to provide healthcare using telemedicine. GoI and the Medical Council of India (MCI) have loosened their reins on physical checks.

Since a vaccine for Covid-19 has not yet been found, the only way to fight its spread is via social distancing, or more accurately, physical distancing. This will become a way of life, as there is no evidence to suggest that the virus will disappear quickly. Even after lockdowns and restrictions are lifted, there could be a second wave of infections. We will have to be prepared for Covid-19 to be with us for the foreseeable future, even as we get back to business and social interactions while keeping ourselves safe.

We will also see the emergence of contactless delivery, where customers would prefer orders being delivered with no contact, and the delivery person reduce the risk of infection by avoiding contact with people in the supply chain. Consumers will avoid casual shopping and people will be eating out far less. During the current lockdown itself, food and medical supplies delivery has gone from being a convenience to a necessity. The future will belong to ecommerce and e-pharmacies.

Charles Darwin has been paraphrased as stating, ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.’ It is imperative that we initiate policy and structural reforms that adapt to the post-Covid-19 future to enhance India’s future.

The writer is CEO, NITI Aayog


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