A picture is worth a thousand words, or in this case, a tweeted picture of WeWork proves to be unused space for many workers. As one takes a glimpse at the imagery referenced and studies the vacated metropolis, popular tendency in the social order (now entrenched six months into the Covid-19 ordeal) is to dismiss the potential impact of what images like these mean. It makes sense, of course — since we’ve been desensitized over the course of the summer with chaos and violence — that the average observer chooses to filter out what economic inferences may be gained from analyzing a static scene such as this. But, to gain a foothold on establishing a new framework for decision-making in the times to come, and turn an uncertain situation into an advantageous one, the practice of understanding and studying meaning becomes of the utmost importance.
The sheer lack of activity happening in Reggie Middleton’s portrayal of an average day at your average WeWork office is evidence of a wide-reaching endemic that the nation faces — one of a catalyzing and complete shift in how we view general necessity. The magnitude of foot traffic that has vacated some metropolitan areas in the preceding months has been unprecedented and could be an indicator for how the moving away from urban epicenters affects how we humans will now view necessities like “office space” moving forward. To be fair, as someone who is more of an expert in a different kind of “space” allocation — that of parking, of course — the overall health of the commercial office industry is something that affects me directly, but I care even more deeply about the implications of what such a vast shift in human behavior truly means so I can determine what to do about it and thrive in a time when inventive approaches to business problems are needed more than ever.
Indicators of health in the parking industry are trending just as bleak as most. Our revenues were down 95% in the last six months, but this is not exclusive to my space. Marriott’s revenue in June 2020 was down 72% year-over-year, while Disney’s summer park revenues have taken an 85% hit from last year’s. And the list goes on similarly, ad infinitum, for all of the hospitality and commercial business sector. In fact, it was Marriott’s chief executive, Arne Sorenson, who was quoted in the Wall Street Journal(paywall) this month expressing his concerns for the meaning of this behavior. “We too often see [big companies] making decisions about keeping offices closed for as much as the next year — [which is] frustrating to us because, in a sense, that’s just sort of withdrawing from the economy,” said Sorenson.
No matter the entity, everyone taking part in the larger economy of services (which made up 78.9% of U.S. GDP in 2015) is going to have to rethink their strategy to pivot from the fallout of the pandemic, including a lack of foot traffic captured by one blogger. Still, overarching decisions like that which Google has made to remain remote long-term are making this perspective difficult to hold. Money velocity and consumer spending have changed trends to favor spending on goods rather than services, while a stable government backstop like unemployment supplements (paywall) is yet to be put in place for displaced workers. With this all said, however, you may be surprised to hear that all I can see amounting from these factors is opportunity. As Confucius said, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall” like a phoenix from the ashes.
Ultimately, these are times that will shape a new generation of business acumen. It is no secret that the after-effects of Covid-19 will likely not be known for some time, as we have yet to sort through the current effects of its systemic damage to the economy. I’ll have you consider another staggering scene of mile-long food bank lines. This is a less-than-subtle indicator to me that the wealth and income gap has never been more apparent in this country and that such a core human problem as hunger is now an unpalatable reality, with “bread lines” forming as phenomena that span multiple states. Unfortunately for even my own business, the behavior witnessed doesn’t bode well for a return to normal anytime soon. But what does “parking space” have to do with a hunger crisis? It doesn’t have much to do with it a glance, but I am thinking more outside the box these days in terms of adding value. Consequently, the unused capacity in parking is something we have, at my company, been able to “give back” in a time where compassion is needed most by providing many of our lots as Covid-19 testing centers, so people in the areas we serve can access a crucial examination more readily.
All things considered, the harsh reality is that in speculating on anything beyond the immensity of the personal financial consequences — like unpaid housing bills — that face the average person from day to day, it is understandably hard for most to devote any mental capacity to the meaning of the problems of the commercial sector. However, with a bit of creativity, fortunes can be turned to benefit those who need them most while also helping contribute to a “new normal.” We all face a tremendous headwind in our recovery due in part to the overarching decisions of the biggest corporations. However, perhaps with a slight shift in thinking, we can collectively adopt a mindset of how we get from today to tomorrow and ultimately to “tomorrowland.”