The U.S. – China Syndrome today

When I think about the interesting and good times I spent traveling in and around China, I have fond memories of the people I met and the places I went.  Admittedly, as a business endeavor, my efforts to help Chinese companies with their U.S. based business was marginally successful at best. I categorize it as ‘you can’t possibly score on the shots you never take’.  It turned out that (with a few exceptions) Chinese companies were not nearly as interested in succeeding in the U.S as I had assumed.

But the overall feeling I got in China in 2015, was that the Chinese people I met did not concern themselves with the U.S. nearly as much as people in the U.S. think. Since that was the last time I was in China, I don’t personally have any pulse on the way Chinese people feel today but my sense is they don’t feel as positively as I thought they felt in 2015 and for the 6 years prior when I was traveling to China regularly.

Smart and insightful writers who I’ve met like Shaun Rein of China Market Research (the author of books such as “The End of Cheap China” and ‘The War for China’s Wallet”), and Michael Zakkour of Tompkins International (co-author of “New Retail Born in China Going Global”) talk and write about the fast-changing behaviors of Chinese citizens.  If you are interested in a deeper dive on Chinese behavior both governmentally and individually, these books are recommended reading.

The U.S. and China have had an on and off adversarial relationship for over 70 years. Over that time China has seen the largest number of citizens rise from poverty than any other nation on earth. This is a source of great pride to the Chinese people. The Chinese people, as does the rest of the world, also sees the news coming out of the U.S. about Covid-19, civil unrest due to repeated incidents of awful behavior by some policemen, and the recent U.S. Presidential election. From the perspective of a Chinese citizen, it can appear that the U.S. and its democratic government are on the decline and China is rising to reclaim its place as a leader – perhaps THE leader, of the world. Chinese citizens don’t fool themselves into thinking that their government is without fail.  The everyday restrictions that are a part of Chinese life don’t seem as onerous when the people take stock of the gains, they, their family and friends have made over the past twenty years. A giant lockdown such as what occurred this year after the onset of Covid-19 would never work in the U.S. where many people feel being made to wear a mask is a violation of their personal liberty.  

If the 20th century was ‘The American Century’, then what will be the story written about the 21st century?  There are still eighty years to go and without a doubt China is off to a good start. Yet China is also not without its own problems. A rapidly aging population will be enormous stress on the government. One thing to think about is all the one child families and the idea of that one child taking care of two aging parents.  As I often say, with a population 4x bigger than the U.S, some of the problems will be magnified just as have some of the successes. 

The political rhetoric in the U.S. regarding China will be a little different with the incoming administration, but that difference will be more in style than in substance.  Continued acknowledgement that China is the chief competitor of the U.S. paints the relationship into corners of winners and losers.  U.S. citizens are yet unaccustomed to a world in which the U.S. is not viewed as the leader and paragon of what is the right way to do things.  But that world is here and being a leader in the world community looks different than it did thirty years ago or more.

The trend clearly shows that China will overtake the United States to have the world’s largest economy.  Whether or not that takes 8, 10, or 12 years, it’s inevitable. That in and of itself would not constitute China being considered the winner and the U.S. is some sort of also-ran. But there are many (mostly older) Americans that will never be able to accept the U.S. being anything other than #1 – even when that’s not the case.

I remain hopeful that for the world and for the United States in particular, better days are ahead. I keep in mind that despite the foibles of democracy and the recent past in the U.S., it is still a country that draws people to want to come here from all over the world. Perhaps not quite as much as in the past, which is a bad thing in my view. Still, as an American I believe in democracy (“the worst form of government except for all the others” – Winston Churchill), and would not trade it away.  My sense is that most Chinese citizens would like their country to be less restrictive (sic more free) but are willing to live with restrictions in a country that is still on the rise since it’s been better for them. 

For now, the best that can be assumed is that a jittery détente will exist between the U.S. and China. It sure beats the alternative. 

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Let’s help save restaurants but restaurants can also help themselves

We’re more than 8 months into the Covid-19 pandemic, and owner-operated as well as chain restaurants like California Pizza Kitchen and Le Pain Quotidien,have gone bankrupt or out of business altogether. Many other chains are on the brink or worse.

