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The Magical Mystery Return to the Office

It’s now been over a year and a half since COVID-19 became a global pandemic. The early months thereafter caused marked disruptions in nearly all aspects of our lives. Supply chains became delayed, businesses shut down, and many of us found ourselves working remotely. But as time passed, the assumption was that things would eventually return to some type of normalcy. Companies delaying a return to the office would soon require employees to come back to their cubicles. But with each date set for a return to the office after COVID, coronavirus case increases and variants emerged. This has subsequently caused many companies to pulled back reopening plans, much to their disappointment.

In some ways, the return to the office after COVID has been like the boy who cried wolf. But instead of the boy who falsely claimed a wolf was near, businesses face the real deal. COVID cases and variants are real, and in order to protect their employees, they must address the problem. This has resulted in many missteps and broken promises with companies repeatedly delaying a return to the office. And now, it is truly a mystery if some of these businesses will ever return to full force in the office. Many are reevaluating their situation as a new COVID variant appears a few months after the last. For some, a full reopening may never happen if the current patterns of COVID persist.

“A year and a half ago, we thought this would be for a very short time. But the pandemic has thrown us many curves, and employers need to continue to be nimble.” – Jeff Levin-Scherz, Population Health Leader at Willis Towers Watson

Major Companies Delaying a Return to the Office

Naturally, most large firms, as well as smaller ones, shifted to remote work early in the course of the pandemic. Risks associated with COVID-19 certainly justified these policies as the number of deaths escalated quickly. But many believed this would be a temporary move, lasting months at the worst. In fact, many began predicting a return to the office after COVID by the fall of 2020. Unfortunately, this didn’t become reality as COVID cases spiked again around that time. Unphased, companies then became optimistic once again once vaccinations became available. But this time, the Delta variant again led to companies delaying a return to the office. And now, the same thing is again happening as the Omicron variant throws firms another curve ball. For some, this will be the fourth time they aborted plans for a return to the office after COVID.

An ancient office, before the plague hit
Companies delaying a return to the office shouldn’t be a surprise anymore–but somehow it is.

The latest round of companies delaying a return to the office is due to the unpredictability of the Omicron variant. Though it is believed to be less deadly, it appears to spread rapidly and be more resistant to vaccine protections. Given this, companies like Google, Meta-Facebook, and Ford have placed their return to the office after COVID plans on hold. Lyft has actually stated its employees do not have to return for all of 2022. Based on the rise in COVID cases in the United Kingdom and Scandinavia due to the Omicron variants, businesses are weary. But at the same time, they’re also extremely frustrated, as are their employees. The lack of certainty is perhaps the most troublesome aspect for some, though others see it as an opportunity.

“Sometimes our team will say please just make a decision, pick something, make us come back to the office or make us be remote. But it’s not something that we want to rush. To be able to lean into the discomfort and say we don’t know is a great gift that we can give to our team.” – Jessica Saranich, U.S. Group Operations Manager, Monday.com

Changing Dialogues About a Return to the Office After COVID

For most companies, stating a precise date for a return to the office after COVID was believed to be important. CEOs would predict that their employees could expect to be back by a particular date in order to provide certainty. But as each date has come and gone, such statements look less and less authentic. Vaccines and COVID pills aren’t likely to change this either. (Read up on the anti-COVID pills in the works in this Bold story.) The inherent uncertainty that the coronavirus has introduced has humbled even the largest firms. This has led to companies delaying a return to the office to adopt a different approach. Rather than assuming they can anticipate an actual reopening of their offices, they acknowledge its dynamic nature. This shift has caused many companies to see their situations in a different perspective.

More than anything, employees want the truth when it comes to company plans. Transparency is king in this regard. Therefore, companies are increasingly admitting that they are unable to predict the future when it comes to COVID. Rather than pretending they can, some are simply dealing with the current situation as it comes. For some businesses, that means going all-in on a remote work environment indefinitely. For others, it means creating a more dynamic workforce and work environment to deal with change. And others are simply acknowledging that knowing an actual date for a return to the office after COVID is impossible. In doing so, workers are less affected when companies delaying a return to the office extend their reopening dates.

(The stats don’t lie: remote work in some form is here to stay–read this Bold story on it.)

“Omicron has made me realize work life will never return to the way it was pre-COVID. It made me realize how working from home is likely to keep employees, their families and also our clients safe.” – Gisela Girard, President of Creative Civilization

Fantasy or Future?

By their very nature, viruses adapt and change in order to survive. In this regard, perhaps businesses should do the same. While many firms dream of returning to pre-pandemic operations, this may represent nostalgia rather than realistic thinking. In all likelihood, COVID-19 will continue to mutate, and new variants will keep emerging. This is why a return to the office after COVID represents more of a magical mystery than something written in stone. For now, companies delaying a return to the office is smart, especially in terms of employee safety. But long-term, they may need to embrace a more dynamic approach to their operations. Only time will tell if full reopenings ever take place. But waiting to see if that actually happens instead of adapting could be the demise of some businesses.

