And just for a moment I felt part of the new social Zeitgest. My search for business trivia questions for our Zoom table quiz this evening included a quick perusal of the Financial Times (FT) and a rude awakening. Germany is not just leading Europe in the Covid-19 containment stakes. The country is celebrating its medical Covid heroes in dramatic social fashion. The FT article which caught the eye highlighted data from Bavaria revealing a 3,000% increase in sales of fantasy nurse costumes. Leaving aside that racy data point, there is no question social activities and behaviours will evolve through this pandemic and create new business opportunities.
If we return to more casual attire and online social interaction it would appear a Zoom generation of quiz maestros and game gurus has been launched. Zoom the online meeting app has experienced a 535% growth in monthly traffic with millions experiencing the low-cost joy of online giggles, competition and banter accompanied by the odd grape or grain sourced beverage. People have discovered their homes, big or small, can host a social life and skip the hassle of babysitters, taxis and wardrobe anxiety. One can expect social platforms for various interests and competitive activities to emerge with exciting scaling opportunities. Even before this pandemic, an online quiz app, HQ Trivia, was played by more than 2 million people a day at its peak. But it’s not all play and no work.
The vast majority of my work conversations this week have referenced the future of work. More specifically, cramped open-plan offices are unlikely to be the answer in a post-Covid-19 world. According to the US real estate company, CoStar, the average number of square feet of office space per worker has declined from 260 square feet in 1990 to 180 square feet today in many large cities. We have previously written about how WeWork probably won’t work as an investment but its successors and other co-working sites will need to address design issues urgently. WeWork operates on a 75 square foot per worker model and that includes the spacious common areas and the beer taps!
Of course, going forward companies will also potentially look at significant percentages of their workforce continuing to work from home for certain days in the week. Collaborative working tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack are witnessing explosive growth in usage. Microsoft alone added 12 million new users in the week ending March 19th. On a more ominous note, there have been reports of some companies using the video cameras in worker laptops to alert them if people leave their desks. This raises privacy issues irrespective of what governments will use next in their efforts to enforce social distancing policies. In an uncertain world, one thing is certain. Companies are going to be spending a lot of money on advice on how best to re-configure their office staffing levels and work-from-home conditions. Benchmarking of those steps is yet another data opportunity for the ESG world and could be costly for less attentive corporates. Indeed, ignorance could be fatal.
Speaking of ignorance and privacy. Who isn’t fascinated by the location data release from Google on population mobility? In order to control populations, the Big Brother approach might be needed. Particularly if a worryingly large percentage of a population watch Fox News and have missed some pretty important information. The Governor of Georgia just yesterday claimed he was only aware of asymptomatic Covid-19 transmission “in the last 24 hours”. Meanwhile, Google traffic data tells us visits to retail and recreation locations are down by 62% in New York State. The state of Arkansas is another GOP governor state and blissful ignorance is still rife – just the 29% fall in retail and recreation movement.
We are in an unknown territory but ignorance could be fatal for individuals and businesses. Data will help inform and record the experience but also signal change. Business owners and entrepreneurs would be advised to watch the data carefully.