For the entirety of the pandemic, people have been encouraged to support their local restaurants first by ordering take-out, and then visiting the restaurant itself when restrictions were lifted. While the second surge of Covid-19 is coursing through the U.S.,many of the restaurants that have been able to survive have managed to adapt to new behaviors on the part of their customers.

It’s impressive for the ones that have made it this far but there’s much more that restaurants can do. One thing that is endemic of restaurants has been a pet peeve of mine for years.  Why is the price of a take-out meal the same as what it costs when dining in the restaurant?  Even if the portions are similar, (they are sometimes and sometimes they are not), the experience eating in the restaurant has to be a higher value one, right? 

At the restaurant you get …served! And the dishes are picked up by other people and washed by other people. There are often cloth napkins and tablecloths.  Complimentary bread service (although that is slowly dying away) is offered and your water glass is filled and re-filled. On the few occasions I’ve dined out since March (less than 5), the experience of eating out has been special, a treat, and I’ve enjoyed it very much.

When the pandemic began and we all knew restaurants were seriously in trouble, when ordering take-out meals, tipping the restaurant seemed to be a way to help people that were really just trying to hang on. Paying the same price for take-out did seem unfair to me and I rationalized it as just another way to help.  Eight months after the real start of the pandemic there are restaurants that have adapted their menus and pricing to reflect the new reality.  Yet too many are doing the same old thing. They appear to just be counting on the customers to keep on supporting them out of the goodness of their collective hearts. 

There are some restaurants that have actually flourished during the pandemic. Particularly those that were primarily take-out oriented before the pandemic began.  Think small Chinese restaurants, pizzerias and even taquerias.  Coincidentally, there are full-service restaurants who’ve been able to survive on the combination of take-out as well as restricted dine-in establishments.  Some of these restaurants have seen their share of revenue in take-out climb to 30% or even more.  Take-out will be essential to their future prospects as people will going forward eat more take-out meals from ‘sit-down’ restaurants at home.  Take-out is still overall less expensive for the customers since buying alcoholic drinks from the restaurant is less prevalent.  But now all the focus is on the food quality if repeat visits is the goal (it is).  So why not have a take-out menu that has different prices than in the restaurant?  Why not be straight-up about portion sizes on the take-out menu (how many people does an entrée serve?).  Fancy bound menus are not being printed nearly as much anymore (finally a use for QR codes!), and if menus are online they should be dynamic, updated constantly, and…interesting!  There are brand stories available to tell.  Why not tell them?  It’s not like you are going to run out of space!

The other development that I’ve anticipated and has started to occur with the renewed restrictions is the increase in restaurant ‘seating’ times.  If we all really want to support restaurants, we might not all get to eat at the same time. I’m not referring to the times between 5:30 and 9:30.  (Why is it that popular restaurants when you used to call for a reservation would only have time at 5:30 or 9:30?. I am not usually hungry at either of those times.)  But in the age of a pandemic, I, like so many people, don’t do anything the way that I used to and that includes when I have my meals. Since social distancing is paramount how about having dinner with friends at 3:30?  Or 4:30?  The few experiences I have had going out to eat with real other people (besides my lovely wife), have been nearly exhilarating since we are not seeing many people other than in passing while we walk.  We can adapt and should since there’s still six to nine months left before vaccines will be available to enough people to make going-out to eat feel completely safe again.

Having seating times and limiting the time you can spend there (2 hours maximum and maybe less than that), will help restaurants serve more people safely. It also may serve to change the way people think about going out to eat at restaurants once this pandemic has passed.  One thing I am fairly certain of, things will not go back to being exactly the way they were before the pandemic began.  But I am a big fan of eating out in restaurants and only wish them success. Doing things the same old way is unlikely to contribute to future success for restaurants. 

