Loading: the Future of Work

Worldwide Remote Work Experimentation and the Evolution of the Platform Economy

Published by ICTC, July 2020

Until the very recent past, remote work tended to be an exception to the rule or an added feature of “regular” office life; for example, taking a laptop to a coffee shop or reading work emails during one’s morning commute. Although the momentum behind the virtual office and “work-from-home” policies has grown in Canada and many other parts of the world over the last 20 years, 2020 was the shockwave that turned remote work from a concept to a global reality.

In addition to new rates of working from home, digital-platform economies have disrupted work schedules, how work is done, and by whom while opening new avenues of economic participation for various groups across regions, skill levels, lifestyles, and even generations. These new economic and labour market structures are often broadly categorized as the sharing economy — allowing for the sharing of underutilized assets — or the gig economy — focusing on short- term, contract, or “gig” work. Alternative forms of income generation via an informal economy have always existed, but they are now increasingly visible and accessible due to these digital platforms.

With COVID-19 simultaneously underlining and disrupting the digital-platform economy, key questions are being raised about the gig workers that support them. In the short term, COVID-19 is dampening the demand for sharing-economy services while also spotlighting the clear distinctions between highly skilled contractors with in-demand digital skills — who able dictate prices and pick jobs — versus gig workers facing increasingly precarious conditions.

The economic opportunities associated with a global shift to remote work can be significant, and the increasing growth of the digital-platform economy allows new transactions and relationships that bolster the availability of labour, services, and boost convenience. However, as the global spread of COVID-19 has shown, shifts that were previously expected to take years can happen literally overnight under pressing conditions. Guiding this shift and understanding the consequences of these new forms of work is essential to the development of a post-COVID Canadian economy and labour market that is both resilient and inclusive.

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Researched and written by Alexandra Cutean (Senior Director, Research & Policy), Trevor Quan (Senior Research Analyst), and Chris Herron (Junior Research Analyst), with generous support from the ICTC Research & Policy team.

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