I was sitting at a cafe today, taking advantage of a sunny day after two days of constant rain in true dramatic Southern California fashion, when I realized how incredibly busy the cafe was. Now, maybe it was because I was surrounded by other dramatic Southern Californians, but in reality, most coffee shops I’ve frequented since working remotely always seem to stay busy. In the post-pandemic remote working world, it makes sense. 

Among the vast number of effects that remote work has caused, crowded coffee shops are one of them. So are suffering businesses in urban downtowns, developing businesses in the suburbs, rising rents in previously affordable housing markets, more flexibility for working parents, and unclear reports on productivity…to name a few.

But has remote work similarly impacted growth economies

Most likely not. In 2020, MIT Sloan Management Review published a ranking on how national economies adapt to remote work, and not surprisingly, growth economies—countries with lower incomes—all finished lower in the rankings. Internet access and quality, as well as a larger number of households with small children, contributed to the difficulty that these countries faced in adopting remote work. These rankings didn’t expose something we didn’t already guess to be true, but what they did expose are opportunities in nonconsumption. 

Leveraging nonconsumption

Nonconsumption is characterized by struggle—it’s the inability of an entity (person or organization) to purchase and use (consume) a product or service. In this case, the inability of a country to easily adopt remote work opportunities.

Now, remote work, as I listed above, has both negative and positive effects, but this blog isn’t really about remote work. It’s about the struggles that not being able to adopt remote work has exposed for growth economies. Some examples are access to electricity, access to the internet, and workspace shortages. In each of these struggles, there is an opportunity to create a market. 

Remote work can either be looked at as an efficiency innovation, or it can be leveraged to identify market-creating innovation (MCI) opportunities. When it comes to development, the type of innovation matters. 

Not all innovations are created equal 

Although both efficiency innovations and market-creating innovations are important in maintaining a healthy economy, each type plays a unique role and has a different impact on growth, organizations, and even countries. 

Efficiency innovations are about processes. Efficiency innovations enable companies to do more with fewer resources. If remote work is looked at as an efficiency innovation, and we think about it in the context of the globalization of services, then that means that countries can outsource skilled labor positions to other countries for cheaper labor. While this may be good for the resources of the company and for the country where the individual is employed, it’s only truly beneficial if it helps keep talent in that country and if the wages paid are competitive rather than exploitative. But either way, no new growth engines are produced. 

On the other hand, market-creating innovations (MCIs) are about people. MCIs create new markets by transforming complicated and expensive products into ones that are more affordable and accessible by targeting nonconsumption. If the struggle to adopt remote work is leveraged to look for market-creating opportunities, then these new markets will create new jobs and enable growth because targeting nonconsumers—new customers—requires the building of new distribution, marketing, and manufacturing channels. MCIs fuel new growth engines and further development.

The inability of growth economies to adopt remote work to the same extent that wealthier countries have has put the spotlight back on some of their long-existing problems, such as inadequate infrastructures. 

But the point is not to fix these infrastructure problems to be able to work remotely. No.

The point is that instead of dwelling on a country’s inability to consume something, think of the why. There is a struggle behind the inability to adopt remote work, as there is a struggle behind inadequate infrastructure, and the more granular we can get in identifying people’s struggles, the clearer opportunities for nonconsumption become. That is how growth economies leverage remote work to further development in their countries.  

And for the other economies that have adopted remote work, what struggles has remote work created and how will they go about solving for them?


  • Sandy Sanchez
    Sandy Sanchez

    Sandy Sanchez is a research associate at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, where she focuses on understanding and solving global development issues through the lens of Jobs to Be Done and innovation theories. Her current work addresses how individuals can use market-creating innovations to create sustainable prosperity in growth economies.