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The Great Re-Wiring

This past week, Dropbox announced it will let all employees work from home permanently as it turns its offices into WeWork-like “collaborative spaces”. This was just one of dozens of companies announcing change in work plans. Recent surveys indicate that most employees have no interest in ever going back to work full time, with 50% saying they would leave jobs that do not offer a work from home option for at least a few days a week.

In NY, where 2.2 million people used to take transit into Manhattan (only 1.2 million people live in Manhattan but 3.4 million people used to work there every week day) they no longer do. The sparse streets have led to 20 percent of small businesses to begin the process of closing and hotels such as the Royalton are being sold at 25% below their 2017 purchase price while The Standard sitting next to Google NY has failed to pay its mortgage for three months. Several others have closed down permanently as hotel occupancy remains at 30 to 40 percent far from the 70-80 percent needed to break even. Planned building activity in Manhattan is down 50% and commercial real estate bonds are trading at 30 to 40 percent of their face value.

Regal Theatres have closed down again and AMC says it will run out of money by January and in desperation is leasing an entire theater for 99 dollars so a family can see a movie safely by themselves.

This past week every night for 2 hours, I served as a moderator/emcee of a Publicis Groupe global executive program for 65 top leaders in 13 countries across 6 time zones. Break out sessions incorporated people who were physically living hours and thousands of miles apart but virtually were in the same room sharing notes and solving problems. Speakers and trainers came in from all around the world and there was a lot of interactivity and connection. In a couple of weeks we move the training to India/Middle East and Eastern Europe while the folks who run the program remain in NY and Paris, with me in Chicago.

As someone who used to fly 120 to 140 flight segments a year it was clear that in many ways this was far superior (not that everything can be replaced or replicated in the virtual world but we will need much less and much more well thought out reasons for global gatherings) .It is increasingly likely that the next Athens, London, Bangalore, and Silicon Valley may actually be in the cloud and no longer a place.

What we are seeing six months into a shutdown with at least another six months before us, is the re-thinking of distance and the tyranny of time schedules which is leading to a Great Re-Wiring of the Big 6 Places (Home, Work/School, Retail, Eating Out, Entertainment Venues and Travel) where we spend the majority of our waking lives .

For many months, five of these six places ( home, work/school, retail, eating out, and entertainment venues) have mostly collapsed to the home with the help of zoom/teams/google to study and work, e-commerce to shop, food and grocery delivery bring eating out in, and streaming enabling us to entertain ourselves as more and more museums, operas and much more stream online.. The sixth big area where we spend our time, travel has declined sharply as we commute less and fly almost nothing.

Many of these changes will become hardwired not just as the infrastructure adapts but because our human minds are re-wiring as month by month passes and we adapt to this “new strange” and the normal of December 2019 fades into the past. The first and second order effects of these changes will have huge impact on individuals, businesses and broader society.

Changes in where we work will be the driving force of the rewiring.

At the center of the re-wiring is the place we work, which will vary from Industry to Industry, but is likely to see the end of the five day at the office work week for most white collar industries.

Even with a vaccine and with no virus it is increasingly clear in an age of fast broadband, 5 G, Cloud computing and much more the hauling of our bodies to and fro from home to office five days a week was being due to just plain inertia and even pre Covid-19 made no sense from a use of time, energy consumption or productivity.

Now that we work 100 percent time from home very few of us are pining to get back five days a week to work.Rather we need to ask what do we return to work for? And if it collaboration, training, relationship building and Client work how much does this require?

A good guess will be that in most industries the time spent in offices will decline by at least half and probably much more, and likely hollowing out commercial centers of major cities.

This will dramatically reduce how much we eat out (both every day breakfast and lunch in transit and at work ) and travel ( commute to work or fly on business). A 20 to 30 percent reduction and even more in city centers for eating out is likely and maybe a 40 to 50 percent reduction in business travel. Urban transit which was already losing money will be really challenged with half or fewer riders.

We are likely to see an increase in personal travel as we aim to catch up to all the experiences we lost and meet the friends and loved ones we could not. This will change the economics of airlines which often depended on the business traveller for all their profits.

Retail will also change in that it is likely we will buy fewer clothes for work and with many more millions getting comfortable with e-commerce will continue to hollow out the malls and retail corridors.

The biggest unknown is the future of Entertainment. It is very likely that post vaccine live experiences from Broadway Theater to Concerts to Sports will surge in popularity while movie theaters are likely to struggle as streaming becomes the core business of the Big Studios and the economics of movie going look increasingly expensive to that of streaming at home.

But even home entertainment is in the throes of change and every Marketer must pay attention. This coming Tuesday, E-Marketer will be releasing a new study called the US 2020 Digital Users Report whose author Debbie Williamson shared a preview and key take aways with me.

Six Key Take-Aways From the Upcoming E-Marketer Report

1.Small can be mighty. Activities with smaller user bases, such as live video viewing or video game viewing, were more likely to see significant pandemic-related growth in our forecasts. The unusual nature of the lockdown made consumers more eager to explore new things and try relatively niche activities.

2. Within digital video, subscription OTT is the clear winner. This year, there will be 207.5 million subscription OTT viewers, a 13.1% increase over 2019. In our previous forecast, we estimated just 5.1% growth this year.  

3. Although many social networks have experienced increased engagement, the pandemic didn’t cause an increase in the number of people using social networks or messaging apps. There will be 212.1 million social network users in the US this year, up 3.3% over 2019. That’s just a small acceleration over our February forecast of 2.5%.

4. The large increase in live video viewers is one of the biggest digital media growth stories during the pandemic. Our new estimate of 151.5 million viewers is 15.1 million higher than we had predicted in early 2020.

5.Gaming is another pandemic success story. Growth in our user forecast has come from multiple types of games, including casual games and social games, and across console, desktop, and mobile platforms.

6. Increased time spent at home has caused an increase in our forecast for digital audio listeners, in particular desktop audio. But the number of podcast listeners has not been dramatically affected by the pandemic.


The key thing every business person should be aware of Debbie note was that “You’re only getting part of the picture if you look at whether the pandemic caused consumers to increase their engagement with a particular activity or medium. Smart marketers should also look at where consumer audiences are going next (not just where they are now). Consumers do not have unlimited time to spend with media, and the unexpected growth of some activities in 2020 could cause other longstanding activities to lose engagement, users, or both”

While this is for the US, I have no doubt each part of the world has with the possible exception of China which has returned to business as normal will see significant shifts in behavior.

The Great Re-wiring is Underway…

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Rishad Tobaccowala (@rishad) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by Harper Collins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in and The Economist Magazine called it perhaps the best recent book on Stakeholder Capitalism. Rishad is a sought after speaker, teacher and advisor who helps people think, feel and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at https://rishadtobaccowala.com/

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