Much has yet to be said about the transformations that the corona pandemic has brought into the world. The employment market is undergoing a severe upheaval in the wake of the crisis, but if we look just a bit above the storm clouds, we will see the potential for an improved working world that will finally adapt itself to the current millennium.
The pandemic has proven that it is possible to work together from anywhere in the world via remote employment – breaking down barriers that have kept residents from remote areas from integrating into good positions with companies headquartered in Israel’s center.
Remote employment refers not only to programmers in Bulgaria or telephone service centers in India (“off-shore”), but also to companies that employ workers in the same country where the company is located, but from a remote area (“near-shore”), such as a company in San Francisco that would employ a graphic designer based in New York. The technological means were already here before the crisis, as all our information and communications are being done via the computer, smartphone, and the cloud anyway.
In Israel, remote employment has manifested itself primarily through the transfer of cheap employment to Asia, Eastern Europe, or South America. Only a few companies have changed their employment method, however, to allow their Israeli employees to work remotely, from home. The misconception that employees must be physically present in the same place to work together has held back many employers and prevented them from hiring employees remotely.
This also required employers to spend many resources on renting offices, furniture, cleaning and food services. In exchange, they have received tired workers who spend hours in traffic every day and see their children only in the evenings. At the same time, many residents of geographically distant areas, such as the Negev and the Galilee, or areas that are isolated due to limited access to public transportation, have not been given equal opportunity to integrate into quality employment. That's why the paradigm in the periphery has continued to be “If I want to succeed, I have to move to Tel Aviv.”
Suddenly, a plague has broken out that restricts everyone and reduces physical encounters. And while a million citizens are on unpaid leave, many others continue to work from home.
The Lauder Employment Center in the Negev – operated by JNF USA and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev – has been working for the past five years to increase the number of employment opportunities for residents of the South, including numerous efforts to recruit employers from the center of the country to employ Negev residents remotely. So far, most employers have avoided this because of the challenges of remote employee control and management, task management, team building and online project integration.
Today, at the height of the corona crisis, which has brought with it the largest employment crisis the state has known, employers are getting used to employing workers from home. Many experts are already predicting that corona is expected to revolutionize the work world.
Alongside the major health and economic crisis experienced by all of humanity, it is important to look at the day after and change the accepted patterns in the labor market. If during the time of corona we manage to work remotely, there is no reason for that to change.
Working remotely even provides a significant advantage and promotes social justice through increased geographical employment equality. It is not about bringing the residents of the periphery to the center on fast trains, but rather bringing the work from the center to the periphery.
Over the past month, the Lauder Center set up a network of consultants and experts to respond to new needs of employers regarding remote work, long-distance employment training and remote recruitment. At the same time, many citizens who lost their jobs due to the crisis will have to undergo training for new professions.
This opens up innumerable opportunities for professions that can be done remotely. The Lauder Center has, for several years, offered training in areas such as graphic design, website building and digital marketing, thereby allowing the Negev residents to integrate into quality employment that can be done remotely either as employees or freelancers. We are now increasing our efforts to develop opportunities in this area.
This is the beginning of a revolution, and the consequences of the changes in the labor market may also flow to other areas. Will every residential building have a standard shared workspace? Perhaps neighborhood workspaces will be built.
Will more time be available for family and community? Will the Internet become a free resource provided by the state? We do not yet know how today's changes will affect tomorrow, but one thing is certain: This is an opportunity to correct a historical injustice and reduce employment gaps in Israel.
The author is the deputy CEO of the Lauder Center for Employment in the Negev.