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The future happened suddenly: how COVID19 has accelerated the future of work, entertainment and…

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Video conferencing, Slack, video streaming and app-based fitness: all were growing prior to the global Covid-19 pandemic, and were destined to be part of the future of work, entertainment and wellness. But this pandemic has created an unprecedented, irrevocable acceleration of trends that will now shape how we work and live for the next decade and beyond. Welcome to the accelerated future.

Accelerating the future of work

Over the past two years, there’s been a consistent trend in the startup landscape: no one has offices anymore. Startups are highly motivated to spend their cash wisely, and in cities like San Francisco and New York the cost of office space forced a re-think of the need for teams to co-locate in order to collaborate. VCs, meanwhile, have seen a growing number of successful globally distributed companies such as Automattic and GitLab, and had bought into distributed work as the new orthodoxy.

My own startup, mote, is a small, remote team, and we’ve been focused on creating tools for a future workplace that is largely remote and asynchronous. Without the Covid-19 pandemic, I believe that this future of work would have emerged slowly as more and more new companies proved that this model could deliver better results for employees, customers and investors. However, now I believe that we have seen 10 years of social workplace change condensed into 30 days.

Over the coming months, offices will reopen, campus canteens will once again hum to the sounds of artisanal pizza ovens, but the writing is on the wall. We’ll quickly see big companies relaxing their policies for remote work, actively incentivizing employees to work from home and closing satellite offices. We’ll see mid-sized companies walking away from their leases, and we’ll see small fast-growth, ‘natively distributed’ companies increasingly out-execute larger, older companies tied to their real estate footprints.

Accelerating the future of entertainment

I hope and believe that theaters, music venues and movie theaters will re-open after pandemic restrictions are removed. But I believe that anybody working in the entertainment industry will have to take seriously the risks of future disruption, and will have to build greater resilience into their craft. In the case of artists and performers, that will include providing for new ways to monetize fans / supporters directly through digital channels such as Twitch or StageIt. I’d love to see the world’s leading arts and culture festivals fully committing to building paid digital experiences, building a global audience for culture in the same way the Guardian and the BBC have built global audiences for news.

Accelerating the future of wellness

Home workout experiences date back at least to Jane Fonda’s iconic fitness videos in the 1980s; outdoor cycling has been growing at around 6% per annum in recent years; and, over the past few years, an abundance of meditation and mindfulness apps has enabled us to work independently on our mental health.

But the pandemic has suddenly introduced many millions more people to the habit of using digital wellness tools and resources. These habits will prove hard to shake. We can expect to see many local and national health & fitness brands going into administration as a result of the pandemic, though I hope we’ll also see innovation in the sector and the emergence of more wellness models that blend group & individual, physical & digital.

Winners and losers

In the face of the human trauma that this pandemic will wreak, it is ghoulish and insensitive to talk about ‘silver linings’ or ‘growth opportunities’ that the pandemic creates. However, the optimistic outlook is that this terrible period will result in some changes that will leave our planet better able to address the slow-burning climate crisis, and to build more resilience into our public and private infrastructure.

There will be winners in the arenas of work, entertainment and wellness. Hopefully not just the familiar tech giant players of today, but also a new breed of private and public organizations that can help the human race rethink how we work, play and create together with greater sustainability and resilience.

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