Last week Twitter started something. They announced that their employees can work from home even after the COVID-19 shutdown is over. Similarly, Capitol One announced that most employees working at home can continue to do so at least through September. Amazon and Microsoft have extended telecommuting until October. In fact a recent survey of CFOs by Gartner revealed that three-quarters of those surveyed expect some of their employees currently working from will remain working from home after all of this ends.
Are we seeing a trend? Is the cubicle dwelling workforce going to stay at home in their pajamas? Well, if you read the news it seems that at least some of them will. For many of today’s employees, all they need is a smartphone, a computer and the internet, and they can do their job. At the writing of this article, my daughter is on a conference call sitting in the sun in my front yard.
I am not here to debate the pros and cons of working from home. In the spirit of transparency, I have to come clean – I have worked from home for the past 15 months. Rather, I have started to think about what will happen to the downtown areas of cities, large and small, as more people work from home and fewer people commute to an office every day.
First, let’s talk about those businesses that serve the downtown office worker. There are the restaurants the serve breakfast and lunch to workers who run out during the day to grab a bite. These include food truck and carts that also are a big part of the food ecosphere in many downtowns. Then there are the convenience stores, dry cleaners, bars, boutiques and more. Even as people get back to the office, some are going to be staying home. These businesses are all going to be negatively impacted in some way.
Drilling down on these concept in a little more, let’s look at the people who have to commute to their jobs. For some that means getting into their cars and driving to the office. Perhaps there was a stop for coffee or to gas up the car. Those transactions are gone for people who are no longer commuting. Public transit will also take a hit as fewer people commute. Metropolitan transit authorities have to revise schedules as a result. Fewer riders also means that the entire cost structure and the cost per ride will have to be revisited.
What does this mean for the payments industry?
Will the overall number of transactions decrease as more people are working from home? Will people spend more to have food delivered to their home or will they spend more at their grocery store to buy food for lunch? What will this mean to gas stations, convenience stores, and coffee shops? How is mass transit going to be affected? Will the food trucks move to residential areas?
Alas, I am afraid I don’t have the answers. The truth is, it’s just too early to tell. However, it is not too early for companies in the payment industry to start thinking about this trend, and others, which can positively or negatively affect their businesses, as we all navigate the changes ahead. Fore warned is fore armed.