David J. Danto
Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion
NOT Traveling Blog, 1st Week Of December 2020
David Danto’s ongoing list of disjointed and occasionally random observations and thoughts as we wait-out the pandemic – mostly NOT traveling like we used to.
In the upcoming week the calendar will flip to December. In one of my first Not Traveling blogs – back at the beginning of April – I wrote “We’re going to be in this for a long while. IMHO anybody who thinks this will only be going on for a couple of weeks isn’t paying attention.” Do you believe me yet? With the prospects of a vaccine for COVID19 finally on the horizon (even though many are warning its side effects will be no picnic) we can finally look toward mid-summer 2021 as a time when we can return to normal. Or... can we?
There is an old (mostly disproven) fable about frogs and boiling water. From Wikipedia, “The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.” I believe, in the context of COVID19 and the concept of ‘normal,’ we’re all frogs, not fully realizing the magnitude of change we’re experiencing.
When we live through a period of fundamental and monumental change – as we are doing right now – we tend not to recognize just how enormous the change is and will be. As I’ve said before, it took a deadly pandemic for society to realize that knowledge workers do not need to commute to an office to be effective. All of the scapegoating of remote workers over the years was pure bunk. People are definitely able to perform individual work remotely, and be more productive in the process. That realization is most assuredly a domino that will inevitably knock down many others in front of it. This will affect technology, business and society in many profound ways not yet fully realized by everyone.
· For starters, travel will be a thing we do only when we want or need to, not when we have to. As I’ve been saying for years, business travel to a client or conference is not really in jeopardy in the long run, but a daily commute to an ‘office’ to work from a desk is definitely an endangered species. There’s no need to travel somewhere for a couple of hours a day (usually in awful, rush-hour conditions) just to do things one can do from home.
· Once the above is fully realized, the typical office will change. It will no longer be as it has been – designed with ~70% desks and offices and ~30% meeting rooms. That ratio will flip, as the purpose of the office becomes collaboration – Brainstorming, Celebrating, Planning – and simple camaraderie. These group functions will be the reason we choose to occasionally head-in to an office, not because we have to.
· Because of the above, organizations will no longer need massive office footprints in big cities. ~50 floors will become ~20. ~20 floors will become ~5. These smaller offices will no longer just be in big cities, but will become dispersed further into suburban areas. The economics of real estate prices and the enormous savings that will result from the change will be irresistible to most firms.
· Because of that one, retail establishments and restaurants geared toward the huge commuting population will likely fade away and never reopen after the pandemic. Just as with real estate, the economics of those just no longer make sense. How can you operate a restaurant meant to serve the hordes of people at lunch when there are no longer any hordes of people commuting? Restaurants and retail establishments in general will not go away, but they will become smaller and more dispersed.
· Additionally, as this inevitable trend toward Hybrid Working continues, the very places we live will change. People will decide to live where they want to based upon schools, community, family or other factors – not simply being a ‘reasonable commute distance’ away from a big city. Also, our homes themselves will change, as many decide to create permanent workstations in their houses and apartments, instead of using the kitchen table or spare bedroom that were grabbed in a pinch as lockdowns began. The equipment we use for working remotely and in the office will also change. Instead of being klugey set-ups made up of low-quality gear on hand, our conference rooms will all be equipped with smarter, easier to use collaboration devices, and our home workstations will use high-quality components like lighting, displays, cameras and headsets meant to enable the best possible quality sound and images.
So, with vaccines and better treatment now something we can look forward to – hopefully by mid-summer 2021 – we will indeed find some relief from the dumpster fire that was 2020. However, you should expect that our ‘normal’ has indeed radically changed. No matter how much one might want to, that old-normal genie is just never going back into the bottle.
Should you believe my predictions above? Well, that’s up to you of course. I’ll just remind you (again) that I predicted the current pandemic back in 2014 and warned organizations to get their remote capabilities ready for it. My caution was not to ignore clear warning signs. Just take this blog as the current warning sign. You can choose to ignore it or not.
As always, please feel free to write to me with comments or items I should add to a future Not Traveling blog (or if you just need someone to write to.) Stay safe, be well, hug those you’re sheltering with (but no one else) and do your best to stay positive. We’re going to be in this for a while longer.
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.
All image and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.
The Explanation for my Not Traveling blogs: In 2014 I was voted by USA Today readers as one of the top ten business travel bloggers in the USA. Now mind you, I turned out to be number ten on the list of ten, but I did make it on (with my thanks to all those who voted.) Now that we’re all stuck at home and not traveling, I had to think about what to do with my blogs. I could stop writing them entirely – waiting till we all get through the current COVID19 pandemic / crisis. I could wax nostalgic and/or complain about past trips. Or, I could focus all of my efforts on my day job – growing the use of collaboration technologies – especially in light of how many people are now forced to use those tools for the first time. In reflecting upon those choices, what I decided to do is compile an ongoing list of observations during the crisis. Some of these may amuse, some may inform, some may sadden and others may help. My goal will be for you to have seen something in a different light than you did before you stopped to read the blog. I was going to apologize for how disjointed these thoughts may seem when put together, but then it dawned on me that feeling disjointed is our new normal – at least for a little while.