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Commuting, working, eating & living in metro NYC during a mature pandemic

It is safe to say that these are no longer the early stages of the global 2020 Covid-19 pandemic.  I have been asked a number of times ‘what’s is it like in and around New York City?’  Until recently, aside from one day in July, I could only offer the perspective from my suburban NYC home in Connecticut. However since late August I have been traveling by commuter train each Tuesday to my Manhattan office, which is pretty much devoid of tenants and activity.  Not quite a ghost town, but every day from a traffic perspective it kind of feels like a Sunday.

With many companies settling on having their employees work from home (or remotely as it were) for the foreseeable future there does not appear that there will be any dramatic change until the beginning of 2021 – at the earliest.  Many companies are not thinking about bringing back their employees until next summer. 

Broadway has been dark since March and there has been a promise from the theater industry that January 2021 is the target date for shows reopening.  However, in New York City, Governor Cuomo has only just allowed restaurants to open at 25% capacity beginning September 30.  It’s a start but in order for restaurants to be viable that percentage will have to increase to 50% or more before the cold winter months set in.  A vaccine will arrive but most likely not soon enough for theaters, museums and restaurants in New York City. 

What I am finding is that restaurants and lunch take-out places that I would visit periodically are currently not open.  Not necessarily closed for good, (yet), but just not open during the pandemic. Already many restaurants have closed, for good, and I fear a spate of them will succumb in the coming months even with the news that they can open to serve inside. 

JP Morgan in New York last week told its employees that they will come back to the office this month of September.  This is probably not going to be trendsetting.  Commuters can take some solace in the data that shows 90% or more of New York City people riding public transportation wear masks and as of now can be fined for not wearing a mask. 

Have I mentioned that I detest wearing a mask? It’s hot and sweaty, I can’t breathe as I am accustomed to, and I hate not being able to see other people’s faces (why did this never bother me before?). When I am inside the office building in New York City I wear my mask all the time except for when I am in my own office and have the door closed.  I spend more time in my office with the door closed than I might normally for that reason.  And let me add that there are seemingly less than 10 people on my floor at any one time and probably fewer than that.

I want to stay safe myself and at the same time help keep the people I encounter daily safe as well.  My sense is that this will be the case until the summer of 2021 when whatever vaccines are made widely available to the public AND have a longer history of being safe, and successful.  9 months from now is a long time when you consider it’s only been 6 months since the real outbreak of the pandemic in the U.S. But I can, and people can and should adapt, gird themselves and as the slogan goes, just do it.

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Digital natives have an advantage during the Coronavirus pandemic

If you are under 40 you are a digital native.  Most of the under-40 group has been online since at least their teenage years. Having been attached to screens and aspects of the virtual world has made this group much better prepared to deal with working remotely (and in general) during the pandemic.  Digital immigrants – like me, have it a bit tougher.

How you say? Digital natives have had years of practice avoiding actual phone calls.  This came about as a result of SMS texting and instant messaging.  Talking was, and is, SUCH a hassle!  All this was learned in their formative adolescent and teenage years.  On the other hand, digital immigrants came out of an era when the phone would ring at the office and you’d have to pick it up not knowing who was on the other end.  It wasn’t all that long ago. Of course back in the day there were ‘secretaries’ , receptionists, and administrative assistants that would answer your phone (before voice mail) to offer excuses on why that person could not talk with you, but grudgingly would take a message.  (Remember the pink ‘While you were out’ pads?).  Interacting with people electronically for digital immigrants has been more disruptive than for digital natives. 

If you are a digital native the fact that there are few if no in-person meetings is, mostly,….FANTASTIC.  Productivity during the pandemic has risen 7.3% in part due to the lack of the need for commuting.  The millennials I talk to are in no hurry to ‘get back to the office’ and hope (maybe even expect) to work remotely through the end of the pandemic and then have the option to work from home going forward.  The idea of going back to the office 5 days a week is almost unthinkable.  I do feel the same but not all digital immigrants would agree.

