The last century was about taking drudgery and automating it. People often say one of the greatest inventions was the washer and dryer. It eliminated one of the worst tasks for homemakers. The first iteration of the internet was big hardware and software. Things like Quicken were simply online checkbooks that helped automate the arduous task of keeping track of expenses. Realtor.com just took the MLS and put it online so you could view it without going to an office.
Web 2.0 made all these processes more efficient and broadened markets. Quicken has gotten smarter. It’s added services. It’s made keeping track of your finances easier and quicker. Stock trading has gone online and opened up markets to millions of investors that didn’t have access. Layers of distribution are being eliminated.
The next iteration is going to make employees more productive than ever before. Social networks allow for easy collaboration. Cloud computing makes employees mobile with files accessible from anywhere on the planet. Links, news, and communication is simple and moves at the speed of light around the world. However, there is only so much value in a social network. Facebook’s purchase of Instagram couldn’t have been about the value. Instead, it was a defensive play to combat Pinterest. Few of these social networks make money either. The market seems frothy with regard to social networks that exist purely to be social networks.
The next phase of iteration is physically going to change our world. My friend on Facebook remarked how when they were in college, libraries were always full. Today, they may or may not be. Colleges ought to radically redesign their libraries to mesh with the coming office revolution.
Companies are finding they don’t need offices anymore. Or, they need radically redesigned offices. Corporate America is reshaping the way people go to work. As we transition to a gig society, we will have less workers in corporate America. They will need a landing spot.
Currently, that landing spot is at a coffee shop. It’s almost impossible to do your job from home because there are a lot of distractions, not to mention the disconnectedness you can feel from the world. It’s not easy to be alone all day.
Current commercial real estate isn’t configured to address the new wave of working. They are stuck in the past. It’s expensive for them to change. Or, the landlords of the buildings are changing it at a glacial pace because they are unwilling to assume any risk. The other problem is simply converting space without anything to tie it together lacks focus and direction. No one will perceive value in it. The other thing I have found is big city buildings can become cellular deserts. It can be hard to get service. In places like the CBOT, it’s almost non-existent and your communication becomes a series of dropped calls.