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Work is one of life’s constants, but the way people work has been in constant flux throughout recorded history. The Industrial Revolution, for example, radically mechanized a workforce accustomed to doing everything by hand, ushering in unimaginable production and growth while fermenting complex social and ecological issues humanity is still addressing today. 

While the internet and other advancements in information technology were already poised to overturn the workplace as we know it, the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns and other recent sociopolitical changes have considerably sped up the process. As economists, businesses and everyday Americans try to peek into their proverbial crystal balls and predict what the future work environment holds in store, three faculty from across Texas A&M University offered insights from their own research. 

Remote work changes the game. 

Dr. Nitya Chawla, Mays Business School 
Assistant Professor, Management 

Remote work has become a heavily debated topic among employees and employers alike since its temporary necessity during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Depending on who you ask, it’s either a revolutionary breakthrough for worker autonomy or a managerial nightmare that spurns all oversight and turns every day into Casual Friday. For Dr. Nitya Chawla, it’s a little more complicated.  

“We should recognize the different reasons employees may want to work from home, how it can enrich their personal lives and how that can positively impact the workplace,” she said. For example, working from home allowed Chawla and her husband to care for their newborn together, trading professional and family responsibilities and allowing both to experience precious moments early in their child’s life. “There’s a popular desire to return to the old normal from before the pandemic, but in doing so, we miss opportunities to improve certain workers’ lives and retain top talent.”  

Chawla also recognized remote work’s limitations. “There are definitely types of office work that benefit from being in person, like brainstorming,” she said. “And some people just prefer working in the office.” She recommended that supervisors approach remote arrangements individually with compassion, flexibility and ingenuity to create a work environment that works for everyone. 

International markets create domestic challenges and opportunities. 

Dr. Raymond Robertson, Bush School of Government and Public Service 
Helen and Roy Ryu Chair in Economics and Government 

It’s no secret that the world is getting increasingly interconnected, but many Americans still see a clear separation between the United States and the rest of the world regarding economic policy. Dr. Raymond Robertson, director of the Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics, and Public Policy, paints a different picture. “It’s a lot more accurate to think of North America as a single market, both in products and labor,” Robertson said. 

Robertson primarily studies international labor markets, especially in Latin America, and has researched how post-COVID-19 influxes of migrant workers can create jobs in the restaurant industry rather than directly compete with native citizens as commonly perceived. “Having more workers allows restaurants to expand, increasing demand for labor across the board,” he said. 

Though Russia and China have hogged the spotlight for their recent impacts on the world economy, he singled out another trend in Europe that could tremendously affect American businesses. “The European Union is making a big push to regulate multinational corporations to address perceptions of poor working conditions in developing countries,” he stated. These regulations would hold corporations accountable for the factories they buy from, even if they do not own them, creating a worldwide ripple effect on the prices of manufactured goods. 

Employers are increasingly challenged to build welcoming environments. 

Dr. Mindy Bergman, College of Arts and Sciences 
Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences 

Traditionally, employees and their managers have been advised to cleanly separate their personal and professional lives and avoid discussing sensitive topics on the clock. Recently, though, many organizations have been knocked off their feet by shifting political winds. Consumers expect stronger stances from organizations on social issues, and workers habitually find themselves enmeshed in conversations about race, gender and politics.  

Dr. Mindy Bergman stressed that these issues are too complex to navigate with a one-size-fits-all training alone. “If we could train away racism or sexism the way we train people to use a new computer software, we would have done it by now,” she said. While training does communicate clear boundaries, Bergman’s research suggests that its potential gains are negated if the organization is not wholly committed to fostering a welcoming environment.  

On the ground level, Bergman recommends that employees and supervisors remain mindful of each other’s differing perspectives, calmly enforce their personal boundaries and apologize when someone tells them they have crossed the line. “That’s really hard. But remember that when someone comes up to you and says, ‘Hey, that wasn’t cool,’ that means they see you as someone open and willing to learn.” 

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