San Francisco 2021
I was in SF for a few days recently, staying at the Hyatt Regency at the end of Market street. I want to share a picture with you.
This is not a holiday, or a Sunday, or a trick shot. This is a frame of a video I took at the time showing the view down Market street on a normal business day during the Pandemic.
What does it mean?
For one thing, it means that the current situation is bleak for many businesses that depend on foot traffic for their sales. There is no foot traffic to speak of. And there is no automobile traffic either. Normally you couldn't go a block at this time of day without 2 or 3 traffic light waits. On this day you could drive a mile without stopping or slowing down.
Perhaps 80% or more of the stores are closed, many out of business. The same story is true throughout the city. We walked up to Chinatown and through the main drag - perhaps 2 storefronts per block were open. We got to the intersection with the Italian section, and found only 3 restaurants open at noon on a Tuesday. We walked to Fisherman's Warf where only 2 of the small fish stores were open, and had lunch all alone in what is normally a heavily trafficked tourist hot spot. We walked down the Embarcadero back to the hotel, and the same thing.
The foot traffic on the sidewalks of the city was also less than light. No need for social distancing, because there's nobody close enough to stay distant from. The few restaurants where we ate were happy to see us, and we were happy to see them as well. We were able to get fresh bread and a good meal at the Ferry building from the few open companies. But we couldn't take the ferries because, except for one or two AM and PM commutes, the hourly and other services were not running.
Is it coming back - and when?
A lot of businesses will not be coming back. Others will not be coming back soon. The basics are this, as far as I can tell:
San Francisco has three real sources of income; the tourist trade, corporate workers and conventions, and people who live there.
In summary, it looks bleak compared to what I see in smaller towns and cities I have seen en route and out and about. If you were projecting your business growth based on the tourist, convention, or retail trade, you had best seriously adjust your numbers. And shared office space?
The next model?
So what happens next? This is always the question when looking at the business situation and trying to plan for the path forward. Here we are into speculation and wild guesstimates. Just so you know...
I think it is likely that it will be a very long time before we return, if ever, to the high density in person lifestyle that dominated much of the big city business world. Investment groups are not meeting in person in large numbers yet, and likely won't for some time. While A2E was live online remote (LOR) from inception, many people seem to think that shaking the hand and looking into the eye of a CEO helps them discern whether the investment is any good. But being forced into the LOR world, the nature of the trust relationships and basis for trust are forcibly changing. Investors have been holding back, but pretty soon they may come to see that it's LOR or you miss the opportunity. And how many of them would only invest in stock exchange companies based on a handshake with the CEO? The basis for trust has to change, and I think is changing, towards an analytical framework augmented by conversations and longer-term relationship building LOR.
But that's just a microcosm of a microcosm. I think the macro picture is actually similar in many ways, and not just for the short run. We have not learned how to trust and evaluate trustworthiness online as a society yet. Over the ages we went from neighbors knowing each other over long time frames and distrusting strangers to a system of trust based on membership in groups and personal introductions, to trust based on appearance and the world of uniforms in the corporate culture, to government enforcement of laws allowing trust to be given based on registration processes and audits, to trust based on asserted identities and characteristics and agreeable memes in the online world, and each has failed us again and again, so we continued to seek something better.
Fears drive distrust, often based on experience or rumor. The Pandemic has brought us back to the fear of strangers and proximity, the former less and the latter more rational. The experience of history and knowledge of science drive us, but so do the feelings of fear and distrust associated with danger because of how our brains work. The Pandemic will last at least another 2-5 years. And that's enough time to drive home some level of generational change. If it lasts much longer, that change will have more long-lasting and dramatic effects.
Some real speculation
I think that the big business lots of folks in the same office complex next to each other all the time thing will not come back in a big way for a very long time if ever. I have worked from home essentially all my work life, and I find it a better approach in almost every way.
But the physical social pack creatures that we are will not likely embrace complete separation. So some people will want the proximity, and younger people will likely still congregate as part of the process leading to mating and long-term cohabitation. That's how I met my wife and how we formed our family, and I don't see going back to arranged marriages on a large scale any time soon. I also don't think online dating will be replacing all personal contact any time soon.
However, I can see scenarios where there is a company-wide or large group meeting once a quarter in a place like San Francisco. Perhaps a hotel and convention center or similar venue depending on the group size, and a 3-5 day meeting where you come in the weekend before and go home the weekend after (with significant other optional).
At these on-sites (used to be off-sites to get away, not we will call them on-sites to get together), people will interact in person, get to know each other, collaborate on projects, go to meals, etc. to help fuse the group together and get interactions going. But then it's back to your own work location (home office or other) for the rest of the quarter. Imagine wanting to go to that quarterly office meeting instead of dreading the everyday commute and time away? Loyalty should work even better if you don't spend so much time with others that you come to hate them or notice all their bad habits.
Against the wind?
You can find the future and embrace it as your path forward, or you can try to stand up to it and help those who resist the changes. Either way, you should be speculating and assessing, and considering the path of the world as it moves forward.
San Francisco is usually viewed as a leader in social and technological issues, and this may be changing, but I tend to think that it will adapt a bit sooner than most of the rest of the world. And I think it will still be a place for innovation and entrepreneurship, even if it's not the same hub for personal touch and feel for a long time to come.
But I also believe that the changes to work and location we are seeing today, the basis for trust and relationships, and the ways we go about building our future has changed. We have been live online remote since inception, more than 6 years ago. And we will still be that way after the Pandemic is long gone. Because it's the nature of the future as we see it. Of course, we could be completely wrong...
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Copyright(c) Fred Cohen, 2021 - All Rights Reserved