“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor” – Elon Musk
With SpaceX having completed its launch for the first commercial trip to the International Space Station this past Saturday, I’m reminded of this quote by Elon Musk when he was questioned about the practicality of his bold projects. Since then, it’s amazing to see how far “the real-life Tony Stark” has come to putting a man on the moon and Mars. His fiery passion and dogmatic refusal to never give up has led to innovation in the private sector that is light years ahead of NASA and other government sponsored programs. But you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to embody Musk’s stubborn confidence and unwavering optimism in American innovation. In the colloquial words of another brilliant founder and investor, Marc Andreesen of Andreesen Horowitz, “It’s Time to Build.”
From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that the world we would return to would be vastly different from the one we left in self isolation. Countries would grapple with outbreaks, industries would rise and fall, and the nature of the way we conduct business would be revolutionized. More specifically, the “Future of Work” is shaping up as an entirely new industry in and of itself.
In many ways, the Future of Work is defined by the ability to work from home (WFH). Companies and employees have gotten creative as they move operations and communications online, and some don’t even plan on moving back. Twitter has announced its workers can work remotely indefinitely. Reddit and Slack are offering a variety of perks for teams to move remote, including home office setup stipends, increases in mobile and internet allowances, and giving one Friday a month off. More surprisingly, a Gartner report quantifies this trend and predicts that 2/3 of companies expect a portion of their workforce to remain virtual permanently. The number of workers operating remotely by 2020 is expected to reach 5 million employees (3.6% of the entire United States workforce)! This dynamic will change the way new hires negotiate contracts, as employers note that employees are more willing to accept reduced pay for flexibility in where they work. From reducing turnover to increasing productivity, engaging with the future of work will allow businesses to operate more efficiently and generate increased revenue without cutting back costs.
Yet the pandemic has done much more than just accelerate the WFH trend; it’s delivered proof-of-concept that the Future of Work will, at the very least, include some hybrid of remote work. In turn, companies that innovate to produce solutions increasing productivity and connectivity immediately become valuable. Whether it’s preserving our mental health and boosting our focus through guided meditations with Headspace or entire cities shifting to less dense populations with SmartRent to get access to more space and comfort, the very dynamic of how to conduct our work is long overdue for disruption. Already, studies highlight that 86% of workers believe they are more effective when working from home and 2/3 of employers find their employees to be more productive when at home.
While it might be hard to imagine working from home indefinitely right now, it’s important to remember that life will normalize. Our kids will return to school, businesses will reopen, and we can work anywhere we please – from our home office to our local coffee shop. This is especially important when considering the indirect benefits; increased WFH requires less commuting, less consumption and therefore less waste, reducing our environmental impacts over time.
It’ll be quite interesting, and frankly a lot of fun, to keep an eye out for some of these companies and see how they develop. Will the M&A landscape in technology continue to expand as big tech firms buy out rising stars? Will Future of Work technologies carve out their own niche in the market? How will Silicon Valley determine winners and losers, and which players truly have a competitive advantage? Only time will tell.
Here at Symba, these are the questions I get to ask, research and (try to) answer every day. We find ourselves in an exciting position; our team gets to help shape what the Future of Work might look like while helping other companies prepare and transition into a new operating model themselves. I believe that the trend of remote work, or a hybrid with increased flexibility will continue long after we defeat COVID and reopen our economies.
Who knows? Maybe the next SpaceX rocket won’t be designed in an underground bunker but remotely, at a coffee shop. The Future of Work is here.
By Rahul Mepani