Like many of you, I’ve been thinking a lot about what happens on the other side of this horrible moment. What happens when we step outside with confidence for the first time in however many weeks or months — what does that world look like?
It’s probably safe to say that those who think things will radically change across the board, as well as those that say we’ll be back to life as normal in a snap, are both wrong. People tend to make predictions consistent with their prior biases, and that’s pretty obvious in every prognostication that I’ve read. I’m not immune to that, so please take these assorted forecasts, for matters big and small, at face value: slightly educated opinions on the coming great unknown.
The first time I had to fly for work, it was exhilarating. By the the tenth time, the thrill wears off and business trips start to be a drag — living out of a suitcase has its downsides. Most business travel is expensive and superfluous (not to mention a huge suck on the environment), and I predict that our current experience with remote meetings will push many firms to drastically reconsider their travel budgets. That being said, I’m a big proponent of always having at least one meeting in person to build trust and rapport, especially with new relationships. Those are necessary, but delivering monthly status updates can easily be done over Zoom.
You can look at this as a corollary to the first item: the experience of surviving compulsory movement restrictions will cause more firms to become comfortable with having a remote or blended team. I’ll be the first to admit that I miss having an office and physical workspace, but more things can be done remotely than many people thought just a few months ago.
And that brings us to where people spend that remote time. If you can do most of your work from anywhere, the scales will tip for a certain percentage of employees who are considering leaving city centers. When you only have to be in the office once or twice a week, your tolerance for longer commuting distance will increase, and living in a more affordable area a couple hours away from the office becomes more appealing. This experience also has caused many to pine for larger living quarters and outdoor spaces as well — including for all the new dogs everybody’s been adopting. Looking at the New York region, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a surge of interest in the Hudson Valley, Catskills, Long Island, and even further into surrounding states.
Whether people stay in city centers or depart for points outward, in the long-term things really won’t change that much in terms of how we spend our discretionary income and free time. Putting aside the challenges these businesses are going through to survive this crisis, on the other side of this pandemic I believe some of these industries will largely return to some semblance of normal. These hospitality and entertainment businesses will have a period of adjustment for sure, but nothing has led me to believe that our human desire for these diversions has diminished.
But, some industries that were struggling with adapting to macro-level digital trends are going to see their demise accelerated. It’s hard to imagine going to a crowded movie theater on the other side of this just to pay more to watch something I could pretty easily get at home. And while there might be a little uptick in live television viewing during our social distancing, you’ve also seen surges in subscriptions for streaming services during this time.
For companies that make it through this, you’re unfortunately going to see many use the crisis as an excuse to shed payroll and other benefits, just like many big firms did during the Great Recession. This is will be the nudge for many to kill jobs that were on the cusp of being eliminated because of automation already.
There were a glut of articles about how to use your quarantine time to learn new skills or get in shape — but they’re largely useless for the many that actually have less free time, not more, during this stressful period. Given that, there are some diversions and skills that seem to be a little more universally distributed: video game sales are up, people are dusting off old Kindles and Nooks, and a whole lot more people are baking and cooking on a daily basis. I would be surprised if most people come out of this with the next great American novel, but I would bet a lot more people are going to be notching high scores on Mario Kart when all is said and done.
Again, these are just some ruminations that have been percolating during the last few weeks. I don’t necessarily think these are all good or all bad, and like a lot of us at this time, I feel more uncertain than I did before. Only tomorrow knows how these predictions will fair.