DesPardes + PKonweb

Who Needs Cities When We All Can Work From Home, No?

Possibly so: Cities might have to reinvent themselves all over again. Urban areas will survive, but with a surge in working from home just as it’s happening now and post COVID-19 which may take years.

In major cities of Pakistan working from home has been a business as usual for sometime now: IT professionals and online service outlets serving overseas clients and freelancers have become a huge community over the years.

Add to the mix thousands of others who are working from home now. This holds true in the private sector though.

Many companies will just go back to their old way of doing things, but even partial adoption could have big repercussions, says a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Possibly so up north. Down south of the Tropic of Cancer, the differential impact may be lesser — the state and government institutions form the largest documented employment community and the rules of business may not allow this to happen.

Yes, some people who only go to office a few days a week, for example, will be more willing to live far from the city, affecting property values.

It also would lower the demand for commercial office space and hurt sales at downtown restaurants and retailers.

This holds true in a country like Pakistan also — demand for residential homes notwithstanding, making the “Naya Pakistan Housing” program a constant paperweight on PM Khan’s table. The decades of rat-race though to build mega malls and skyskrapers without parking lots are expected to take a hit.


BEFORE…

Now!


Communications technology has kept advancing and workers have become more adept at using it, especially amid the Covid-19 crisis and the work-from-home experiment it has created. Having learned that they can work effectively without having everybody in the office, companies won’t unlearn it, says the report. Makes the “Digital Pakistan” initiative somewhat relevant in the context and in urban though. Still, with more than 60 percent of the country’s populace in the rural and more than 60 percent of it without access to meaningful learning and digital tech, this situation is a wild card in the pack.

Digital will definitely increase the country’s “consumer base”, and its share in the minuscule documented economy. Rest may lag though skewing public policy priorities in favor of tradeoff.

Among the upsides to using remote workers, beyond not having to pay for expensive office space, is the ability to tap into talent everywhere. This is true and relevant in Pakistan also.

Many are interested in continuing to use remote-work arrangements once the crisis has passed. This also holds true here also.

Over the years, technology gave a boost to knowledge-industry hubs, but new work-from-home trends could erode that. The opposite may however be true in Pakistan. It’s cities like Multan and Faisalabad, and in several other areas such hubs are said to be in overdrive mode.

This trend has been pre and may remain post corona. Presently, reports say that businesses and companies have cut freelancing costs and halted any new projects or contracts.


Creativity


64pc Pakistani freelancers — 33pc of them graphic designers — said demand for their services had greatly decreased. For 15pc freelancers, business had remained as usual, while 18pc reported that demand for their services had increased, according to the report.

Makes sense. However, deliveries, takeouts and bookings of cars have seen an uptick.

And, as the new world order propels AI and digital stamping of economy, rate dilution would strengthen the global supply chain and its subsets. The earned saved value will be huge and the ratio of function to cost called value analysis will favor both. Pakistan stands in the middle of the win-win cul-de-sac with desi techies and freelancers working from home (see funny video above).

“Why be a Dapper Dan” one of my former bosses used to say.

Grandma (Dadi Maa) had said in the 60s and 70s: “Stay home, eat home, work at home”. Been following both since early 2000s.

Irshad Salim, Islamabad, Pakistan

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