The big questions about reopening the global economy and what new moves portend are coming in for analysis. The results, if you try to munge it all together, are frankly mud.
We’d all like the pandemoclypse to be over and out so that we can focus on the new normal but it’s not clear what that normal is — some of which is predicated on vaccination rates — and there are more than a few straws in the wind that suggest that fixing one problem might cause another.
Let’s start with real estate, commercial real estate. Not the kind that leases hundreds of thousands of square feet in office towers but the kind that focuses on the five- to ten-thousand-foot storefront.
An article in the New York Times notes that the storefronts cater to the employees in the towers and that without people in towers business at street level is doing so poorly that landlords are slashing rents doing what they can to preserve a Potemkin village for office workers to reoccupy.
Pulling no punches, the article’s opening states, “A big shift toward working from home is endangering hundreds of locally owned Manhattan storefronts that have been hanging on, waiting for life to return to the desolate streets of Midtown and the Financial District.”
It goes on to say that, “While the city is home to some of the largest companies in the world, small businesses employed about 900,000 people and made up 98 percent of all businesses before the pandemic.”
Let New York stand in for any city; this problem is not unique and there are parts of it still unknown to us.
While executives might think that work from home is great because they can see all sorts of savings coming from renting less office space, they may not be as in synch with their workers as they may wish to believe.
McKinsey surveyed executives and workers recently asking if they were living their best purpose in day-to-day work. The numbers came back in the same ratios but diametrically opposite. Eighty-five percent of executives said “yes,” and the same number of employees said “what, are you kidding?”
Of course, there are lots of reasons for this and perhaps childcare/education is one. More McKinsey research strongly suggests what many of us already know — remote learning as configured doesn’t work very well. Read all about it in the article “Remote learning gets an “F” in poorer schools.”
We saw this in the last decade in CRM when everybody went “digital” and turned their websites into little purgatories designed by a computer-literate Dante. Remember those sites? They were long on verbatim translation of the business process and very short on intuition and help. We were babes in the woods and got nada.
Things didn’t begin improving until we began adding AI and machine learning to the mix and today, just in time for the pandemic, e-commerce is going gangbusters.
The trouble with education is that there’s no budget and no interest in making remote learning workable because society and parents want to get back to the ghost towns formerly known as cities and work. So education languishes because there isn’t budget or perceived time to fix it.
The thinking seems to be that this is a once in a century pandemic just like every hurricane season lately brings us once in a century rain and flooding.
Speaking of languishing, we have a concise definition from the Times to describe how many of us are feeling. “It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.
McKinsey agrees and its research says that at least 49 percent of respondents say they are feeling at least somewhat burned out. I’d suggest that the survey takers hadn’t yet read the Times’ piece on good, old-fashioned languishing.
So where does this leave us?
We’re in the middle of a big pond with one paddle. We know things will get better and there’s land just over the horizon, but…
The commercial real estate problem is serious. The more we make it possible to work from anywhere, the worse it gets; and there’s trickle down trouble for the small retailer or restauranteur.
Yes, people have flooded remote commerce sites during the last year, but the question still looms about whether that’s a fad or a trend. Commercial real estate and a retail recession might be a big hangover from Covid that could take years to fix.
At the same time, the whole languishing thing might be best fixed by at least a partial return to Gotham and the office. Maybe a couple or a few rush hours a week is what we need.
What the research tells me is that we can’t get back to normal, just like we can’t get home from a new destination, simply by reversing the process. CRM systems, with their focus on working from anywhere, at any time, are both a marvelous solution and a potential disrupter.
We need those systems, but we also need to redevelop our business processes just like we had to do a massive postmortem on e-commerce in the early years of the century.
Education is our shining example of what needs to be done in the same way that the traditional hub and spoke model of coming together for work needs a rethink too.
There’s no doubt that CRM, along with its platforms and subsidiary solutions like integration and analytics, will have a lot to do with our eventual success — but not a lot of people are thinking about this problem now. This entire discussion before us isn’t really about the new normal. Instead, it’s about trying to ask the right questions that will get us there.