The future of work is hybrid. But is it accessible?

Beyond the Microscope Blog Post | April 29, 2021

By Michaela Goss, Communications Volunteer

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced all schools and businesses to move to remote operations, if they were able. One year later, as vaccines roll out, schools and businesses are attempting to figure out life after the pandemic.

Many businesses have already pledged to remain remote for good, while many schools will return to fully in-person operations as soon as possible. A new model many workplaces may turn to is hybrid, where staff will be part-time in-person and part-time remote. For many workers, this approach may seem ideal: They get to maintain the flexibility of remote working, yet they can also go into offices if they so choose. But is this accessible for everyone?

The ability to work from home seems inherently accessible. The worker wouldn’t have a commute, and, therefore, any company could hire an employee regardless of where they live. However, this idea assumes that everyone has internet and broadband connectivity at home, which is not the case. Rural and low-income urban communities, in particular, are more likely to lack internet access at home.

The main issue with this inaccessibility is that people in homes without internet connections would be fully unable to work, learn, or both from home, so they could potentially lose a source of income or fall behind in school. This is what is commonly referred to as the digital divide, or the gap between those with the benefits of technology and the internet and those without.

Many rural and low-income people and families are inherently disadvantaged by the digital divide. However, some cities, including Philadelphia, are partnering with internet service providers to provide connectivity into the homes of low-income students and their families.

The digital divide also strikes in a more tangible form, as well. Remote workers and students can’t do their work without devices like computers or tablets, so some organizations have also donated Chromebooks to low-income students, and some school districts are providing Chromebooks, as well.

The pandemic still leaves many technology-related questions unanswered, though. Are free internet access and gifted devices acting as band aids for the more detrimental issues the digital divide presents? Will Philadelphia and other cities still provide internet access to those low-income households after students can return to school in-person? Will students get to keep the devices they’ve been gifted by organizations? Or will the world return to the divided normal it was back in early 2020 and before?

In a more optimistic angle, maybe the world won’t return to the pre-COVID normal. Maybe these students will remember the impact of the pandemic and the exacerbation of the digital  divide it caused, and will want to make a difference. Instead of a return to what was normal, the world could enter a brighter digital age, where more students decide to enter technology fields in order to innovate connectivity globally.

Maybe more students will feel excited, educated, and empowered to enter careers in technology, just as Kids In Tech hopes they will.