Part II: The tech industry – divided
Our first article made clear that technologists can contribute to today’s challenges. Many knowledge workers are working efficiently and able to offer help to those deep in the crisis that COVID-19 presents.
That’s not the whole picture though: a new layer of privilege is emerging, the ability to work remotely. The ramifications of the shift to more remote working are far-reaching. This article focuses on the new divides that are emerging in tech, and more broadly. It then looks at automation and data as key considerations in a post-COVID-19 world.
The new divides
2020 has delivered a crash course in remote working for many. The software industry, on the face of it, is well-suited to the new reality. Skilled individuals are used to connecting virtually, and businesses are in growing need of digital products and services.
Yet, the comfort and opportunity of remote working is not shared with all. The divide between those who can afford the hardware and infrastructure to make remote work possible and those who can’t will widen rapidly.
Even for those who are equipped to work from home, the ability to do this successfully depends on their private situation – space, cohabiting and family arrangements, reliable electricity and internet, the list goes on.
Who pays the highest price?
People in caregiving roles, which are mostly women, face double duties: constantly context switching between waged and domestic labour.
Children in remote schooling arrangements will find that education is not free, since it requires the tools to participate. Many children from lower income families, will struggle even more to keep up, and should they leave school as a result, may impact generations to come. NGOs are trying to fill the gaps - Thoughtworks has been partnering with REAP for several years to provide education to rural children in China. The teams worked through the early weeks of lockdown to deliver a mobile app in the knowledge that millions of children will only have access to a single smartphone per family for remote learning.
With the dawning era of location independence we are faced with a more obvious divide, this time between white collar and essential workers. Essential workers, and those in many other jobs, are required to show up in person – and these workers find themselves at significantly greater risk as a result (we explore the tech industry’s responsibility in this issue in Part V).