Stuff is changing really, really fast in the world of work. Maybe not fast enough for all of those who have been unemployed most of 2020. I am sorry about that, and the most positive thing I can think to do is to propagate ideas that can help people be employed as safely and as quickly as possible.
This is why I think there are a ton of opportunities in spaces like helping businesses to go paperless and in making tech that can help people be in proximity without breathing germs on each other. Read on, and as I think of them I will continue to blurt out ideas about side hustle ideas that might not have worked in 2019.
I work in the aerospace industry, where almost everyone can work from home. Further, most people on staff are irreplaceable. You can’t just go out and recruit a bunch of subject matter experts in astrophysics from the parking lot of Home Depot. One of our colleagues was out with COVID-19 for months, and I honestly have no idea what her team did without her. We regard the coronavirus pandemic as the threat to national security that it is, and we plan accordingly.
This isn’t just about COVID. It’s about any situation that keeps people from getting in to the office. As a practical matter, it makes more sense for a workforce to be distributed if possible. We are at a stage where the technology is in place, so we shrug and move on, and we run shuttle launches from people’s home offices, and nobody really notices. Because it works.
One area where we don’t have it totally nailed down is security. There are meetings that have to be held in specially constructed rooms and with special secured telephones. This is true for us, and it’s true for the military, and for government, and I don’t even know who else. I just know that there are needs above my pay grade.
This is where I think there’s a place for some kind of custom home-office security phone booth.
(For levels above that, there are going to need to be far more SCIFs. That makes more sense than trying to expand the existing ones to accommodate social distancing).
It’s obvious that homes are going to start having more dividers in them, one way or another. I know a couple of guys who work out of their garage, because there are just too many people trying to be on web conferences in the rest of the house. If everyone who can work from home is going to work from home, there has to be more than just a bunch of noise-canceling headphones.
I’m sure most of you have already noticed what a very loud world we inhabit, in terms of garbage trucks and road maintenance and construction sites and landscaping and fire trucks and helicopters. Absolutely none of that is going to change. But the soundproofing can.
Apparently it’s already possible to blow in soundproofing materials into the walls, and that’s one of many great ideas for businesses that wouldn’t have had much runway before 2020.
I wonder if there might be room for little modular offices, like the storage PODS that you sometimes see sitting in someone’s driveway. Someone comes and delivers a little 6x8 office pod with a built-in wifi router and an extension cord that plugs into the house. Maybe it has a letterbox slot big enough for a pizza. Maybe it also has a little chemical toilet like in an RV.
There are still reasons why it makes sense for people to come in to an office, even if 100% of the work that they do can be done over a combination of computer and phone. Security is one of them, at least for the time being. Some people just really, really want to get out and have a “second location” to visit, so they aren’t climbing the walls at home and so that they have a mental disconnect at the end of the day. In those cases, I think the trend is going to be for retrofitting existing commercial real estate. It’s already started. Just add more interior walls, do some smart scheduling and planning, and upgrade the air filtration systems.
Other jobs have traditionally been seen as only possible in person, even though it would be possible to do them remotely. Visiting a doctor’s office is one of those things. I had email and phone conversations with my doctor when I had COVID, and then when I thought I got it a second time but it turned out to be pneumonia. Quite obviously, this was preferable for both of us than for me to get in a rideshare vehicle and come to the clinic to see him and shake his hand.
Will there ever be doctor visits where a telepresence robot performs a procedure in the patient’s house while the doctor observes from across town? Probably, yes! Although doubtfully within the next twenty years.
Other fields that we think of as obviously needing to be done in person, to a futurist, are not that obvious. The first one that comes to mind is construction. Why not operate earth-moving equipment remotely, if it’s safer for human bodies? Human safety needs to be our first priority (though I would argue it never has been so far) and once our safety is prioritized correctly, then it needs to stay that way. Better to wreck a million-dollar machine than a man.
There are already drones walking dogs, and robots delivering food, and artificial intelligence detecting anomalies on MRIs. The future is coming at us and it’s coming at us fast. I’m able to view this with excitement and anticipation, imagining a future world that is safer and cleaner. I see it as a human-centered model where we buy back the time we used to spend commuting, and instead use it to get more sleep, make art, be with our families, or whatever else we want. Let our work serve us, and let our work build a better world.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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