TWC Talks Russ Danks

We are at war, make no mistake about it. This year-long battle with our unknown enemy is long, tedious and with an uncertain timeline.  Our life has changed beyond recognition, yet parts of it remain familiar, like two parallel worlds colliding.

Overdramatic? Fast forward ten years & children in schools will be learning about the great war against Covid-19 and how it changed life beyond recognition. The key to any business right now is survival. But to survive, you must look ahead, to the future and understand the path & the steps you need to take, not only to survive but to thrive.

The thing about the future usually is the predictable nature and change that it brings is inevitable. However, there are exceptions when a change has happened quicker, an acceleration in innovation & technology, and that is in war. Covid-19 is a metaphorical war; it continues to bring change & acceleration of prior trends & technology. It also brings with it socio & economic modifications, all of which are happening due to forced changes in habits & routines. The key is, what will stick & what will bounce back?

“We are what we repeatedly do” Aristotle.

I was in Central London last weekend for a long-run (within my allotted exercise!) running around the city’s financial district. Just as the pictures dictated, eerily quiet with dystopian deserted streets, skyscrapers, stand tall, relics to a time gone by where millions would follow a well-trodden path to earn a living. I stood there, in the silence & ask how much of this will be in the new world, the post-Covid world? It leads us to more significant questions on what the world of work will look like in 2021 & beyond;

Is the commute a thing of the past?

Will people continue to work from home?

Will it be a hybrid of the two?

Will people get paid less to work from home?

What will happen to all the disused office space?

What about work’ social networks’ – the payday drinks?

Does the city die & the suburbs become the new work hubs?

Do people have to work from the UK or could they work anywhere?

Will people find a new love of holidays in the UK?

These are all important questions as our life is formed around these habits. To understand & predict these changes gives us a brilliant glimpse into how it may affect all the affected industries, from hospitality to retail to public transport. Take one brilliant pre-covid19 business – Pret. In August 2020 it cut nearly 3000 jobs because people were no longer stopping for their morning coffee or their avocado & prawn sandwich on the way to work. On the flip side, those commuter towns, like Tunbridge Wells, saw sales increase of 12% in the locally-owned coffee shops. So, like all tough times, there will always be winners & losers.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it” Peter Drucker.

Probably the most opportune moment for Drucker’s quote! The new habits of consumers & employees alike are often accelerations of previous trends; these are often hyper-accelerated with social platforms. But like all trends, they usually arrive with many ‘fads’ – so being able to pick out trends vs fad is critical. Otherwise, you can go chasing a real dud. An excellent example of a fad is probably the sour-dough starter, tons of initial excitement, but usually fizzle out quickly. Still, the overall long-term trend of bread making and baking generally is here to stay. (Another fad of 2020, clearly has to be Carole Baskin & Tiger King, but will leave that for another day…).

Graph of trend v's fad

Source: Future Factory London

So how do you tell a trend from a fad?

Look for the underlying trends people are talking about, what they are posting about regularly, and then look to see what they are doing? Keep your eyes & ears open – be curious & dig into the data.

The curve is often slower to start, but it is consistent, whereas a fad grows overnight. That said, a fad can often be a good indicator of underlying trends. A good example was Pokemon Go – a tremendous trajectory but declined just as quick as the phenomenon arrived. However, augmented reality apps’ underlying trend continues to grow – reaching a market potential of £8bn in 2020 (Grand View Research). Augmented reality may seem just a ‘tech’ thing, but how this manifests itself in the ‘real world’ can be anything from allowing you to picture furniture in your house to an ‘enhanced pub tour/crawl’.

The key here, as always, is to understand the data around you. For example, if we take the ‘work from home’ – is it here to stay? Well, it was doubling year on year (albeit from a small base) since 2016 according to the UK Data Service. By 2025, it was predicted that that would be 16% of the workforce, it currently sits at around 28%. Of those surveyed, only half said they would want to continue to work from home, preferring the office as a place of work.

So the critical prediction here is that people will continue to work from home, for ‘part’ of the working week, the office will evolve, but where will people spend the rest of the time. Local, suburban workspaces will be massive. You might not go into the office, but you will still want to be in a social setting – hospitality businesses could quickly pivot in this direction.

There will be winners & losers here; it is up for us to create the winners, those that fail to evolve quickly enough will lose. In part 2, we look forward to 2021 & beyond & who some of the winners may be….!

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