New Tailwinds for Future of Work: How the Economy has Revalued American Workers

BBG Ventures
7 min readFeb 23, 2024


By Susan Lyne and Carol Magalhães
February 23, 2024

Four years after the start of the COVID pandemic, we decided to look back with fresh eyes at the events, actions, impacts, and unintended consequences of the defining event of our era.

At BBG Ventures, we keep an eye on what’s changing — social trends, tech adoption, demographic shifts — to help steer our investment priorities. But big events like the pandemic and its aftermath can uncover or shine a light on opportunities that might otherwise stay dormant. At the time, it inspired a new focus for us on the underserved frontline workforce and led us to investments in Ox, Anthill, Upwage, and Topline Pro. Our recent deep dive brought a ton of new insight. It confirmed some of our assumptions — like the critical importance of early action by the Fed and Congress — but it also revealed new workforce dynamics that signal a shift in employer priorities. Here’s the short version, along with some of the opportunities we see for workplace investors:

It could have been much worse.

In the second quarter of 2020, the unemployment rate hit 14.7%, the highest level since the Great Depression; and Gross Domestic Product — the best measure of the country’s economic health — fell by a historic 32%. What could have cycled into the worst recession ever was cut short by immediate fiscal action and a $2.2 trillion dollar stimulus and relief bill — the first of three — that threw money at every possible consequence of both the virus and the lockdown. By Q3, the economy started rebounding and the GDP ended 2020 down just 3.5% for the full year.

Compare that to what happened after the Great Recession when government intervention was slower and much less comprehensive. The GDP didn’t get back to pre-recession levels for almost 3 years; and the unemployment rate stayed above 5% until 2015, a full six years after the recession.

Source: Federal Reserve; CBPP

The tight labor market impacted employer attitudes...

Once COVID restrictions lifted, monthly job openings mushroomed, averaging 605K/month in 2021. The number of unemployed people for every job opening stayed at record lows throughout 2022, with close to two open jobs for every unemployed person. That drove wage increases — 4.5% in 2021 and 5.1% in 2022 — but it also created a shift in employer attitudes: businesses could no longer view hourly workers as “fungible.”

Source: U.B. Bureau of Labor Statistics

…which ultimately impacted employer behavior.

By March of 2022, inflation had more than doubled YoY to 8.5% and the Fed began a cycle of 11 rate raises in 16 months — the fastest pace since the early 1980s. Expectations were that the jump in the Fed’s target rate to 5.25- 5.5% would stall business spending and usher in job cuts. But the tight labor market had created a new behavior, with companies “hoarding” labor they thought they’d need when the economy accelerated. Companies cut costs, but not workers — at least not at rates that would impact unemployment: December 2023 layoffs were 200k below the pre-pandemic monthly average.

The resilient job market is keeping the other indexes in line.

No central bank has ever raised rates this fast without triggering a recession. But because of widespread reticence to lay off large numbers of workers, the unemployment rate stayed under 4% and 2023 was the third consecutive year of job gains since COVID. The December indexes show just how key steady employment has been to the so-called “soft landing.”

  • Unemployment: 3.7%
  • Inflation: 3.4%
  • Annualized GDP: 2.5%

When people have jobs, they spend. Not the way they were spending in the early months of COVID — spending has been tempered by price increases and higher interest rates. But it’s been consistent enough to keep the GDP in growth mode this past year, a small miracle given the many economic doomsayers who bet on a 2023 recession. 2024 is an election year, so anything can happen, but the lesson here is that we need to look deeper at the many inputs driving change rather than relying on macroeconomic models from an earlier time.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

What does this mean for investing?

We believe this revaluation of the workforce is driving new corporate priorities that will create opportunity for tech-enabled solutions in recruiting, training, reskilling and retention.

While layoffs at big tech companies have gotten the lion’s share of coverage recently, the number of unfilled jobs is still higher than pre-pandemic levels. There were 9 million open jobs in December, or about 1.4 open jobs for every unemployed person. At the enterprise level, companies are hungry for solutions that don’t demand time-consuming integration with workforce management systems, but can sit above or beside them and enable faster rollout of new programs or better delivery of existing ones.