Digital immigrants being older, also enjoy the lack of a need to commute. That’s if the job they have affords them the opportunity to work from home.  And even then, the idea of going back to the office once, twice or more a week is not crazy as not being around the people you work with is unfamiliar and sometimes unsettling.  Old dogs can learn new tricks but…

Looking for a job, or a prospect, has shifted to social media sites like LInkedIN. Yet while everybody does the email thing, not everybody is connecting on LinkedIN.  This puts digital immigrants at a disadvantage since it may indicate that their digital chops are not up to standard.  And for digital natives who have LinkedIN profiles and are employed, well, they are less likely to poke around (what’s the point?), read messages or look at content for long periods, than digital natives who may not have patience for phone calls, but do have it when it comes to looking at screens. This makes reaching new employers, job prospects, sales prospects or a connecting with a peer through LinkedIN, more difficult for them. 

Digital immigrant salespeople are challenged even more than digital immigrants when it comes to driving new customer engagements.  Not being versed in modern digital sales techniques is an impediment in that the older the target the more challenging it is to reach them via a digital effort.

By now, both digital immigrants and digital natives have tired of the endless Zoom meetings. This came about out of necessity and it’s not going away, even when people actually do start going back to the office. And people will start going back to the office.  How else to explain why Amazon is planning on several thousand new jobs in its Fifth Avenue office in Manhattan?  Amazon knows people will want to go back to the cities as soon as the general population feels it’s safe enough like when a vaccine is widely available.  It may not feel like it right now, but the idea that people will eschew city life in the future, after the pandemic, is just wrong.

Digital immigrants have adapted to significant changes in the way they work during their professional careers. If they want those careers to continue, they will have to continue to adapt. 

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The point I missed about podcasts

EdisonListenLocationChart

A couple of years ago I posted that I liked podcasts well enough but felt that since I could read so much faster than I could listen, I felt I would never really personally embrace the format.  That was until my son and I began to create and deliver a podcast series about baseball Almost Cooperstown (yes I know, shameless plug but tell your friends anyway).

The point that I missed about podcasts was not that it was a possible revenue stream (it almost certainly will not be), but that it is a live recorded audio program.  Unlike reading, when you listen us talk about baseball, you can hear the emotion, our passion, laughter, and our case as New York Met fans, exhaustion and frustration.  While all these emotions can be portrayed in writing – and yes, that’s faster to absorb, it’s different and that’s a good thing.

As you might imagine, I’m not all that keen on audiobooks for the same reasons.  They take too long and unless I am taking a long car ride (which I do enjoy), listening to an audiobook while working out, or walking has not captured my fancy and perhaps that will change over time as has become the case with podcasts.

I’ve listened to Serial (hasn’t everyone tried an episode?) and Bill Simmons” The Ringer’ and both are very good.  I find it interesting that podcasts are becoming a bit shorter in length to an average of 36 minutes according to a Digiday article Keep the Medium Premium, and that is about the longest length episode we’ve done in our first ten.  Doing a weekly podcast any longer than that would seem to be onerous for both the creators as well as listeners/followers.

It’s true that I can still read faster than I can listen.  I most often listen to podcasts (and talk on the phone) while I am walking. I feel it allows me to fully focus on what I am hearing while I walk around – usually much further than I would have otherwise. Podcasts are here to stay and if you want to better understand their value you might consider recording one yourself!

 

 

 

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Dining out and going back into the cave

Katz's deliA recent post was about fine dining restaurants and face masks not going well together. Well I have an admission to make. About ten days ago I went to a restaurant.  AND I wore pants!  My wife and I met our very good friends and my former business partners for dinner in Connecticut about halfway between us.  My friend Bob is 84 and in pretty good health overall.  We figured if the 84-year-old guy was willing to drive and meet us for dinner, we’d take the chance too.  Because it is a chance, right?

We ate outside with protocols of face masks to enter the ‘reservation only’ restaurant which could then be taken off once the party was seated.  All servers and restaurant personnel wore masks.  Almost all of the outdoor tables were taken and even a couple of them turned over while we were there.  The indoor area which allows 50% capacity was nearly empty.  There was a table of eight closer to the street that was being seated and they all got up and hugged one another. With face masks on but not for the people that were already seated.  That was a bit unsettling.

How was the experience overall?  It was fantastic!  #1 thing, somebody else cooked the food, served the food and drink, picked up the plates and did my dishes.  The food itself was excellent and I ate it all. I had begun to lose touch with why I enjoy dining out so much.

