The Remote Workforce In Retail
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Yes, I’m obsessed. I talk about it, write about it, and think a lot about what the post-pandemic retail headquarters will look like. We’re even going to do a study on that very topic. I’m working on the survey now. We want to know what you all think, too.
But why have I become so obsessed? Well, the reasons are both professional and personal.
First the professional side: I think it’s clear to a lot of people that a remote workforce is, for many, a win-win. Once the kids are back in school again, avoiding the commute is bound to be a productivity boon. And for the retailer, the cost of office space, with acres of cubicles, chairs, filing cabinets and other equipment goes down, down, down. Conference space and a few up-for-grabs workspaces is mostly all you’d need. I’ve been working from home for fifteen years, and apart from some nagging elderly cats (who were just kittens when this adventure began) it has been easy, and I’ve always been incredibly productive.
I was talking with a friend the other night, and she was telling me stories about friends of hers who work for Google and Twitter out in the world of San Francisco/Palo Alto. Their offices are designed to make it easy for them to stay at work as late as they can to get work done. I’d never thought about the extravagant dining halls, in-house gyms and childcare, showers and other accoutrements in that context before. I just thought it was rich companies using their money. But it really is all about productivity and keeping people in the office. But…
The cost of living in the Bay Area is crazy expensive and California taxes are not low. I saw a comparison of commercial rents per square foot in San Francisco and Miami and the difference was mind boggling. And so, as it turns out, the city mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez, saw a complaint on Twitter from a CEO in the Bay area complaining about those things, and immediately tweeted back “How can I help?” Now, Miami is becoming… apparently it’s about to become a tech center. An article in today’s Miami Herald asked the question, “Big tech and finance are arriving in Miami. What does it mean for the rest of us?”
Then there’s the personal side. Eleven months of lockdowns, social distancing, and verboten indoor dining have suddenly made the Miami climate very appealing. For example, throughout the course of the lockdown I’ve learned to kayak and started riding my bike again. Being out on the water is the best way to survive the Miami summer heat, and bike riding is great for those not-hot winter days. That’s a lot better than being stuffed into a small apartment in frigid weather.
The question “what does it mean for the rest of us?” is an interesting one. For one thing, we can expect housing prices to rise for single family homes (I know what my house would cost in San Francisco, for example). For another, the demand for faster and faster internet speeds will also grow, and we must do something about our traffic situation. Elon Musk has proposed building a tunnel in one of the worst spots. Elon Musk! Miami!
It has been a relief to stop hearing about Miami as the epicenter of climate change and sea level rise for a while, but that eventuality still exists. The Army Corps of Engineers just provided a proposal to protect our coastline: it wants to build a very tall wall all along downtown and north (sidebar: what is it with the U.S. and walls, anyway? We’re not living in medieval times anymore). To the surprise of no one, that proposal simply isn’t going to work, and multiple private agencies are proposing different, more aesthetically pleasing solutions, like small barrier islands, with large berms behind them that may be tall, but are walkable, can be landscaped and reasonable. The City of Miami even passed a resolution basically saying “Hell, no” to the wall idea.
I do believe a solution will be found… at least one that will last for fifty years or so.
In the meanwhile, returning to the professional side of things, I really hope our retail readers take the survey on managing a distributed workforce when it comes out. We are all starting to think about a post-pandemic world, and your vision would be great to include in the mix. There was an old song, “How’re You Gonna Keep Them Down On The Farm, After They’ve Seen Parée?” It seems we have the opposite situation now. “How’re You Gonna Keep Them In Their Cubicles, After They’ve Worked From Home?” And do you even want to?
There are so many detailed questions to ask. I can’t list them all here. But, as I said, I’m obsessed. Both professionally and personally. Stay tuned!