In the last four months, we are seeing the rise of the telecommute, now better known as work from home (WFH) phenomenon. This is a result of simultaneously keeping a semblance of economic activity and staying safe from COVID-19. The WFH concept is not new and it has been popularized for the past two decades, particularly when the internet and its related technologies took off. However, the proportion of WFH in a general populace is dependent on the management or even societal culture and attitudes toward it, e.g. typically Asian management tend to be more reluctant to allow WFH than their Western counterparts. Other factors, such as data security and productivity, are also oft-highlighted obstacles to WFH.
Recently there were surveys conducted and opinions reported that WFH was slowly gaining traction and it could see a shift towards it. Tech firms such as Twitter had already declared their workforce to be able to WFH completely. Granted that not all jobs can be fully done on WFH only, but it could probably be the next new norm or paradigm shift that may affect the way we work, or work-style as I call it.
There is a general consensus that if WFH is getting prevalent, the concept of the office would gradually become moot and there is an increased utilization of home spaces doubling up for work purposes, like probably having a home office corner. In this case, the first concern in most investors’ minds is likely the slowly diminishing importance of office and commercial properties, resulting in their oversupply.
The impact of WFH goes far beyond offices and shift of home property use; there will be changes to the entire ecosystem that supports the traditional work-style. Suddenly the notion of waking up early to prepare oneself for work would be of less relevance. The human traffic that makes up the familiar peak hour squeeze on public transportation and roads would be reduced tremendously. The peripheral services (depending on where they are located) that support the old work-style such as the go-to coffee shop for a quick cuppa during teatime and the friendly stationery shop owner that sells you the much needed blue-ink pens may be affected. Human resource attitudes and practices may also change, and this will bring us to a whole new dimension. I could go on and on, and the material thought of may qualify as a standalone book.
Just imagine a simple shift of norms will create a butterfly effect all around, highlighting the symbiotic and fragile relationships in the whole scheme of things.
However, norms and things do change all of the time, mostly gradual while others are almost overnight. Viewing from the COVID-19 perspective, it did hasten some styles (life and work) and technologies that would perhaps be thought of as not implementable in the near future. The rise of teleconferencing (or Zooming or Skyping, depending on what one uses), increased volume of e-commerce and the accompanying delivery services of goods and foods, and the popularity of using virtual or pseudo-virtual concepts that mimic or replace physical ones like using the Mural app for online group brainstorming, to name a few.
Some elements of society do want to go back to the good old days when the whole COVID-19 thing is over, which in my view is that probably they are not ready to adapt or think the whole new norm could be just a fad and may die down. Thing is, we may be already heading to the new norm, just that it will be creeping in subtlely and sub-consciously. Humans are a contradicting species; sometimes we may be resistant to change and sometimes we are open to it, whether known or unknown, overtly or covertly. Adaptability and improvisation are key at such times.
If you are an active investor, you will need to consider and think deep on the abovementioned points. They may provide some clues and indications to work out on your next “guesstimate” in determining where the next growth (capital and dividend wise) areas would be. Viewing things from different facets are required if you want a glimpse of the next big thing to invest in.
So how will the WFH (r)evolution pans out?
We shall see.