2.6 billion people: “WTF is WFH?”

2.6 billion people: “WTF is WFH?”

As the world's wealthier and more fully vaccinated countries begin to emerge from the pandemic, there's a lot of talk about "the office".

When do we go back to it? Do we go back to it? What is an "office" now anyway?

The vast majority of business execs say they expect employees will split time between home and the office now, according to a recent McKinsey study. Designer salad companies are keen to serve the wave of office returnees, while savvy entrepreneurs are making special speakers for remote workers to feel like they're in the office even when they aren't.

The office debate is an important one for sure — full disclosure: this piece was written from home! But for billions of people around the world, it's not relevant to their work or lives.

That's because they have jobs that can't be done from afar: like giving haircuts, serving food, or tending to seriously ill or injured patients. Or their jobs are in occupations like farming, deliveries, sanitation, or transportation that are essential but not confined to any specific space.

How many people are we talking about? According to the International Labor Organization, just 18 percent of the global workforce, or about 557 million people, were able to consistently telework during the pandemic. That's triple what it was before COVID. But it still leaves 2.6 billion people around the world for whom the "back-to-the-office debate" sounds like something from another planet.

Those 2.6 billion people and their families have been hit hardest by the pandemic in terms of hours and wages lost, psychological stress, and unemployment.

Work from home, you say? "Most of us in the Philippines don't have that luxury," said Liezl Gayeta, 30, who runs the kitchen at the Manila-based health food delivery company The Sexy Chef. "If we don't come to work," she told us, "we don't get paid. If we want to feed our families, we need to show up for our jobs."

But the division between the "Zoom class" and the rest of the world also closely tracks some of the broader fault lines of inequality that cut across our societies.

Rich countries vs poor countries. Even in wealthy economies, only a small portion of workers can telework consistently. In the US, it's about a fifth. But in lower and middle income countries, the size of the "laptop class" plummets. In India, for example, where more than 450 million people work in retail or farming alone, only 5 percent of workers can Zoom to the job. The numbers in sub-Saharan Africa are similar, says the ILO.

Part of this is because in-person services jobs are more prevalent in less economically developed countries — you are six times as likely to be a street-vendor in a middle-income country as you are in a wealthy one, and 16 times as likely to work in agriculture.

But it's also about limitations on internet connectivity and service. Most countries simply don't have the internet infrastructure to support massive teleworking populations.

And many of these countries have suffered the additional blow of evaporating remittances from their citizens working abroad in professions that often aren't "remote-workable."

Ramshid, a 34-year-old driver from southern India who has worked in Qatar for more than a decade, told us that the pandemic had slashed his monthly earnings from about $2,000 a month to less than half of that, leaving him with no money left over to send home to his wife and children in India.

Meanwhile, high debt loads and scarce cash mean that governments in low and middle income countries can't roll out the kinds of unemployment benefits or infrastructure rebuilding programs that we've seen in Europe and the US. Rich countries have uncorked close to 30 percent of GDP to cushion the pandemic blow. Others have barely mustered 7 percent, says the IMF.

That's one big reason why the pandemic has put decades of poverty-reduction in reverse. Last year, more than 120 million people fell below the poverty line globally, and the number of people in extreme poverty rose for the first time since 1997.

Haves vs have-lesses. Even in wealthier countries, non-remote jobs are overwhelmingly in lower-income, economically vulnerable professions. According to a Pew study, more than three-quarters of low-income workers in America can't work from home at all.

What's more, the ILO found, non-remote jobs have higher proportions of women, ethnic minorities, and younger people — groups who went into the pandemic at an economic disadvantage, and all suffered disproportionate economic losses during the crisis itself.

What's to be done? There are two separate things to focus on, says Janine Berg, a senior economist at the ILO. Globally, rich countries need to look at the thorny question of debt relief for cash-strapped lower-income countries.

But even within richer ones, better compensation and labor protections for "essential workers" are, well, essential.

"It's really nice to be out on the balcony applauding them," said Berg "but unless you start compensating them more, what happens if another pandemic comes around?"

Tell us where you're working from and what you think about all this here.

Each month, Microsoft receives about 6,500 complaints from people who've been victims of tech support scams. But it's not just Microsoft's brand that the scammers leverage; fraudsters have pretended to be from a number of other reputable tech companies and service providers. These scams will remain an industry-wide challenge until sufficient people are educated about how they work and how to avoid them.

To measure the scope of this problem globally, Microsoft commissioned YouGov for a new 2021 survey across 16 countries. Results from the 2021 survey reveal that, globally, fewer consumers have been exposed to tech support scams as compared to the 2018 survey. However, those people who continued with the interaction were more likely to have lost money to the scammers than we saw in our previous survey. To read the highlights of the survey, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Next week, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner who is ideologically and personally close to Iran's 82 year-old supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will be inaugurated as Iran's president. This power transition comes as the country experiences a fresh wave of protests that started in Iran's southwest over water shortages earlier this month and has since spilled over into dozens of provinces.

Some close observers of Iranian society and politics say that popular discontent there is now more widespread than it has been in years, making the Iranian regime more vulnerable than ever.

More Show less

Was the world so focused on climate change that warning signs about the COVID-19 pandemic were missed? Historian and author Niall Ferguson argues that, while the climate crisis poses a long-term threat to humanity, other potential catastrophes are much more dangerous in the near future. "We took our eye off that ball," Ferguson says about COVID, "despite numerous warnings, because global climate change has become the issue that Greta Thunberg said, would bring the end of the world. But the point I'm making in DOOM [his new book] is that we can end the world and a lot of other ways, much faster." Ferguson spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview for GZERO World.

Watch the episode: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

More Show less

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:

As COVID-19 cases rise, are vaccine mandates coming?

Oh, you just want to get me in more trouble. Yeah, some mandates are coming, but they're not national mandates in the United States. In some cases, you're looking at federal and state employees, in some cases you're looking at lots of individual corporations, universities, and such. I mean I've already been to a number of events where vaccines have been mandated in New York. You've got this Excelsior Pass if you want to go to the Brooklyn Nets games, as I certainly do. You show it off and that gets you in with your vaccine. So I think it's really going to be a decentralized process. But clearly, given Delta variant and the number of people that are getting sick and dying because they're not vaccinated, you're going to see moves towards more mandates, as a consequence.

More Show less

Castillo takes over in Peru: After almost two months of protests, baseless allegations of fraud from his rival in the runoff election, and even rumblings of a coup, Pedro Castillo will be sworn in as president of Peru on Wednesday. A former rural school-teacher famous for riding on horseback, wearing a cowboy hat and waving a giant pencil to show how much he cares about education, Castillo has big plans to achieve big change. But he won by just a razor-thin margin in a deeply divided country, and Peru's dysfunctional political system will likely hobble his attempts to get major legislation passed. Moreover, despite having moderated his positions, half of the country still sees him as a communist who might turn Peru into another Venezuela. Castillo's most immediate task is dealing with the twin crises of a deadly pandemic and a COVID-fueled economic crisis that has hit poor Peruvians — his base — the hardest.

More Show less

13: The two Koreas have restored their communication hotline almost 13 months after Pyongyang abruptly cut it in response to Seoul not doing enough to prevent North Korean defectors from sending propaganda leaflets across the shared border. The hotline was established in 2018 following a historic meeting between North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

More Show less

Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some intriguing, uplifting, and quirky facts about the Games that have many people on edge.

Today — what's the smallest country (by population) to win a gold medal in a summer Olympics?

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal