COVID-19: the black elephant that will bring us closer to the future.

31, March

by Martin Padulla The World is shocked. I begin to write this column during my fourth day of quarantine (I still do ...

by Martin Padulla

The World is shocked. I begin to write this column during my fourth day of quarantine (I still do not understand why we call a two-week isolation quarantine) and I perceive that this social phenomenon has some characteristics that are unique.

The reason why i’m isolated is that last week I worked in the United States. Argentina, the country where I live, stated the US as one of the nine high-risk countries and therefore people arriving from those destinations should undergo a compulsory quarantine . I have strictly obeyed the regulation, so far without any symptoms.

I perceive the difficulty  some people have when it comes to social behavior, there is no background to analyze the impact this phenomenon will have as regards the interpellation to individualism. However I think there will be changes at this point.

At first sight we can expect a renewed experience of otherness. We have rediscovered the other, the neighbor, the friend, the elders. Bonds of solidarity, self-perception, and reflection about being a link in a larger chain have emerged. As in wars, humanization is natural when humanity is or is perceived to be in danger.

They put a ¨handbrake¨ on us and this invites us to think

Prospective experts categorize COVID-19 as a black elephant, a highly probable and predicted event that tries to be visualized as a black swan, that is to say, an event of high impact, very difficult to predict, outside the range of normal expectations that are managed in science, finance or technology.

As I write these lines, more than 520 million students do not attend classes in more than 70 countries. Companies, on the other hand, are the protagonists of the largest experiment in history with regard to remote work or telecommuting. Schools, universities and companies, with an unusual urgency, begin to develop digital transformation strategies. Citizens too.

Of course, the difficulties of not doing it in a timely manner are being experienced. For those of us who have been working on these issues for a decade, these difficulties seem natural. It is a profound cultural change that requires time that we do not have now.

Working remotely is not just opening a notebook at home; it requires an appropriate space, the necessary technology, the required security, different skills and fundamentally, a system, a way of managing adapted to this way of working. Many organizations do not have this system and today they have to develop it quickly.

Virtual education is not connecting a notebook and teaching with a pedagogy equal to the one applied in traditional classrooms. Teachers and professors need adequate training in order to be functional in this form of knowledge acquisition. The technology must be relevant and the methodology must adjust to these needs. Again, speed and adaptability appear.

I think that in a very short time we will find that digital platforms will be the first option to connect supply and demand throughout Ibero-America, clearly in Spain it already is. In Latin America, a large part of the population is discovering them thanks to this phenomenon.

The pandemic is showing us the urgent need for a new social contract. The “handbrake” tells us that the metaphor of this new social contract would be “like traveling to Venice and being able to see swans and fish.” It is clear that this, with the intersubjectivity that we had been developing before this singular phenomenon, it is not possible. The technological revolution will be humanistic. Younger people see it more clearly: it is necessary to take care of ourselves and take better care of the planet we inhabit.

This new social contract must include various forms of knowledge acquisition and various forms of work. This implies 4.0 regulatory frameworks that redefine the set of rights for citizens, seeking a better common home for all.

The misnamed atypical workers are the ones who are suffering the most from the economic consequences of this phenomenon. What are we going to do with freelancers, temporary workers, with those who work through digital platforms or who combine all of the above? Will we continue looking the other way as if they did not exist when they are already a majority? Are we going to ignore this growing trend and continue with the erroneous classification of outliers? How do we redefine typicality? Will we define a 20th-century employment relationship as typical or those that predominate in the 21st century?

There are many questions that arise in this context. Will states let companies guarantee those rights that today are not guaranteed by regulatory frameworks? Uber and Lyft have already taken action on the matter and announced that they will compensate drivers diagnosed with coronavirus. Are they self-employed? Are they employees? Isn’t it necessary to create a new, different third category?

Freelancers are expected to lose at least 25% of their annual income while each of them continues to make contributions and pay taxes. The ILO estimates that about 25 million jobs could be lost. SMEs and entrepreneurs will not be able to face the heavy tax burden they are obliged to pay in some countries. Are we going to manage all these aspects with a legal frameworks of the last century? How are we going to balance the correct fiscal burden, health and containment services that the State must provide and the incentives that the private sector requires? How are we going to face innovations and disruptions, promoting or preventing?

I believe that the coronavirus has illuminated as with theater light the enormous deficiencies of the system of social protections for the misnamed atypical jobs. This is precisely due to a dramatic tendency to look in the rearview mirror and cling to the past. It is urgently necessary to ensure universal access to various forms of knowledge acquisition and facilities to access different social protection systems for the different forms of work, since, paradoxically, they are the ones that grow the most. Governments cannot continue to think of education as that which materializes only in school and of work as that which materializes through the full-time salaried worker. It will no longer be possible. Today it is clear to everyone that school and work are not places to go, but tasks that must be done and that these can be materialize in different ways.

It is necessary for the government to adapt an to take action  so that the economic and social consequences are not greater than health consequences.

COVID-19 can function as an accelerator of very deep changes, of essential adaptations for a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world that is likely to have more swans or black elephants ahead of it.

I am convinced that we can get out better of this unprecedented global social phenomenon. We cannot lose this opportunity, we must develop a new social contract.

I finish these lines with the country already in total quarantine. People talking on the balconies, whatsapp groups as a tool for containment, re-significance of social ties, a common view and spaces for collective reflection. A new social contract is being born.

About Martin Padulla

Founder and Managing Director of staffingamericalatina. Martin Padulla is Sociologist (USAL), MBA (UCA) and labour markets expert. He published “Flexible Work in South America” and “Regulatory framework for private employment agencies in Latin America” two books about the new realities of work in Latin America. He is working on the project #FOWiberoamerica.

Follow Martín Padulla on Twitter: @MartinPadulla