COVID-19 and The Future of Work
Atlas has shrugged and here’s what happens to our office culture and the technology that will make your work life easier. (And a few recommendations)
I’m not a health expert. Do not take anything I say about COVID 19 as authoritative or even well-researched. There are tons of great resources and articles about it like this one, this one, and this one. And please wash your hands like it’s your job for the next few weeks! (If you find any interesting or relevant articles, shoot them to me.)
But, I do know a couple things about offices and the technology that powers them. In fact, I’ve spent the better part of a decade digging into how offices work, how people flow through them, how tech can enhance and enable experiences, and generally just “nerding out” on office tech.
So, in the wake of this terrible global pandemic, I thought it would be relevant to talk about what work looks like in the future now that most of us have no choice but to work from home.
I should note that I have been working from home, coffee shops, coworking spaces, and even churches since 2013 when I started my first company. And that leads me to a good point to make before we dive into this:
Working remotely is a skill.
Like any other skill, it can be improved with practice, research, and just a little bit of strategy and thoughtfulness.
So, what follows are a few predictions on what your work environment looks like after we all reconvene in the wake of COVID-19 and then a few recommendations on some tools that have worked for me. I’m also including some additional resources at the end and a way to contact me if you have feedback or questions.
Let me start with what I think will happen as a result of this mandated work-from-home stint.
First, and most obviously, thousands of people will be working from home for the first time and that is going to have some fascinating consequences. I’m betting that leaders will find three things:
- The technology is better than they thought. (See my comments on Zoom et al below.)
- People waste MASSIVE amounts of time in the office on non-work (including “busy” executives).
- And therefore productivity will NOT fall as precipitously as they feared when they sent everyone home. (Sales/Revenue will fall, but that’s another issue!)
My supposition is that many thoughtful, tech-forward leaders and business owners have wanted to try remote work and a distributed workforce for a while but have been “too busy” doing deals to try experiments like that in this historic economic run.
Now they have no choice.
And as deal flow and email flow slows, now is the perfect (non-negotiable?) time to look at how to manage a distributed workforce.
Keep reading below for a few of my recommendations to get you started.
My second prediction is on the tech side . . .
Expense-saving technologies will make a run.
In my experience, boom cycles are great for companies that help real estate owners generate more revenue. Stepping back, if you break the startup world in real estate tech into two camps: 1) The ones that generate revenue for owners or 2) the ones that save expense for owners, I have found that group 1 does better in a boom cycle.
Which makes sense to me.
Owners get judged (and paid) on their assets under management. That means they have to solve for maximizing revenue. And they do. More deals = more revenue = more fees = happier GP. Simple math. This is the real estate equivalent of “making hay while the sun is shining.”
Now, the top ten firms tend to focus on both revenue growth and expense management, but they are a tiny percent of the market. So it’s probably fair to say that in good economic times, the vast majority of the market is looking to increase revenue more than they are looking to decrease expenses.
That’s why I say booms (i.e economic up-cycles or peaks) favor the revenue-increasing crowd.
But the reverse is also true.
When the music stops and the free cash flow acquisition/development bonanza slows (i.e. RIGHT NOW), they have to lay people off and cut costs. Eventually, that flows down to the tech stack and how technology can replace/augment their human capital.
And that leads us to — Now is the time to shine for companies that save cost!
The market is about to shift from “Let’s do everything we can to maximize revenue” to “let’s do everything we can to cut costs and minimize layoffs or dropped deals.” Look out for the energy guys like Enertiv, Aquicore, Mach Energy, and Carbon Lighthouse that have quietly grown in relative obscurity in the boom and are now poised (with quantifiable case studies) to really take off.
Expect these bottom-line-positive companies to really emerge as strong players in the coming year.
**NOTE — I spend a fair amount of time researching and thinking about tech in the office space every week and how those technologies flow to a P&L. If you have ideas or questions, reach out to me. My email is at the end of the article.**
Those are two high-level predictions for PropTech in the coming months. Let’s move on to a few recommendations.
I know there are entire books and sites dedicated to remote working tech stacks. But I thought it would be useful to give you just a handful of my recommendations on the tools that I use (or am exploring using) to make myself as effective as possible.
I have two that are obvious and widespread and two you may not have heard of.
In my opinion, this is a one-horse race. With all due respect to Google Hangouts, BlueJeans, Teams, GoToMeeting, and all the other video conference providers, Zoom is the best. (And I love Google products. So this is a bit of heresy for me.) I love being able to record my meetings and I find the “mute all” button to be highly useful as people still seem to be baffled by the concept of muting themselves when they are not talking. And if you have a strong enough processor, you can create a background for your calls so your coworkers don’t have to see your kids running around naked behind you.
