- Will I be giving up my cherished office in the future?
- We are "biological beings in a digital age."
- Changes to business and consumer practices are starting to emerge.
Yesterday, I went to my office downtown: it was a ghost town. At 4:00, one person was scurrying through the iconic lobby of our building, which usually has thousands of people a day. There are new protocols to enter the building, signage, and access the elevator banks: use an access card, see the security office before going to the office. Our office is limited to 10 people a day (usually there are over 100 people a day on our floor). We follow a protocol and answer health questions, wear masks, and remain 6 feet apart.
The food courts have limited use, mostly still shuttered.
What does this mean in the future? Will everyone one day return to offices? According to the latest within RBC, they are contemplating a gradual, slow reintroduction, following whatever directives are provided by governments. Possibly starting with 20% of the staff allowed at once. I've collected some interesting data points:
- Nearly 5 million more Canadians (~40% of the workforce) are working from home. These are predominately the higher educated and concentrated in Finance, Real Estate, Professional Services, Management, Wholesale, and IT.
- It is estimated that 40% of U.S. jobs could be done from home, permanently. Pre-pandemic, only 4% of Americans worked from home
- 75% of North Americans would prefer to work from home "a little or a lot" once restrictions ease.
- 57% of North Americans are unwilling to go to a business conference until there is a vaccine.
What this means is the technologies for remote collaboration: video conferencing, platforms, technology security will be ramping up. Not to mention the challenges of managing these workforces remotely. Let's say that 90% of those that are working remotely do return to their offices: that's still 500,000 employees that won't need office space going forward: fewer offices, less paperwork. It would be challenging being an owner of substantial downtown core commercial assets going forward.
And a few other exciting measures, that give an idea of the order of magnitude of the shift to digitalization:
- Data creation will grow to 175 zettabytes (that's a new one for me!) by 2025: 10x what it was in 2018
- It is estimated that we interact with a connected device 4,800 times a day.
- How we learn remotely has changed: 1.4 million Canadian University students shifted almost all at once to online learning, and many of these universities have already cancelled on-campus education for the fall at least.
One day, there will be a vaccination. That said, 68% of North American's are unlikely to take a vacation in 2020. 43% of Canadians won't go to an arena, stadium or concert venue until there is a vaccine. Between now and then, however, new practices and norms will become entrenched: Shopping online won't disappear, remote work isn't going to stop, and traditional brick-and-mortar business models will continue to have to adapt. At the same time, I believe our investing also has to reflect these new realities.
While I do miss my office, and the fantastic view, I too have to be prepared as well for perhaps a "change of scenery":