Note: This post is a preview of the Forces of Change research that will be presented at IIEX Forward, an online conference on June 16th 2020. Embee Mobile is part of a consortium of companies undertaking a deep look in understanding what the world might look like on “the other side” of this pandemic. The perspective is on shifts in culture and consumer behavior and the content is curated to give you the tools and data you need to successfully navigate COVID-19 and digital transformation.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of millions of workers have left their office building and office parks to work from home. Many of these workers will still be working from home once the pandemic ends, resulting in far-reaching economic, behavioral, and cultural changes.
The migration of workers from central offices to home offices will have a large and lasting impact on the economy, consumer behavior, and culture.
Facebook and Twitter recently made headlines with major announcements of their plans to shift their workforces to home offices, but they appear to be just the tip of the spear. A survey conducted by Buzzback for Forces of Change indicates that four in ten workers in the U.S. and U.K. are now working from home. A recent MIT survey of 25,000 U.S. workers conducted April 1-5, 2020 showed that 34% of respondents reported working from home for the first time in the last four weeks, in addition to the 15% already working from home..
And to reinforce the expected permanence of this shift, a study conducted by Consensus Point for Forces of Change predicted that current COVID-era levels of working from home would stay the same or increase. The Consensus Point prediction market set the probability of this migration continuing at 78% in the U.S. and 89% in the U.K. This is not going away.
While this trend is starting to get the attention it deserves, few have yet grasped just how profound and far-reaching the impacts are likely to be:
- Real Estate – The most obvious impact is that shifting workers from office to home will blunt demand for commercial real estate, creating a glut of office space and an attendant drop in rents. Less obvious are the impacts on residential real estate as workers realize they need permanent, dedicated office space in their home. This realization will drive home renovation (beneficiaries: The Home Depot and Lowes) as well as trade-up to larger homes.
- Technology – Zoom’s meteoric rise has been well documented, and Microsoft Teams has benefited greatly as well. According to app usage data collected by Embee for Forces of Change, Zoom’s user base increase 12X from February to April, and MS Teams’ user base increased almost 3X. But other apps have benefited as well, like Docusign (+48%) and Adobe Fill & Sign (+26%) for executing documents and contracts remotely, and HP Print Service Plugin (+45%) for printing from mobile devices.
While the infrastructure of the internet has generally held up well under the increased load of video streaming and gaming, the demands of the new work reality are likely to accelerate the buildout of 5G networks and adoption of the devices that run on them.
- Commuting Culture – So many aspects of daily life are built around the concept of getting from home to the office and back that the impacts are likely to be pervasive:
- Convenience stores are basically built for commuters who need gasoline, coffee, cigarettes, and snacks, and so convenience store traffic is likely to suffer even after the recovery.
- Radio, podcasts, and music streaming services like Spotify are all strongly associated with time in the car and benefited from dedicated time available for listening. With workers now at home, these media will now have to compete with other activities including visual media for listeners’ attention.
- Automobiles – Less commuting means less miles, less demand for cars, auto service and gasoline. Auto insurers moves to credit customers’ accounts for lower miles will become a permanent drop in rates for those working at home.
- Time – according to the U.S. Census, average one-way commute times in 2018 were 27 minutes each way, or about an hour a day total. What will consumers do with that extra time?
This massive workplace shift will impact between 10% and 20% of the U.S. adult population, and because those making the shift are predominantly white-collar workers with above-average wages, the economic impact is likely to be large. For these tens of millions of workers, the whole context and rhythm of their lives will change.