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As a society, we measure time in seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years. As individuals, we measure time by our experience of it.

That has been most evident during COVID-19 when, at one point, 93 percent of the global workforce lived in countries affected by workplace closure. Within the 36 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an average of 39 percent of employees took part in what the World Economic Forum described as ‘the largest experiment in remote working in history.’

Before COVID-19, ‘time poverty’ was a common complaint. Although OECD figures show that average hours worked per person per year across its members fell from 1,807 in 2000 to 1,726 in 2019, many consumers felt they had more to do and less time to do it in. Hours spent commuting to work, the need to do more with less when they got there, our digitally-enabled ‘always on’ lifestyle, all contributed to the feeling that life was proceeding at a frenetic pace.


The great reset

COVID-19 and the various lockdowns have distorted, disturbed and disrupted our sense of time, changing the way we look back – and look forward.

Life before COVID-19 already seems like a historical construct. Facing a future that looks uncertain, discontinuous and perilous, many consumers, especially those on middle to higher incomes, have adopted a ‘carpe diem’ (seize the day) mentality, concluding that now is the time to move house, extend it, build a home gym, splash out on a swimming pool, change career paths or buy luxuries not considered before. This attitude has created ‘Zoom towns’, small towns near major public lands or ski resorts, which are becoming hot spots for remote working.

There is always a tendency to overestimate change in the short term – and underestimate it in the long term. There is nothing new about working from home or flexible hours but surveys show that six out of ten people who have been compelled to work remotely this year want to keep doing so. Adjusting to this new reality, urban planners are accelerating development of the 15 minute city’ where everything a resident needs is accessible, without a car, within 15 minutes.

Industries that derive much of their revenue from people spending two hours or more a day commuting – not just retail, but infrastructure, advertising, the media, energy, property, hospitality and the automotive sector – will need, at the very least, to reappraise their business model and test a variety of scenarios.

If COVID-19 changes where people work and how they work, it is likely to also have an impact on why they work. At the moment, employees’ motivations are mixed: 25 percent work because they have to, 22 percent say it gives them a sense of self-worth and 19 percent like their job. Will consumers prefer to spend their working days doing something they actually like?

The global economy is already fragile – almost one in seven consumers say they would like to work but are unemployed – so, in the short term, economic necessity will likely prevail. At the same time, the disruption to existing patterns of business and work has been so widespread and profound that it is hard, in the longer term, to see the world returning to a system that many felt was already becoming obsolete. The global remote workforce increased by 140 percent between 2005 and 2019 and it is forecast to rise by 77 percent between 2019 and 2022.

The excerpt was taken from the KPMG Thought Leadership publication entitled Me, my life, my wallet.