 

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Top 8 Big Companies That Made 2021 Better

Over the past year, major companies have made some pretty impressive achievements. Even in the midst of continued setbacks related to the pandemic, corporations persevered, pushing society to new heights. In the process, advances in a wide variety of fields took place, paving the way for an exciting and intriguing future. While dozens of top notable companies deserve recognition, some can be considered among the more valuable companies in this regard. Understanding this, the following offers a list of the top eight biggest companies that made a positive difference in 2021. Their contributions definitely made the year not only better but the future brighter as well.

  1. SpaceX

Any list of top notable companies for 2021 must include SpaceX as a consideration. For 2021, SpaceX surpassed its prior record for most space flights ever in a single year. When all is said and done, SpaceX will have had over 30 launches fulfilling a variety of mission goals. In addition to several place Starlink satellites into place, others have had other objectives. These include resupply missions to the International Space Station and participation in NASA’s DART Program. The latter is an asteroid redirection test system that hopes to protect the planet from asteroids entering the Earth’s orbit. All of these achievements are quite amazing and hint of much more to come.

  1. Mind Medicine, Inc.

This year has been huge for psychedelic therapies as increasing evidence shows the tremendous benefits these drugs offer. The NIH awarded its first grant for psilocybin research in over 50 years. Likewise, the state of Oregon became the first state to approve therapeutic use of psychedelics. But in terms of top notable companies in this field, Mind Medicine Inc. deserves recognition as well. Mind Medicine is among the most valuable companies pursuing a wide variety of psychedelic compounds and formulations. They are also developing digital therapeutics to augment their effects. Their broad vision is impressive, which is why they are now trading on the U.S., Canadian and Germany stock exchanges. (Tap into Bold’s series of stories on the psilocybin industry–start here!)

  1. PayPal

In the fintech world, PayPal has become among the most valuable companies this past year. It is now valuated at over $216 billion and plans to continue to grow. This year, PayPal expanded its cryptocurrency offerings into the UK, which signals their belief that digital coin is a keeper. Those in the UK can now buy, hold, and sell using cryptocurrency through PayPal within the limits the company has set. PayPal is also jockeying for position among top notable companies wishing to develop a super app in the U.S. Don’t be surprised if the company makes some major moves in this regard in the coming months.

  1. Tesla

Back in 2013, Tesla Motors produced only 20,000 electric vehicles. In 2021, however, Tesla will surpass a major milestone with over a million cars in annual run rate. This alone makes tesla among the most valuable companies for 2021. But in addition, Tesla has made other great strides as one of the top notable companies of the year. It introduced its five-passenger Model S luxury sedan. It also ramped up its Shanghai Gigafactory, which now out-produces the one in Fremont, California. And of course, it still sales the vast majority of electric cars in the world and nation. These are impressive achievements that highlight the continued role Tesla will play in EV advances in the coming years.

  1. Frontier Communications

Recently, the U.S. passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that included $65 billion in broadband development funding. The need to expand high-speed Internet services to all of the country was exposed during the pandemic. But Frontier Communications, one of the top notable companies in communications,  had already recognized this need. Specifically, it had launched its Build Gigabit America Program with plans to add 10 million new homes to broadband by 2028. It also had partnered with AT&T to ensure expanded broadband coverage to 25 total states. Now, Frontier will have access to infrastructure bill funding, which will expedite the process. Thus, it too is considered among the most valuable companies of the year.

  1. Facebook/Meta

Given the impact that Facebook has had globally over time, it’s not surprising it is included among the most valuable companies. But this past year, Facebook took an additional step forward, changing its name to Meta. As its new name reflects, Meta plans to invest heavily in a combined virtual-reality universe known as Metaverse. Mark Zuckerberg sees tremendous potential in this that not only includes virtual exchange systems but virtual property ownership as well. Of course, Meta is one of several top notable companies with such a vision. But it is the first to go “all-in” on its pursuit. How this all turns out is open for discussion, but it’s clear Meta will be a key player moving forward. (Check out Bold’s deep dive into the metaverse here.)

  1. Joby Aviation

While space travel and electric cars stole many headlines this year, other transportation achievements should also be noted. Slowly but surely, it now appears that air taxis will soon be available to the public in the coming years. And a big part of these developments can be attributed to one of the top notable companies in aviation, Joby Aviation. This year, the company moved one step closer to receiving FAA approval for its Electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing aircraft. Joby’s drone-like air taxi is capable of carrying four passengers and can travel up to 154 miles at a time. By 2024, air taxi offerings are expected to hit the market. And Joby Aviation will be among the most valuable companies when it does.

  1. Apple

Apple is clearly one of the most valuable companies of all time. But in 2021, the company quietly introduced something that could be quite revolutionary for the future. As part of Apple’s iOS 15, users will now have the chance to create their own digital IDs. These digital IDs, which require a bit more authentication than a debit or credit card, could eventually replace physical ones. Currently, only the TSA in airports are honoring Apple digital IDs in Georgia and Arizona. But seven other states are in the process of approving them as well for TSA purposes. While privacy and cybersecurity issues are concerns, this looks to be the way of the future. Certainly, Apple is among the top notable companies leading us into a digital future.

