The COVID-19 pandemic we are experiencing brought the digital economy into the spotlight: the good, the bad, and the future ahead.
With countries taking strict preventative measures in order to flatten the curve, people have resorted to the use of digital platforms in order to continue working from their homes — the people who have the capacity to do so, that is.
The case of developed countries
Almost all economies across the globe have taken a huge hit due to the pandemic which continues to spread further each passing day. Forced to limit or even to put their operations to a complete halt, business is definitely not going on as usual.
However, in the case of developed countries like China, the United States, and Europe, the rate of development of digital technologies in order to support remote work has accelerated. This fast development is expected to offset some of the economic damage that has been taken so far.
At the same time, this development will also shake up the future of work, even with the pandemic out of the picture.
“Once effective work-from-home policies are established, they are likely to stick,” Karen Harris, managing director of consultancy Bain’s Macro Trends Group in New York told Bloomberg.
The short end of the stick
On the flip side, this pandemic has exposed an ugly side of the digital economy. The digital world has provided new job opportunities for people, however, not all of these opportunities are made equal.
In recent years, a surge in the number of U.S. adults earning through online platforms has been observed. These people, mostly independent contractors and freelancers, have formed what is now known as the gig economy.
Gig workers are involved in a wide range of industries, including driving services such as those offered by Uber and Lyft, administrative work, and creative work, among others.
On one hand, jobs provided by the gig economy provide flexibility and control of one’s time. However, for those who have gig work as their primary job, this means that they will not receive the benefits of full-time workers such as vacation or sick leaves. It also puts a lot of uncertainty when it comes to job security.
The pandemic makes the impact of these downsides even clearer. Now that they are forced to stay in their homes, a lot of people in this sector of the digital economy receive lower income with the decline of people needing their services.
Certainly, ride-hailing and delivery services have increased in demand now that people are compelled to stay in their homes, but drivers are forced to risk exposure to potentially infected clients. Otherwise, they will not be earning.
Companies like Amazon, DoorDash, Uber, and Lyft promised to give their workers sick pay if they are quarantined due to or have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Yet, the reality remains that a lot of people have to continue working at the expense of potentially risking their own lives.
This blaring truth of the gig economy should serve as a wake-up call for companies to rethink the way they treat their workers, providing them with benefits and protections that they are currently deprived of.