Two ways out of this coronavirus social isolation crisis

If you’re like me, you’ve been in “shelter in place”, or under some kind of isolation that your government decided for you. Some of us are lucky enough to be able to work from home. Beyond not being able to go out and grab a drink or dinner with friends, hang out with family members that don’t live with you, travel, life is pretty much the same.

What has changed, though, is that managers everywhere are coming to terms with managing remote workforces effectively; because they have to, there’s no other way now. And teams are still performing well, without that in-the-office-have-to-be-next-to-my-team vibe. This accelerates adoption of work-from-home as the new normal. It also opens the world up for one of the two scenarios I predict will follow in the next few years.

The fall of mega-cities

As soon as people figure out that they can work from anywhere in the world, they will start moving out of expensive urban jungles like New York, San Francisco and other areas hit hard by the coronavirus and isolation.

Why would you choose to pay $3-$4,000 per month to rent a small one bedroom apartment in San Francisco? You can buy a mansion in Wyoming for less than $200,000. Or you can rent a resort-style three bedroom with pools and stuff for less than $1,500 in Arizona.

Not only people start moving away and vacating these once profitable rental properties, but the commercial space becomes empty. If you run a 400 people organization in San Francisco, you’re probably paying $10M+ every year to have an office. Now that you have unlocked that capital, you can grow your company further, hire more people, invest in marketing, sales, research and development etc.

Meanwhile, smart people everywhere are moving around. New post-isolation communities are born in places that were traditionally more closed off, and had less influx of people. We’ll replace the office with social clubs and co-working spaces, home offices and other working amenities. But there’s another interesting consequence. You start competing with people within 3-4 hours of your timezone, not just the people in your area and potential relocations. This is exciting for the global marketplace, but will place a lot of people in a new, challenging environment.

There’s going to be a spillover effect into teleconferencing software. People will try to recreate life-like working conditions in VR/AR, so we can work from anywhere.

We will reopen borders, and we will travel again, provided there is a vaccine/immunity test available. But people will have moved out of big cities and into other, traditionally less desirable parts of their countries. This combination of factors will likely change the way we live in the next century.

Open source medicine

If cities are to survive this pandemic and isolation, then we need to change the way we work with medicine around the world. Right now, every country and every state have different rules and limitations when it comes to drugs, cures, medical supplies, research, patents and ability to develop, test and go to market quickly with solutions to health issues.

The world where mega-cities continue to be the main way we live, combined with large scale travel, the old normal we were used to, require a more agile approach to medicine.

Right now, countries and companies are protecting their IP, production assets. Instead of continuing this, we could create a bounty system, where everyone contributes to a pandemic protection mega-fund. It could be bundled into a travel fee, or health tax, if people don’t want to voluntarily contribute to it.

This mega-fund invests in global solutions for future pandemics, vaccine rapid creation, advanced open source medical research that any person, country, city, state or company can tap into. It could share profits from its endeavors, like a superVC, or it could be a not-for-profit. The capitalist in me would opt for the for-profit model. This can work with strong bylaws/checks and balances, like fixed pay-per-use, based on income/net worth. This is to avoid racketeering or price gauging during times of need.

This could give us a rapid-response vehicle better than the WHO, or governments, or big pharma, or even billionaires working on vaccines on their own. It would be global, and it would be open, and it would likely be more effective.

I don’t think we’re going back to the old normal, we’ll have to create a new one, just like people did after the plague, tuberculosis, yellow fever, influenza, cholera and other pandemics. This change will also be an opportunity for generations to shift, wealth to redistribute and new models to emerge for business and society.

Photo by Jesse Gardner on Unsplash

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