At the moment, it is virtually impossible to discuss any subject except through the lens of novel coronavirus and the dreaded disease, Covid-19. When the pandemic hit the headlines, the world’s attention was focused on Wuhan, China and the Far East. But three months later and with no apparent end in sight, the epicentre has shifted to continental Europe, in particular Italy, where the virus has gained a surreal foothold.
It was suggested that autocratic or semi-autocratic states like China and Singapore were able to implement brutal control measures, which would be unacceptable in more democratic societies, to fight the virus. Therefore, it was quite a shock to learn about the lockdown of first, the Lombardy region of Italy, followed by a cascade of European cities like Rome and Madrid. Until now, lockdown was a word most people associated with US college campuses and public mass shootings. In the event, cable news images of European ghost towns showing empty streets, deserted airports, and queues of panicked shoppers defined the new normal, in what is turning out to be quite a bizarre year.
Ever since the American author, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, popularized the term Black Swan in his 2007 book of the same title, the notion of outlier events suddenly upending our staid existence gained ground in popular culture. Hence, most people will probably not squabble with the idea that the unfolding pandemic qualifies as a genuine Black Swan event. While its emergence might have blindsided politicians and the public, top scientists and thought leaders had, in fact, been flashing warning signs for years.
With the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) and other multilateral institutions taking the lead in disseminating objective facts about the coronavirus crisis, it seems obvious that curtailing the underlying medical problem will require a well-coordinated global response. On the economic front, stock markets have been in free fall, as governments struggle to enact effective monetary and fiscal policies to staunch the blood-letting. As economic activities and global trade slow down, the impact on the world’s labour force can only be imagined.
Work From Home Jobs?
To be sure, before this crisis began, workers in several industries were already familiar with telecommuting and remote working. High paying jobs dominated by software engineers, management consultants, accountants, marketers, designers, and several others in professions that leverage digital technology occasionally worked from home. To save on overheads such as travel costs and office rent, even employees in back-office functions like HR and administration sometimes work outside the office. In the past two decades, many websites have also sprung up targeted at freelance workers with skills aimed at conventional and creative fields, based on a demand-driven, flexible business model.
Rather ominously, in contrast to the good paying jobs, many traditional occupations at the low and middle strata included processes that were first outsourced to low-wage countries like India and the Philippines, but gradually were automated and replaced by rules-based algorithms. In essence, several skill domains are becoming obsolete, although it is not yet clear what would replace them.
As the world of work was being transformed, the rise of the so-called gig economy created a cadre of jobs in industries such as transportation, logistics and hospitality that offer flexibility but low job security. Apart from stay-at-home mothers, who may do so by choice, there are millions of people whose careers have been disrupted or who may be searching for good paying jobs near them in a rapidly changing job market.
Covid-19 sounds like a character from an old science fiction movie. In reality, it is a disease with global ramifications that we are all still trying to wrap our minds around. As virus lockdowns intensify and governments advise those who can work from home to do so, many are asking how this directive applies to them, especially if they have no clue how to go about monetizing their time or skills.
Ignoring the grim dispatches about Covid-19, could there be a subtle silver lining in the lockdown being instituted by a swathe of national governments? Aside from the chance to bond with family members, perhaps those who are highly enterprising could seize the moment to re-assess their future work prospects.
Using everyone’s favourite search engine, Google, it is no surprise that there are countless work from home ideas floating around in cyberspace. It would therefore be redundant to simply regurgitate some of them. Instead, let us approach this subject from a different perspective, by classifying plausible work from home opportunities as either digital or analog. This may still require working for someone else while others could open the door to starting your own business as an entrepreneur.
Not surprisingly, it is not always the case that one can divide the world neatly into digital and analog. Occasionally, they overlap. We shall be exploring a hybrid example in the shape of additive manufacturing (or 3-D Printing).
For those who have been round the block a few times, artificial intelligence (AI) was a technology that was always about to fulfil its potential. It took a few decades but eventually AI and machine learning may have reached a tipping point. All the signs are that AI is maturing and should begin to find its way into mainstream digital products and platforms.
3-D Printing does not quite parallel AI, but it is certain that it represents a potential game-changer in the way we make physical objects. Following the Industrial Revolution over 250 years ago, 3-D Printing promises to shift the means of production from industry to the individual.
While it may not be possible to forecast whether 2020 is the year the promised threshold will be crossed, it would be worthwhile to explore the disruptive potentials of personalized manufacturing. By the way, none of those Google search results touted 3-D Printing as a work from home opportunity. Let us do so.
3-D Printing technology enables the building of three-dimensional objects using computer-aided design (CAD) models. The price point of the 3-D printer and CAD software has dropped sufficiently over the years that it is now affordable for entrepreneurs willing to start a small cottage factory at home.
Now may be a good time to research and experiment with this once and future technology. For creative types, 3-D Printing represents real empowerment that seeks to unleash possibilities only limited by our imagination.
These days, anyone with a broadband connection and a computing device can work from home. Freelancers with skills for hire, usually by the hour, have an array of online opportunities, such as paid surveys, data entry, proofreading and editing, copywriting, resume writing, translation, and medical transcription. On the downside, many of these jobs are auctioned online, which can sometimes mean a race to the bottom.
For those who wish to pursue potentially more lucrative and sustainable vocations and build a business in the process, some of the best jobs for entrepreneurs who are home-based include affiliate marketing, online tutoring, e-commerce merchandising, search engine optimization, virtual recruiting, content writing, blogging, product testing, voice-over acting roles, internet research jobs, graphic design, and, for those with conventional accounting skills, tax preparation and book-keeping. Needless to say, to excel at any of these requires tenacity and good work ethics.
Perhaps the most off-the-wall characterization of coronavirus-induced panic buyers is their proclivity to hoard toilet paper. Jokes apart, no one seems to have a cogent explanation why the fear of running out of loo roll is so potent. It is unlikely anyone can manufacture in-demand breathing ventilators at home whereas toilet paper production might be less challenging. Go figure! More seriously, how about cranking up on hand sanitizer, another product that is in high demand, and may linger on long after the pandemic ends.
For those who are highly tactile and prefer more practical pursuits, work from home jobs include event planning, mystery shopping, handcrafting, food catering, fashion design, and videography/ photography. At a more pragmatic level, those with the right skills could also act as child minders, personal trainers, therapists, personal stylists, and, for those who love animals, pet groomers.
Brave New World
So, is there a magical key that can unlock the door to jobs that pay well? Of course not. To succeed at anything worthwhile calls for old-fashioned virtues like diligence, discipline and perseverance.
The above tips are by no means exhaustive. The bottom line suggests that, regardless of the immediate impact of Covid-19 or the sweeping changes that technology will bring, now may be the best time to reflect and seize a measure of control over your career. Better to be pro-active than sorry.