What Will Be Worth Doing

With the curve flattening and the weather becoming warmer, people are starting to think through the implications of what it means to open up for business in a post-COVID world.

Offices are looking into installing partitions, and restaurtants are rethinking their logistics and the design of spaces.

I'm unfortunately a bit less optimistic that either of these efforts are worthwhile, and much of it has to do with human behavior.

Unless your work requires you to absolutely come into an office, people know they'll be better off continuing to work from home.  It's not just the risk factor, but also the levels of friction that comes with increased testing and protocols that will not make it worth doing.  As a business, you're probably better off getting out of your lease altogether and reinvesting that capital elsewhere in your business.

For restaurants, there's a real financial cost to ensuring safety protocols.  Even high-end restaurants are relatively low-margin because there's so much hidden work behind the scenes.  Add to that an even more onerous set of costs, coupled with the need to reduce your restaurant capacity significantly means that the vast majority of restaurants would be running untenable businesses if they were to try to revive their old model.  It just wouldn't be worth doing at all.

Restaurants are probably the most obvious case where the math won't make sense.  It may take time for other types of businesses to understand whether the "in-person premium" is worth doing.

This, taken in hand with the government's luke-warm support efforts suggest people should be taking even more drastic measures to either cut their losses, or preserve whatever capital they have and put it towards a drastic reinvention.  All of this will likely require starting from scratch and figuring out what they can do with a team of 1.

Alternatively, if letting go of a space isn't as feasible, I'd consider putting the brand of the restaurant into cold storage, and reinventing the space you have for a completely different set of purposes, perhaps more a hub for activity than as an individualized place of production.

Unfortunately—speaking as someone who formerly operated a physical space—this is really hard to do.  It requires the willingness to accept that you're no longer in survival mode—which is about staying the course—but in reinvention mode, where you need to optimize for learning quickly so you can determine what will or won't work.  It's such a hard transition because it's a different mindset altogether.  Further, it requires that you suspend your sense of who you've been in the past, because it might not actually serve you well as you scramble to figure out how you adapt for the future.