Then a week later we did it again. Went out to dinner to celebrate our wedding anniversary.  We were led in with wearing face masks mandatory.  As was the case the week before we ate outside near the water – covered, which was good since we watched a raging thunderstorm drop an inch of rain while we dined quietly and with plenty of social distancing.  The meal was excellent, and we savored it and stayed much longer than we might have normally since there was not a reservation behind ours.

The thing is, that despite the fact that we felt about as safe as one could in these times, we’re not in any hurry to do it again in the near future. It’s just too uncertain and we feel that there is risk even though our area of Connecticut has one of the lower incidences of Covid-19 cases even since the reopening of restaurants.

This week we went into Manhattan to check into the office that I’ve not visited since early March.  We drove in with no problems, and parked right across the street from the office in midtown at a very inexpensive rate compared to what it usually is. There’s good reason for that, Manhattan was pretty empty. Light traffic vehicular as well as pedestrian.  My office itself is a shared office and we saw one other person working. There can more than 100 at capacity. It was eerie.

Finishing the work for the day, we drove downtown to Katz’s deli in no time at all, parked on the street and had a pastrami on rye with mustard with the dill pickles and cole slaw on the side.  A Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda is always the perfect complement.  We ended up sitting outside on Ludlowe Street at tables set up against the wall on the sidewalk which was quiet. Seems simple. It’s worth it.

But every time we go out like that we feel as if we are rolling dice. I think we now both feel that it’s time to put the dice down and just sit it out for a while. I hope that we’ll feel more confident as time goes by.  Until then, it’s cooking and dishes. With an occasional glass of wine.

 

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E-mail communication during a Global Pandemic

I belong to two gyms one of which is $10/month and the other in New York City is more expensive but not crazy. I have not been to either gym since March, and I am in no hurry to get there. During the entire 100-day tenure of this pandemic I have received exactly one communication from my NYC gym and none from the one in Connecticut.  I have to admit it boggles my mind.

This is not a plea on my behalf to receive more email.  I get so many from companies trying to get my attention for their lead generation services and could do without their constancy.  I actually had to call the gym to get any information and the basic information could have and should have been sent to me in an email.  I’d say that one or two emails a month from my gyms during the pandemic describing the situation and what the gym was planning upon reopening would have been very acceptable to me. Instead I had to go looking.  This is the antithesis of best practices.

And then there’s my doctor.  I’ve been lucky and over the past few years haven’t needed to go see the doctor for much other than routine checkups.  I last went to the doctor in December.  Since that time, I have not heard anything from my doctor, or any doctor for that matter.  Does this make me feel as if the doctor and his practice don’t care?  Maybe. Certainly, they’ve shown I am not any kind of priority.  Maybe it’s because to this point, I have not been a substantial revenue-generating patient?  I also recall that I have to fill out the same information every time I visit the doctor as if they lose my patient records every year. That’s actually not true but I’ve heard the staff say that they have switched database systems more than once over the past few years.

But not one communication from my doctor?  Can they have that many patients that they don’t have the ability to contact each and every one particularly during these uncertain times for health?

The office building in Manhattan in which I work also has offered virtually zero communication via email or any other way. Again, I needed to call to find out if the offices were open (now that New York City is in Phase 2 of recovery) which I found out today that they were.  But again, I had to reach out to find out.

Even with more of us working from home, people still don’t prefer to receive a bunch of irrelevant emails.  My argument is that during a crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic MORE communication is warranted not less.

Yes, it can be tricky and challenging to create the right tone with which to communicate.  It’s something our shop does for our clients on a daily basis.  Not sufficiently communicating with your customers, patients and members during a pandemic is a terrible idea. If that’s the default due to uncertainty of exactly what, how, and when communications to your valued clients and prospects should be staged, don’t be surprised if your business takes a turn for the worse.

 

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Fine dining and face masks don’t go together

NY Times 05/20/20

Like many people during the Coronavirus pandemic I’ve missed going out for meals at restaurants.  Living in the Greater New York City area offers an unending array of excellent restaurants serving great food from all over the planet. Great and interesting food can be found in both expensive and inexpensive restaurants.

