I was on a call the other day and Nick Ogden, serial entrepreneur, made the comment that the pandemic had been like a digital enema for the world.
The digitalisation impact of coronavirus is unquantified for the future, but it is obvious that it has had a huge impact. I’ve written quite a lot about that and will write quite a lot more. I guess the key question is: will it last?
On another call, a CEO said to me that he was recruiting people via videocalls. He was adamant that, had this crisis not happened, there would be no way he would ever have done this. In fact, taking it a step further, he said that he could never have envisaged a world run on videocalls but, now that this is the way it is, he’s happy and comfortable that this is the way of the future.
We can debate this to and fro. Some believe it is the way it will always be; others think it’s just a hiccup, and we will all go back to the ways of the past after. I’ve blogged about this before already: what’s the point of an office? and see this debate cropping up almost every day.
Jes Staley, CEO of Barclays Bank, forecasted the end of the office:
“The notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past”
This was backed up by Tom Stringer, who leads accounting firm BDO’s US site selection team, who said that: “in six weeks we’ve taken almost the entirety of the back offices of corporate America and moved them to kitchens and living rooms and it’s been pretty seamless. People are getting used to it. The stray dog or the kid wandering into the conference call is now accepted in corporate and governmental America.”
Sir Martin Sorrell, the 75-year-old advertising boss who runs S4 Capital and, previously, the advertising and marketing giant WPP, stated that: “I spend around £35 million on property in a year. I’d much rather invest that in people than expensive offices”, and also believes that home working is a permanent change to work practices.
However, on the other hand, and as I blogged before, the face-to-face human contact and chemistry is a key part of any culture and business. So, this may be a temporary change.
Citigroup’s investment banking boss, Paco Ybarra, argues against the trend, and believes that banks had been able to make the most of remote working because of “capital that we have accumulated before”, when people met face to face.
“At some point, you would see depreciation of that capital and then you would start seeing problems. Some of the feeling that we have about how well this thing works will erode with time.”
From my own perspective, I think Paco misses something that is key. In my own world, I’ve been connecting with people digitally for decades. Since 2005, thanks to Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter, I’ve created a global pool of people who inspire and motivate me. Some are regular contacts and some are irregular, but I don’t need the face-to-face connection to call them friends. They’re friends because they are in my social network.
It’s probably the same as those who read this blog. You probably know me pretty well, because you’ve seen inside my head. This blog is my thinking. It lays bare my basic ideas and motivations. You’ve seen inside my head. You’re therefore a friend in my network. You’re a friend, even though I’ve never met you face-to-face.
For me, this is the core development and trend where I’ve been ahead of the curve, as have others. But we are the early adopters, the innovators, there is now the mass movement to follow that curve.
So, I disagree with Paco of Citigroup. I think this is a fundamental shift of life from physical life to digital life. It’s 2030 delivered in 2020. It’s a new way of doing everything and we’re all becoming incredibly comfortable with doing it this way.
The end of the office?
The start of the home office?
Apart from essential workers who have to be physically present – doctors and nurses; police and fire services; waiters, chefs, supermarket shelf stackers and food delivery services; construction workers; telecom postal services, oil, gas and water maintainers; funeral services; and so on – everyone else will work from home most of the time after this.
Put another way: if your job involves most of the day sitting at a desk in an office, that office will now be in your home.
So yes, I think this is the end of the office. And more. It’s probably the end of the mega-conference, the mega-travel, the mega-hospitality industry, the everything that involved abusing this planet and travelling to places where you weren’t really needed.
Meantime, on the enema theme #NSFW …