  1. Recruiting and Onboarding

A LinkedIn survey last month found that 85% of professionals polled are thinking about changing jobs this year but are not finding opportunities. The opposite is true for hourly workers, where job-hopping has increased the workload for recruiters. The dominant jobs platforms are 15–20 years old. Legacy players will have a hard time adapting platforms fast enough to take advantage of AI-enabled sourcing and screening of candidates and we expect to see a new generation of recruiting software that creates a better experience for both sides of the market.

2. Training, Upskilling and Reskilling

A recent IBM study says that the rise of AI technologies will require reskilling of 40% of the workforce within the next three years. Another survey of HR leaders put the number even higher at 50%, but very few had a plan or the necessary tools for that workforce transformation. McKinsey likens this challenge to the shift from agricultural work to manufacturing in the early 20th century.

The need for tech-enabled training and re-skilling extends beyond the AI revolution. 22% of working age adults in the US speak a language other than English at home — and the numbers are increasing. Last month the Congressional Budget Office increased its 2024 labor force estimates by 1.7 million workers (and by 5.2 million by 2033), driven largely by the recent wave of foreign-born immigrants. To successfully integrate these workers, there’s a broad need for software that enables employees to learn in their preferred language, making onboarding, training, safety, and operations more seamless and less error-prone. Check out our portfolio company, Anthill, for a smart solution in this space.

3. Retention & Flexible Work for Seniors

The impending retirement of baby boomers, all of whom will be over 65 by 2030, is creating additional pressure on the labor market. Companies are looking for ways to keep experienced workers in their seats or on the floor, and new models are emerging that embrace flexible work arrangements for this population. This shift benefits both stakeholders: an aging population that needs to keep earning; and businesses that need to keep skilled employees in the mix. As a result, there’s growing interest in companies that specialize in creating solutions for senior workers, from flexible schedules and ergonomic workplace designs to advanced health monitoring and lifelong learning programs.

Two companies with interesting models are Seniors@Work, a Switzerland-based jobs platform that connects experienced professionals over 50 with companies and private individuals for hourly, part-time or full-time jobs and projects, facilitating efficient candidate searches, streamlining the hiring process, and handling employment-related paperwork; and Maturious, an Australia-based TaaS (Talent-as-a-Service) Platform that connects companies with the experienced mature workforce, aligning the skills, knowledge, and experience of a worker with the needs of an employer. We think there’s white space for companies with new models like this, especially as advances in healthcare and technology contribute to an extended healthspan and lifespan. Longevity has emerged as a significant area of focus for BBGV, particularly in the context of the future of work. Look for a longer post on this topic soon.

In summary, we believe the increased value of frontline workers will drive enterprise spending to recruit, train, reskill and retain. While it remains challenging to introduce new technology in sectors and industries that have decades old workforce management systems, there is greater appetite today to explore new paths to increasing productivity and worker satisfaction. Contact us to hear more about Ox, Anthill, and Upwage, companies in our portfolio addressing these challenges with unique solutions.

If you are a founder building for the changing workforce — especially in underserved sectors that employ deskless and hourly workers like healthcare, supply chain logistics, manufacturing, construction, and hospitality — we are eager to meet you! The pandemic changed attitudes; with technology, we can change outcomes.

About BBGV

BBG Ventures is a seed and pre-seed venture fund leading investments in female & diverse founders who are uniquely qualified to build for our polycultural future — it was one of the first funds to put a stake in the ground around this thesis in 2014. These founders are bringing new thinking to sectors where change is overdue, such as healthcare, future of work, fintech, climate and consumer, solving problems for millions of Americans via B2B and B2C business models. BBG Ventures has invested in over 100 female-led companies over three funds. 100% of Fund III companies have a female founder; and 81% have a founder of color.



BBG Ventures

BBG Ventures is an early-stage fund backing female and diverse founders with big ideas that will reshape the way we live.