In Connecticut where I live, today is the first day of what is being called phase 1 or a ‘soft re-opening’ for non-essential businesses such as outdoor dining, offices, retail and malls, museums and zoos, university research and outdoor recreation businesses.  The state pulled back on opening hair salons only a few days ago saying it wanted to give salons more time to get ready. I suspect that since it was not known for sure what might open on May 20 until a week ago, it was confusing as to exactly what should be done to re-open.

We’ve ordered takeout/take-away a number of times during the 9+ weeks of the pandemic. Being one to truly enjoy dining out in restaurants, the takeout experience in general is….meh.  It makes me feel totally guilty that we’ve not had more takeout meals at area restaurants that we visit. I know these restaurants need the business. Our small takeout order helps. Every takeout order helps.  But aside from pizza and sushi, most restaurants meals just don’t travel well.  And even when the restaurants re-jigger their menus to offer fewer, less-expensive choices, the results are uneven at best.  Yes, you can reheat the meal, put it on nice plates, pour a glass of wine and it’s…nice. But it’s far from being a quality restaurant experience.

Our company does work for the restaurant industry and it’s one of the toughest business in which to succeed.  As a friend of mine who’s been a successful restaurateur likes to say, ‘If you want to make a small fortune in the restaurant business, start with a big fortune’.  Something that has been said about other business as well.  I saw chef Tom Colicchio recently interviewed and he put it plainly and I am paraphrasing, ‘The place will smell like Clorox, the servers and staff and patrons are all wearing masks, you are sitting some distance away from other people, you have to order the drinks with the food and are expected not to linger.  That’s not what hospitality is about’. Right on Mr. Colicchio.

Danny Meyer, of the Union Square Hospitality Group, feels similarly and is in no hurry to open his restaurants in NYC when finally allowed.  At 25% or 50% capacity restrictions, for how long can a restaurant fine dining or otherwise expect to survive?  There will be those that embrace the return and will shrug off the changes but there are just not enough of them to make up the shortfall.  Personally, when I finally do go out to a restaurant the first and most real reason would be to be around other PEOPLE!  I am thinking I’d enjoy a pub like atmosphere, burgers, chicken wings and beers, (and SPORTS!) more than I would enjoy dining with guardrails. I realize that a pub with half or a quarter of the people will not have the same energy as before.

Ultimately, I am just not ready to go back to restaurants to have what I expect will be an ok, but muted experience. I probably will try it once or twice in a few weeks to see first-hand what it is like. But as Mr. Colicchio noted, I don’t think it will be what people expect or continue to patronize, when it comes hospitality.

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Building good teams cannot rely entirely on remote workforces

I was on a Zoom call recently (as are so many people these days), with some long-time friends.  The discussion naturally centered around the impacts and effects of Coronavirus on people today and in the future.  One of my friends noted that he’s never been more productive, and the future of work will be forever changed with the increased familiarity and usage of remote working teams.  This particular friend is in the TV business and is an excellent creative thinker and producer and is part of team that delivers a weekday daily nationally syndicated television program.

Another friend on the call who is the CEO of a publicly traded tech company in the cloud computing and data security space raised his eyebrows just a bit (I was looking).  I later asked him for his thoughts team building for remote workforces since his company employs a few thousand people who for the most part, work in offices.  He noted that he was very involved in how to meet that challenge both today and going forward.  I might have pressed a bit too much in saying that I could not understand how truly well-integrated teams could be maintained when not having the PEOPLE get together in person on a regular or even semi-regular basis.  But my friend did not disagree.

So, what does this all mean for the future of working in offices as members of teams of varying sizes?  The workplace for office workers had already been altered over the past twenty-plus years by the use of technology in mobile devices and internet connected workstations.  But it’s not far-fetched to think that company leaders of enterprises both small and large are thinking and re-thinking about the how’s and why’s of bringing their people together in the near and distant future. Chances are good that outcome will include fewer instances of four or five day a week commuters.  Millennials have known this for a while and have been waiting for their companies and managers to catch up.  They never wanted the five days in the office thing in the first place. Their parents have known little else.