 

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Super Apps of the Future – Who’ll Come Out on Top?

Prior to the 1950s, Americans discovered the benefits of department stores. Rather than having to go to individual specialty stores, they could enjoy one-stop shopping, moving from department to department. After the 1950s, shopping malls then appeared, expanding retail conveniences even further. Of course, in recent decades, malls seem to be meeting their demise as e-commerce and mobile apps takeover the landscape. In each instance, convenience drove major shifts in the way businesses connected with consumers. So, it’s completely understandable why all-in-one apps might not be the next big thing.

Interestingly, these all-in-one apps, which are also called super apps, are already here. In essence, these all-in-one apps are those that contain a variety of other “mini-apps” within their platform. And these mini-apps provide an array of services, allowing customers to remain on a single application. Rather than logging in and out, or having to re-enter payment info, everything is done on one site. This level of convenience is attractive, as some global markets have shown. While these all-in-one apps may not be prevalent in the U.S., they’ve certainly risen to prominence in other parts of the world. Therefore, don’t be surprised with super apps of the future begin to emerge in the U.S. as well.

“In many ways, super apps are shopping malls of the digital age. As more traffic goes through super apps, all but the largest merchants will need to consider that avenue.” – Neil Clasper at Verisk Financial Research

Looking to the East for Insights

When it comes to super apps of the future, we need not look much further than Asia to see that they’re coming. Several countries in the East are hosts for all-in-one apps currently. One of the largest ones is WeChat (whose parent company is Tencent, a tech giant you should know according to this Bold story!), which is hugely popular in China. WeChat currently provides an array of services within its platform including dating services, ridesharing requests, utility payments, and more. In fact, WeChat has recently been valuated at $240 billion, doubling in the past year alone. Interestingly, WeChat allows other developers the opportunity to create apps on its platform. This has enabled WeChat to expand its in-app offerings rapidly, much to the enjoyment of its users.

Of course, WeChat is not alone when it comes to all-in-one apps. In Indonesia, Gojek is one of the most widely used super apps. In India, Paytm, which started out as a mobile phone payment app, now represents one of the largest all-in-one apps. Others in the Asian marketplace also include Sea Limited, Alipay, Tokopedia, and Zalo. And Singapore’s Grab, marketed as the everyday-everything app, just went public in a $40 million special purpose acquisition deal. Given these developments, it was only a matter of time before super apps of the future hit the U.S. And that time has now come.

“A key ingredient of mobile loyalty apps is not only the integration of payment, marketing, and personalization, but what I term the gamification features embedded in apps that keep a customer engaged and coming back for more.” – Raymond Pucci at Mercator Advisory Group

U.S. Developments in All-in-One Apps

In recent months, Facebook announced it was changing its name to Meta. The change of nomenclature was to reflect the company’s vision for expanding into the virtual realm. But being able to succeed in this direction could well involve being one of the super apps of the future. If all-in-one apps are lucrative today for companies in the physical world, they’re certain to be a gold mine virtually. Plus, a platform with dozens of apps within would continue to allow companies like Facebook/Meta content and information control. This is one of the reasons several companies look to be making acquisitions that would allow them super app status.

A kid with a headset entering the metaverse
After staking their claim in Asian Internet markets, super apps of the future have made their way to the West.

Facebook is not the only company to change its name recently. Square also recently changed its name to Block, which absorbed Square in the process. Block also includes Cashapp, Afterpay (loan services), and Tidal (music streaming). Wouldn’t it be intriguing if Twitter soon fell under Block’s umbrella, making it clearly one of the all-in-one apps? PayPal, which owns Venmo, is also well-positioned to become one of the super apps of the future. Some speculate that PayPal might even purchase Yelp to advance its in-platform services. Facebook, which already owns WhatsApp, recently added its own Marketplace. At present, none of these companies would be considered one of the all-in-one apps. But based on trends, it looks like each hopes to become one of the super apps of the future.

“Merchants are facing something of a dilemma. The preference for merchants is to control their own marketplace and communicate directly with their customers.” – Neil Clasper, Verisk Financial

The Super App Carrot on the Stick

For most mobile applications available today, revenues are generated through subscription models and/or ads. Facebook has certainly thrived in its advertising revenues on its social media platform. But super apps of the future offer a much larger payoff, particularly when financial services are included. Compared to advertising dollars, a small percentage of all transactions occurring on a super apps is tremendous. Apple and Google already appreciate this. This is why they’ve done their best to prevent all-in-one apps from accessing their mobile OS platforms. Such a super app would rob them of significant transaction fee revenues should it become widely used.

Since transaction revenues are the driving attraction for super apps of the future, significant changes may be ahead. Rather than Facebook, Apple or Google leading the way, it may well be other platforms to create the most popular all-in-one apps. Specifically, fintech companies like PayPal and Square could be better positioned to excel. Super apps that allow users to pay for services across all mini-apps on a platform easily and safely will have an advantage. This is why Apple added Apple Pay and Google added Google Pay. The big money is to be made in transaction fees when it comes to all-in-one apps. Therefore, don’t be surprised in the first U.S. super app isn’t grounded in financial services.

 

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