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Downtowns need an upgrade in the remote-work era

downtown-real-estate-remote-work-thefutureparty
Illustration by Kate Walker

Downtowns need an upgrade in the remote-work era

 

The Future. The transition to remote work has emptied downtowns across America — a migration that has rippled across local economies. The work-from-anywhere arrangements are probably here to stay, so cities are figuring out what’s next for its city centers. While transitioning to housing may be the next logical step, a concerted effort to turn downtowns into thick social spaces — pedestrian-first design, more co-working areas, turning parking lots into parks — may help bring people back before those housing projects are completed.

Big and empty
Insider’s Emil Skandul lays out how remote work has reshaped the downtown.

  • It has emptied downtowns, with office occupancy hovering between a low of 50% and 60% in places like NYC, San Francisco, Austin, and Dallas.
  • That has led many companies, including Meta and Yelp, to ditch some of their primary office leases — a move that has hurt commercial real estate.
  • If people aren’t filling the high-rises, then downtown-based small businesses that rely on foot traffic also suffer.
  • That ultimately leads to reduced tax revenue for cities, which affects everything from government services to public transportation… a vicious cycle that makes going to the office even less desirable.

The mayor of Seattle, Bruce Harrell, recently lamented that “the fact of the matter is there will never be the good ol’ days where everyone’s downtown working.”

People solutions
So, what’s a city to do?

  • The short-term fix is to convert many of the empty office spaces into housing, which would put people back into the heart of downtowns.
  • But converting the spaces is costly and requires re-zoning, which is why only 112 commercial spaces in the US have done so since 2016, according to CBRE. Another 85 projects are underway.

But states are trying to boost projects. California has set aside $400 million in grants for “adaptive reuse,” while New York has $100 million to convert hotels into residences.

With Los Angeles finding that converting offices and hotels would result in 72,000 new homes, the stakes are high — to both revitalize downtowns and ease the burden of increased housing costs.

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Job security > dream job

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Illustration by Kate Walker

Job security > dream job

 

The Future. With a possible recession on the horizon, Gen Zers are looking for stable employment rather than their dream jobs. Because young adults are often among the hardest hit by economic downturns, they can suffer long-term financial consequences if they remain unemployed for too long. Being able to afford big purchases like a car or home and even retirement may come at a much later age than previous generations — if at all.

Changing priorities
A June survey of 1,400 recent college graduates and current seniors conducted by the networking platform Handshake breaks down the vibe shift, reports Insider.

  • 74% of Gen Zers favor job security compared to less than half who prioritize working for a well-known brand or in a fast-growing industry.
  • Nearly 50% of those surveyed plan to apply for more jobs than they had initially planned.
  • Over 33% are expanding their job search to include more industries, while 18% plan to begin their job search earlier.

Disproportionately affected
Many young adults lack the financial cushion to weather an economic storm. Per the New York Fed, credit card debt is rising, and 18 to 29-year-olds miss more credit card payments than any other age group.

However, running out of money isn’t the only obstacle that Gen Zers will encounter.

“Young adults have more difficulty than usual entering the workforce or maintaining a job held at the onset of a recession,” wrote Bureau of Labor Statistics economist Geoffrey Paulin in a 2019 blog post. “Any delay in employment can reduce asset accumulation over their lifetimes.”

In other words, saving for a rainy day may not be possible in 2022.

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MrBeast takes on the challenge of being YouTube’s first billionaire

Illustration by Kate Walker

MrBeast takes on the challenge of being YouTube’s first billionaire

 

The Future. Jimmy Donaldson (MrBeast on YouTube) controls a sprawling empire both online and offline — an empire that could soon become a unicorn. Starting as a normal kid who crafted a unique money-giveaway YouTube business model (to rack up views that earned him even more money), Donaldson’s induction into the billionaire club could be a watershed moment for the creator economy.

Give to receive
MrBeast — the most-followed YouTube in the world with 112 million subscribers — could break a billion.

  • According to Forbes, Donaldson earned $54 million last year, including $32 million from ads on his videos and $9 million from sponsored content.
  • Forbes predicts that his earnings may hit $110 million and estimates that he’s worth at least $500 million.
  • Donaldson also does the majority of his work out of a sprawling studio in North Carolina, which he fully owns. He hopes to sell a 10% stake for $150 million.

That deal would value the studio at $1.5 billion, with Donald’s 90% stake worth $1.4 billion. There you have it, a billionaire.

Return on influence
While Donaldson could coast on his immense YouTube fame, he’s working hard to branch out into offline businesses… and they’re already paying off.

  • His MrBeast Burger brand launched in December 2020. It posted $70 million in sales last year and may hit $100 million in 2022. Donaldson has a minority stake in the brand.
  • But he’s expanding quickly — after a wildly successful brick-and-mortar launch in New Jersey, he’s planning to open at least a dozen more locations next year.
  • His Feastables chocolate bar brand sold 4 million units in three months after launching in January (it’s available online and in 4,700 Walmarts). He owns 80% of the company.
  • Donaldson plans on expanding into protein bars and frozen food.

And with Donaldson co-founding an investment firm, Night Capital, to inject money into the businesses of other creators, it doesn’t look like his influence is going to stop anytime soon.

