One of my favorite (perhaps apochryphal) quotes comes from the French novelist Gustav Flaubert who, while surveying Paris during the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 declared, “After all of this, we will still be stupid.” And while Flaubert’s view of human nature is perhaps slightly more negative than mine, I do think that one of the things at which we excel as a species is overstating the long term effects of recent or current events.
That quote came to mind when I saw this morning’s headline from the Wall Street Journal: “Europe Lease Deals Suggest Traditional Office Will Endure in Post-Covid World.” The assumption at work in this headline is that a universally accepted truth in a post-COVID world has been that real estate rentals were going to take a hit, as businesses would all shift to work from home via Zoom and the various other productivity apps that link us. However, as this article suggests, the shift away from traditional offices to full-time remote working will likely not happen overnight.
We have seen a sharp decline in travel in this pandemic, since even in the best circumstances, airplanes tend to be petri dishes of disease. However, this is not the first time that the industry has faced an existential crisis. Recall the predictions about the industry’s demise during the climate of fear immediately after 9/11. Students of history will remember that not two months later, a plane crashed outside of New York City, and, in December of 2001, the infamous shoe bomber was also arrested, compounding the fear of flying that was already in the atmosphere. Similarly, in an article in the Financial Times, airline experts believe that the industry will change– more point-to-point flights, perhaps fewer giant planes– but that ultimately, according to former head of British Airways Sir Rod Eddington, “if we get a vaccine, people will be back to normal in a year.”
None of this is to say change won’t happen– perhaps men will start washing their hands after going to the bathroom more— but the changes will be more subtle and less dramatic than we think. And, like taking our shoes off when we board airplanes, they will likely soon become the new normal.
Perhaps the greatest confirmation of the fact that the ways of the world will be slow to change is that I, who passionately embraced working from home (almost as much as my dog), am writing this to you from our office on the corner of Glenway and Monroe.