Healthy Travel, Virtual Friends, Empty Offices, and Zoom Goats
I hope you and your family are well. We just concluded Passover 2020, in exile in the suburbs, waiting for Pharaoh to let us go back to Brooklyn. The thing is, we're not sure we want to go home. We're enjoying the time away from the city.
Here are the seven most interesting things I've seen this week, followed by some bonus content.
1. You sneeze, you lose? Emirate Airlines is running blood tests for passengers boarding its flights. The tests are administered by Dubai's Health Authority in the airport check-in area, with results available within 10 minutes. Over in China, office and residential buildings scan people's temperature. In some cases, those with a slight fever aren't allowed in. In other, they are reported to the authorities and taken to quarantine. And over in France, politicians are toying with the idea of issuing "immunity passports" that allow recovered patients to travel and go back to work. Humans have a unique way of adapting to things that previously seemed unthinkable.
2. Tinder is down? Get a virtual girlfriend. Replika is a (relatively) new app that allows humans to create and interact with virtual friends. The "friends" are powered by artificial intelligence and adapt to their human companions over time — figuring out what makes them laugh, what they are worried about, and what they find interesting. 40% of Replika's 500,000 users consider their virtual friend to be a "romantic partner". When I tried the app, the conversation felt quite basic. It was like having a Tamagotchi but in reverse: instead of you taking care of a digital friend, the friend tries to take care of you by sending you regular messages and asking you about your feelings.
3. Do quarantines dream of electric sheep? If virtual friends are not your thing, you can always try goats. A farm in California launched a new service that allows companies and individuals to have a goat join their Zoom conference calls. The service is called Goat 2 Meeting and ranges from $100 for a 10-minute goat cameo and up to $750 for a full virtual tour of the farm for an unlimited number of virtual guests. A few years ago, I wrote a piece about how, in the future, real animals will be the ultimate status symbol and natural things will be increasingly valuable — materials, light, air, sound, anything that is organic to the point of feeling like it hasn’t been designed at all.
4. Take your vacancy to the bank. 90% of Morgan Stanley's 80,000 employees are currently working from home. Once the virus is contained, will they go back to the office? James Gorman, the bank's Chairman and CEO doesn't think so. “We’ve proven we can operate with no footprint,” Gorman told Bloomberg Television. “Can I see a future where part of every week, certainly part of every month, a lot of our employees will be at home? Absolutely.” Gorman said he couldn't predict much about life after COVID-19, but he was willing to predict that Morgan Stanley will have “much less real estate.” What else can I say?
5. 37 is the new 99. How many Morgan Stanleys are there in the world? How many large companies can really allow a large portion of their employees to work remotely? A new study by the University of Chicago estimates that 37% of current U.S. jobs can be plausibly performed from home. The jobs that do not require going to the office are concentrated in the large urban strips in America's East and West coasts. If my friends are any indication, many of them are thinking about moving out of the city and building businesses that do not require commuting to an office. If corporate America becomes even slightly more open to remote work, landlords are up for an interesting ride.
6. NYC Landlords predicted the virus? No. But the city's office market started 2020 very badly, with January, February, and March's leasing activity reaching the lowest level since 2009. This was before the virus and the lockdowns. If the virus didn't cool the office market, what did? WeWork's failed IPO and its decision to stop expanding — followed by other flexible space operators such as Knotel and Breather.
9. Bonus Content:
🔈 I spoke to Cushman & Wakefield's Michael Creamer about remote work, office design, invisible tech, conservative lenders, fickle tenants, and creative employees.
🎧 How to finance the future of real estate? I had a conversation with Caleb Parker on the Bold Podcast about different funding models for a world of unstable demand for office space.
🖥 I participated in a webinar with Susan Freeman, Antony Slumbers, Elie Finegold, and Jordan Kostelac to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the office market, and the lessons from post-lockdown Hong Kong.
🗞 I spoke to Commercial Observer about the opportunities and challenges WeWork faces during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Thank you for reading. And yes, now is a great time to forward this newsletter to a friend.
That's it from me. Have a great weekend, and stay well.