Jeff Allen emails me:
If the Great Stagnation is ending (we will see), it seems as if the COVID-forced remote work revolution has to have played some sort of role.
Speaking from personal experience as a white collar Exec, the productivity gains for our highest value workers has been immense. The typical time-sucks and distractions of in-office work have been eliminated, as have their personal time investments like physically visiting the grocery store or running errands. Mental focus on productive efforts is near constant.
Perhaps most importantly, work *travel* is not happening. Valuable collaborations with colleagues, customers, regulators or other partner companies aren’t delayed by the vagaries of the various groups’ availability to meet in person, navigating being in different cities, flights, hotels, etc. Collaboration happens as soon as you have the idea to meet via Zoom. And a lot *more* collaboration happens as a result. It may be lower productivity collaboration than meeting in person around a whiteboard (maybe), but the sheer quantity of it means on net there’s perhaps been a boom in cross-pollination of ideas.
Not to mention all of the wasted productivity time that work travel eats up by putting high value workers in low productivity transit mode….Uber to airport, security lines, wait for flight in the terminal, maybe grab an hour of in-flight WiFi to catch up on email, land, taxi on the airstrip for 20 minutes, Uber to hotel…is completely gone from our lives.
In general, I think we drastically overrate the value of work travel.
I’m sure this Mass Virtualization event doesn’t benefit all workers equally.
But could it be an accelerant for certain high-value innovations worked on by the best of the best in science and technology?
I’m not saying I don’t want the world to go back to normal. Travel is great. In-person human interaction certainly has many benefits (duh). But I think we should ask ourselves how we can retain some of the best advantages this last year has brought us, even after the vaccines and herd immunity bring us back to something resembling normalcy in 2021.
Here is a related Robin Hanson post on the importance of work from a distance. Of course remote work is, to some extent, a way around both immigration and NIMBY restrictions. You will note this is all very much in line with my earlier take that, if the great stagnation ends, it will be because we have placed the internet at the center of our institutions, rather than using the internet as an add-on.