Technology at Work v6.0 — The Coming of the Post-Production Society, is the latest research report from Citi Global Perspectives & Solutions, published in June 2021 [Disclosure: Citi is a client]. One year ago I summarized the previous version, The New Normal of Remote Work. I concluded that most people would like the option to work from home, most of the time. This is especially true for knowledge workers. They have tasted it, and in spite of the challenges of being forced into what I would prefer to call ‘distributed work’ — they like it.
The report has four chapters.
- The Post-production Society
- Covid-19 and Digitization
- Fiscal Policy — From Life Preservers to Stimulus
- Inventing the Future
I will highlight a few sections of interest, but there is much more in this +100 page report.
Automation and remote work are pushing service work to lower cost areas. It is not just manufacturing that has moved offshore.
“Thus, rather than a post-industrial society, rich countries are moving towards post-production society, in which both goods and services are increasingly being produced either abroad or by machines.
What this means is that a growing share of the population will specialize in tasks that relate to the early stages of the technology lifecycle (see Figure 1), which are primarily about generating new prototypes and ideas. They are about exploration and innovation rather than execution and production.” —p. 10
High value work in developed markets will be in the formation and expansion of new technologies. This is technology in the broad sense, as defined by Harold Stolovitch, “Technology is the application of organized and scientific knowledge to solve practical problems.”
Some of the authors focus on remote [distributed] work. They give five reasons why it will remain.
1. The stigma surrounding ‘work from home’ has been reduced.
2. Forced experimentation has helped employees and employers to overcome inertia, both in terms of costs and biased expectations about remote work.
3. Workers and firms will be able to maintain remote work at lower marginal cost after the pandemic.
4. There is a widespread reluctance among many to return to some pre-pandemic activities.
5. There has been an explosion in innovation aimed at supporting remote work in the past couple of months.
I have seen many other indicators that this trend will continue.
As for educational technology, universities have been slow to adapt.
“But a lot of the inertia [in the university sector] can be attributed to a lack of interest in technology-based solutions or indeed active pushback based on historic preferences or indeed political motivations.
In this context, we think the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of seismic for the global education industry. The sudden forced move to online learning from March 2020 has resulted in a full scale re-appraisal of the role technology can play and its importance. Some of this is a function of necessity – a more rounded appreciation of the role online can play as a form of redundancy when in-person teaching is not available. However, we detect a broader recognition of some of the other benefits edtech [educational technology] can play longer term not only as a way of reducing costs but also broadening access and delivering better outcomes.” —p. 65
How the future plays out will depend on innovation, something overlooked in education and policy development.
“Right now, however, most innovation policy focuses on supporting people who have already decided to become inventors. As Anton Howes has pointed out, just about everything policymakers worry about when promoting innovation, from the patent system to funding basic science, is in a sense downstream of it. If people are not exposed to innovation at some point in life, they won’t become inventors.
The main reason that most people never innovate doesn’t have to do with the patent system but the very simple reason that it never occurs to them. Indeed, you already have to be an inventor for intellectual property to matter to you or particular sources of funding to be a concern.” —p. 105
This report is a rich summary of some key economic and policy forces at play in an emerging post-pandemic world. But it does not address the elephant in the room — climate change.