Also, I use the mobile app all the time. It’s super easy and intuitive.
Pro tip: When you record meetings (which you should, with consent), record to cloud. You’ll need to empty your cloud storage periodically, but I’ve had trouble recording to my computer if I log off, have my wifi disrupted, or anything else that would keep my mac from sitting there and processing a recording for 30 minutes after a call. You might also want to look at Krisp for noise-cancelling and ZoiMeet for transcription.
If I had to use something else — Hangouts (they just announced free enhanced tools like recording for basic business accounts)
Yes, I use Slack. No, I don’t use it much. My problem with Slack is that I have been using it for so long that it became a distraction. I was on something like 20 Slack channels and would get a notification every ten minutes from at least one of them. Since that distracted me from doing pesky things like, you know, actual work, I ended up turning off notifications on Slack. So now I only check it once a week or so. Most people just text, call, or email me with anything urgent.
But I’m a weird, fringe case. I don’t need to quickly chat with coworkers and share drafts or documents and Slack is easily the market leader there. If you are accustomed to multiple quick-chats and check-ins throughout the day, Slack is a must-have.
I will say that I have found the interface on desktop to be a little clunky when it comes to certain things. When I manage members and change anything meaningful in Slack, it will often throw me into my browser. There, I have to re-login, navigate to a page on their website (which is a different layout than the app), and figure out what I was trying to do in the actual Slack app. While I understand the focus on mobile-first usability, I’ve found the back-and-forth between the app and my browser a little tiresome and annoying. Just FYI. (I don’t think I should have to leave the app. But I’m picky, I suppose.)
Pro-tip: Be thoughtful about your subchannels. Most people have a #general channel, but everything else is up for grabs. You can have team-specific channels, deal-specific channels, etc.
If I had to use something else — Hangouts Chat
Let’s pause here for a moment.
If you are new to working from home and managing a team remotely, stop here and go get to know Slack and Zoom. They are the most crucial tools to make sure your team can meet and communicate effectively.
As I go further down the rabbit hole below, we’ll get into some more specialized tools and tricks but these two will probably cover 80% of your issues.
I find time tracking to be non-negotiable. Not because I don’t trust myself or to imply you shouldn’t trust your team with their time. (If you don’t trust your team, I don’t like your team.) No, I’m just obsessive about efficiency and I can’t imagine a way for you to convince me that you are effective with your time if you don’t measure your time.
You’re a spectacular time manager?
Use a time-tracking tool and let me know exactly how you spend your working hours. I love seeing how much of my day is on prospecting, emails, writing, calls, research, meetings, etc. Knowing where my time goes is the only way to know if I’m being effective with it.
End of rant.
You should try a time tracker. There are tons and most are free.
I like Harvest but pick one that makes sense to you and your team.
Pro-Tip: I like to use the mobile version. Clicking back and forth between windows on my computer makes me more likely to forget to stop the timer and move on to the next task (#8HourLunch).
If I had to use something else — Clockify
This is a startup I’ve only known for a few weeks, but I’m impressed with what they are trying to do. In essence, they track and manage how your teams interact with each other. Who is having meetings, who is sending emails, who is collaborating on what? Questions like those have been difficult to quantify
AR Inspections + Meetings
Finishing a construction project? Need to physically see or tour something on the other side of the country/planet?
Use an AR (augmented reality) headset and meeting technology company, like Avatour.
If you have a headset like the Oculus Go, you can slip it on, log in to Avatour, and then on the other side of the country your colleague can carry a 360-degree camera around the site for you to physically see what is happening on property.
This is another startup I’m just getting to know, but if you have construction draws pending or TIs that need your eyes, I would recommend giving them a try.
If I had to use something else — Spatial.io
That’s most of it.
Here are a few more resources —
Guide to Remote Work (Twist)
I like SurveyMonkey for surveys and MailChimp for my newsletters but otherwise the companies above should be able to help with most of what you need to get started on working remotely.
If you have any other suggestions or must-haves for remote work (particularly as it relates to real estate), shoot me a note and I’ll take a look — MKnight@blkhwk.com. I also do some work with large CRE owners on their tech stack and the remote work stack would be a part of that. If that’s you, shoot me a note.
Note — some of these companies compensate me when I send them a paying customer. If you think that biases my opinion, feel free to ignore it and do your own research. No hard feelings.