Transformation of workplaces that began as a retroaction to COVID-19 outbreak has led to a historic shift that would continue much after the pandemic has dissipated.
Even after the coronavirus clouds clear out, heading back to work for at least a quarter of the global workforce would not mean commuting long hours to reach an office desk and perform the pre-pandemic tasks as per Upwork’s Future Workforce Pulse Reports.
Global companies such as Microsoft, Google, KPMG, Ford Motor, Citigroup, and Uber have opted for a hybrid-work model, where employees work in an office only 50% of the time and can work from a location of their choice for the balance days. Pinterest even cancelled San Francisco office lease as a major pie of its workforce could be working remotely.
Back home in India, TCS is aiming to shift 75 percent of its global workforce to work from home by 2025. Unilever, PepsiCo have been vocal of how work will never be the way it was before 2020. Several other firms too are mooting a shift to remote work for a part of the employees.
Learnings from the pandemic-led remote working environment where productivity enhanced, absenteeism reduced, and costs linked to rentals, transport and allied facilities plunged have led to this lasting transformation of workplaces. As McKinsey estimates that prior to the pandemic a whopping $12,000-20,000 needed to be spent annually to place one employee in an office in markets such as New York, London, Shanghai.
But even as companies are altering their physical office structure, it is time investors align their investment portfolio in sync with the emerging workplace models of hybrid and remote work.
Few sectors namely hospitality, travel would bounce back as the pandemic fades. But behavioural alterations – doorstep deliveries of essentials for instance – would be difficult to shed even later. However, business travel would find it difficult to glide past the pre-pandemic numbers and so would movements of vehicles. Hence, if you have been heavy invested in automobiles, oil and gas sector or apparel manufacturers dedicated to formal attire then it is time to reallocate the assets.
Here is a guide to the sectors that are likely to find favour due to the displacement of workplaces.
Tech support for Remote working
The exponential growth of video calls to 200 million users daily from a meagre 10 million users in 2019 is an indicator of how technology firms offering remote working support systems would flourish. Listed low-debt companies offering hardware, software-as-a-service (SaaS), cloud service offerings, superior internet, cybersecurity, education technology should be considered.
Even electronic-signature providers should be on your radar as remote working would snowball the number of users. Players dominating the entertainment landscape such as streaming giants too are a viable option.
Technology companies have worded their hybrid policies such that employees can work from a location of their choice 50% of the time. So, for employees facing infrastructure challenges in work from home would opt for co-working spaces within close proximity to their homes if there aren’t any cluster or satellite offices available nearby.
Spotify has even offered employees a co-working space membership if they do not live near a Spotify office. You can capitalize on this shift and invest in relevant infrastructure providers.
With higher technological adoption, skills are becoming obsolete at a fast rate. In fact, Gartner estimates that existing roles may require up to 10 new skills by 2021.
Companies too are investing in reskilling their employees. Infosys would be hiring 25,000 workers over the five years under its Reskill and Restart initiative, while Microsoft has invested millions in its global upskilling programs.
Not just companies, but employees themselves would be more inclined to acquire new skill sets to command higher earnings, keeping in view the gig economy.
Health and wellbeing
Employee retention packages that offered benefits linked to mental health and wellness during the pandemic are unlikely to be discontinue.
Additionally, health apps have been a companion for employees through the work-from-home journey. The focus on health and wellbeing would continue even after the pandemic. Fitness apps apart, companies offering doctor consultations virtually, medical opinions through AI and analytics, immunity-boosting product manufacturers would continue to garner support.
Less travel and more Delivery
A shift toward the work from home model would reduce the commute. But home deliveries of goods are a trend that is unlikely to die down fast. So, be on the lookout for direct-to-consumer brands and delivery apps for groceries, meals, medicines, family games and the likes.
The prices and valuations of many remote working stocks are already quite high. So, be on the lookout for dips in prices during phases of volatility that offer a better opportunity to invest in the companies that could capitalize on the increasing remote work scenario.
But at the overall portfolio level, one should restrict the investment into such stocks to not more than 10-15%. While the clouds are clearing the workspace skies, hardcore policies are yet to be framed and there could be tweaks. For instance, time spent in Microsoft Teams meetings more than doubled globally, but now HR managers are curtailing meetings and calls to avoid digital exhaustion, boost productivity, and even keep costs under check. So, unstructured, and unplanned communication was a pandemic phenomenon and wouldn’t be repeated in 2022-23. Defensive stocks would help you tide over the current phase when economic disruption is coming out of the woods.
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