How and when people in cities like New York will go back to the office is still unknown.  All of us are starving for in-person contact and communication yet we know what we will ‘get’ when we return is a watered-down version of the way things used to be. These days I frequently think about the eateries, shops and services in Manhattan that are so dependent on the daily flow of commuters into the city (not to mention the other 4 boroughs).  How can they survive if 50% of people come to the city one day or one week and the other 50% come the next?  Same rent, same operations costs, half the customers equals less revenue. How long can that last?

I am not saying that companies should bring people back to offices so that ancillary businesses can survive, but the notion that most or all business can be built, nurtured and or transacted remotely will be bad for people AND bad for business in the long term.  Being together in person is integral to building higher functioning teams.  Coronavirus has fast-forwarded the utility and effectiveness of remote workplaces. Staying apart from one another reminds us how important it is for us to get back together, and stay together, for each other, even if not as frequently as we did pre-Coronavirus.

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Coronavirus gives telemedicine a giant push forward

Close up of man’s hand using smartphone with effects

While I grew up long after the family doctor made house calls, for me, the idea of telemedicine was far-fetched at least until the advent of the Internet.  Today, millennials and Gen Z’ers are much less likely to have their own regular doctor, often preferring to use walk-in clinics when they are not feeling well. The rapid worldwide spread of Coronavirus has pushed telemedicine to the front burner while imploring physicians young and old to adopt to ‘at-a-distance’ treatment for patients.  How have the physicians handled this?

The ones that I speak with mid, even late career, are for the most part very positive about telemedicine in general.  Before Coronavirus telemedicine was on the periphery.  Over the last 2 months there has likely been more telemedicine practiced than ever before.  However, from my medical professional friends I am repeatedly told that while telemedicine offers good utility, it’s not all easy-peasy.

There are agreed positives. Most agree that ‘touching’ the patient is only 5-10% of the things a doctor will do during a patient visit.  And the touching does not necessarily occur during each patient visit.  Patients that have to drive long distances to see their regular doctor or specialist can really benefit from not having to make as huge an effort just to see the doctor. And not going to see the doctor means you don’t have to be around sick people.

For the doctor it’s not as easy as you might think.  The preparation for the E-appointment requires planning in order to have the proper patient documentation and protocols in place.  Then there’s the coordination of the timing of the appointment.  Just like with any doctor-patient interaction the actual length of a visit (in-person or virtual) varies.  Doctors likely schedule E-appointments in sequence (since moving back and forth between in-person and virtual visits does not make sense) but surely some take longer than others.  This means a patient that has a 1:30 P.M. telemedicine appointment for Wednesday will have to wait if the doctor is seeing a previous patient.  For now, the patient is likely called by the doctor’s office to let them know to log-in for the telemedicine appointment.  I don’t know if as yet there are virtual waiting rooms (that I imagine ultimately won’t be advertising free), but I would not be at all surprised.

After the E-appointment the information obtained during the visit must be cataloged which takes more time. I am told that telemedicine doctor-patient appointments all in all can take TWICE as long as a conventional in-office visit.  Then for doctors there’s the issue of getting paid.  The rates paid to doctors for telemedicine visits can be appallingly low.  I’ve heard doctors can be paid as low as $12 for a telemedicine appointment. That’s going to have to change in order to increase the speed of telemedicine adoption by doctors.

But it should not be forgotten how much telemedicine has acted as an asset during this time of Coronavirus.  The world has never seen a pandemic like this nor has the world had a useful way to have doctors and patients interact without being in the same physical space.

Who will benefit from telemedicine? Mostly because they will live much longer, Millennials and Gen Z’ers will leverage telemedicine more than elder Gen X and Baby Boomers.  And their children will wonder why their grandparents went to see the doctor as often as they did. We can only hope that things like the use of telemedicine can help make things better for people.

Out of this tragedy many behaviors have been changed and changed forever. The future of working in an office with other people is going to be different now that remote work has been given a true test drive. With people being apart for so long, the value of family, friends, and co-workers being together in person is being assessed and reassessed.  But that’s a story for another day.

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