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Hello, this is the Co-op Digital newsletter - it looks at what's happening in the internet/digital world and how it's relevant to the Co-op, to retail businesses, and most importantly to people, communities and society. Thank you for reading - send ideas and feedback to @rod on Twitter. Please tell a friend about it!

Will work from home go permanently remote?

Zoom has skyrocketed to 300 million daily meeting participants even as the company battles a privacy backlash. That number - 300m participants on calls on 21 Apr - isn’t quite the same as 300m average daily registered users, but either way the growth has been meteoric.

The privacy backlash, security holes and Zoom’s casual ways with APIs are probably due to the company going very fast and having applied consumer design patterns to a business market. Individuals generally accept that the cost of getting good free services is that your data is probably going to be sent to undisclosed servers in undisclosed territories and used for unclear purposes - that’s why and *how* social media are free. But businesses are a bit warier about that. The virus has given Zoom some time to fix all that while growing, which they say they are on top of.

Zoom’s growth comes from people and businesses scrambling to do “contact”. A video call is the obvious way to make it still feel a bit like being in the office together: “The reliance on Zoom is understandable because it offers a close approximation to office meetings/conversations, but it's not sustainable or conducive to productivity”. But there are some big differences obviously. It’s harder to pick up on social cues. You’re looking at your own face. Others are dropping in and out of the call. You’re doing the “Can you hear me? No I think your mic is off” dance. You can’t see if your boss agrees with what you’re saying because the video makes her look like an impressionist painting. All of this makes video calls exhausting. You could say that video calls come with an unexpectedly large “cost of communication”. 

Some companies are committing now to more remote work. US insurer Nationwide (not the UK building society) is making some staff permanently remote. They’ll shut smaller offices and retain larger ones, which has interesting implications for both their team dynamics and for commercial real estate markets.

The longer lockdowns go on, the harder it may be for some organisations to keep “being remote” working well. Perhaps organisations whose natural mode is text (whether Slack real-timers or Amazon-style report writers) will find it easier than those whose natural mode is face to face meetings (whether standups at boards or gathering around a meeting room table).

(Related: Good read: Remote work at scale. And Facebook launched its own Zoom: Messenger Rooms.)


What does recovery look like afterwards?

Some industries are seeing massive change thanks to the virus. Online shopping and video conferencing are going crazy. Travel, holidays, restaurants, high street retail have all been reduced massively. Some of them have responded by adjusting their models to online delivery or into new areas. Supermarkets had a big bump up between January and April. 

Are these temporary changes, or permanent? Do some industries, markets, jobs and people gradually return and settle back in their natural Before Corona states? Will other industries, markets, jobs and people permanently change because the virus was an accelerant to a new “place”. You’d think that the answer to both is yes - that there isn’t one answer.


Airbnb apocalypse

Airbnb bookings collapsed as the lockdowns started, and the company eventually promised full refunds, which presented a cashflow a challenge for Ainbnb. But it revealed a second layer of unexpected financial engineering, because Airbnb is no longer a rent-a-spare-room-for-a-night platform. There are a lot of semi-pro landlords on the platform now (example: nearly half of listings in London were from Airbnb hosts with multiple properties), and many of them are hurting because they were leveraged: they’ve either been renting property as long-term rentals and then letting them out short term, or they’ve been mortgaging up to buy multiple properties. 

The stories: Is this the end of Airbnb? and Schadenfraude alert: Airbnb mini-moguls in meltdown as bookings collapse. You’d guess that very few of the landlords evaluated the risk that the short-term letting market could ever disappear, and that many of them will get out of that business. Perhaps the property market will see fairer property prices and less financial engineering?

Other news

Not back to normal: “85% want to see some of the personal or social changes they have experienced continue afterwards, whilst just 9% want everything to go back to how it was before the pandemic”.

“Digital Service In a Crisis Tip of the Day: Not only are the design patterns in the Government and NHS service manuals proven to work well for users, they also facilitate rapid and efficient iteration in fast-changing situations”.

Oversupply: SUVs are being stored out at sea because the car yards are full. And the prices for future oil contracts went negative when it looked like traders would actually have to take delivery of real barrels of oil.

UK ad market to contract by £4.2bn this year - with every kind of advertising suffering but search and online ads holding up slightly better than other types.

Coronavirus ecommerce data, impact and resources - lots of metrics/trends on how ecommerce is performing currently (probably US-centric).


Co-op Digital news

Federation House’s online events:


Thank you for reading

Thank you, beloved readers and contributors. Please continue to send ideas, questions, corrections, improvements, etc to the newsletter’s typist @rod on Twitter. If you have enjoyed reading, please tell a friend!

If you want to find out more about Co-op Digital, follow us @CoopDigital on Twitter and read the Co-op Digital Blog. Previous newsletters.
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