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Apple and Twitter prepare for fight on online speech

Illustration by Kate Walker

Apple and Twitter prepare for fight on online speech

 

The Future. Over the past week, Musk has been taking shots at Apple. The tech giant has pulled back advertising, threatened to pull Twitter off the App Store (although that may be cleared up now), and continues to levy its 30% fee on in-app purchases. The tension between Twitter’s desire to relax the rules and Apple’s speech and content requirements may be decided in court — just like Epic Games’ ongoing case.

Clipped wings
Financially, Apple’s moves against Twitter are a big deal for the social platform, per WSJ.

  • Apple is one of Twitter’s biggest advertisers, and Musk has said he’s already losing over $4 million a day from the overall pullback of ads on the platform.
  • Arguably, the App Store is the most important destination to reach customers — getting kicked off severely impacts its ability to function.
  • The 30% fee (15% after the first year) undercuts Musk’s plan for Twitter to make more from subscriptions than ad revenue — a key issue as Musk plans to roll out the delayed-again paid Blue subscription.

In retaliation, Musk has declared that he’s going to “war” with Apple — expressed through a tweeted meme, of course.

Free vs. Safe
That’s a little simplistic, but the battle of Musk vs. Cook is about which one of these tenants should remain the priority for online discourse.

  • Musk has walked back his plan to institute a content moderation council and has let hundreds of previously-suspended accounts back on the platform.
  • Many watch groups have reported an uptick in hate speech, which has scared off both advertisers and users.
  • And with nearly all of the moderation team let go in Twitter’s layoffs, Apple has signaled that the platform’s ability to monitor hate speech or questionable content is now nearly impossible — prompting the potential App Store delisting.
  • Musk has called Apple’s moves an “attack on free speech.”

With this being a battle between the richest man in the world and the richest company in the world, expect government agencies and representatives to start taking sides.

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ICON wants to print a lunar colony

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Courtesy of ICON

ICON wants to print a lunar colony

 

The Future. NASA has set construction startup ICON — the company behind “House Zero” 3D printed homes — to figure out how to 3D print buildings on the Moon to eventually construct the first lunar colony. Development is already underway. If ICON can successfully pass NASA’s test, building a neighborhood on the Moon may be as easy as doing so here on Earth… and launch a new wave of lunar-based investment.

Moon manufacturing
Bringing building materials to the Moon is exceedingly difficult. But what if you could just print them?

  • Fast Company reports that ICON was awarded a $57.2 million Phase III SBIR grant from NASA to print 3D structures on the Moon as part of the Artemis mission.
  • The contract calls for ICON to fly its tech to the Moon and demonstrate printing a building on the lunar surface in 2026.
  • Although ICON typically uses water to make its printing material, it can’t do so because water sublimates on the Moon.
  • Instead, the company will use regolith (the rocks and dust on the lunar surface) as printing material — making the endear extremely sustainable.

Ultimately, the structure will need to meet NASA’s building-strength requirements in order to be deemed safe… and probably reward ICON with more money.

The company has already been testing builds with “simulated regolith” in a vacuum environment here on Earth.

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Ronaldo’s record-tying goal deflated by soccer-ball tech

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Illustration by Kate Walker

Ronaldo’s record-tying World Cup goal deflated by soccer-ball tech

 

The Future. The denial of Ronaldo’s record-tying World Cup goal is the most high-profile use of adidas’ new “Connected Ball Technology” AI-sensor system. By developing deeper ways of visualizing the game (and making controversial calls), adidas may have several leagues knocking on its doors to license the technology.

GOOOAAALLLL!!!… nevermind
Tech crushed Cristiano Ronaldo’s dreams during Monday’s Portugal vs. Uruguay World Cup match, per The Athletic.

  • Ronaldo thought he had connected with a kick made by teammate Bruno Fernandes to score against Uruguay — a goal that would tie him with Portuguese soccer legend Eusébio for most total World Cup goals (9).
  • But while Ronaldo celebrated, the goal was actually given to Fernandes — with ball-maker adidas saying that Ronaldo never touched the ball.
  • How does adidas know that so definitively? For the first time, the World Cup balls have a 500Hz inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensor suspended in the middle that can measure when a ball has been touched — a “heartbeat” monitor.
  • The readout from the sensor did not show any sign of “external force” when Ronaldo allegedly touched the ball. adidas even released a real-time chart to back the call.

How accurate is this sensor? The “Connected Ball Technology” in adidas’ Rihla Pro World Cup Ball transmits its location on the field 500 times a second. So, pretty accurate.

Soccer system update
Futuristic soccer balls aren’t the only new tech that FIFA has rolled out at the World Cup.

  • It also introduced a semi-automated AI system with “12 tracking cameras mounted underneath the roof of stadiums.”
  • The system uses machine learning to track 29 unique points on a player’s body during the game.

Combined with the sensor in the ball, the player-tracking is  helpful for referees to call an offside offense (when a striker is nearer to the other team’s goal than their opponent’s second–to-last defense and receive the ball). Refs are sent an alert when an offense has occurred, which can be reviewed in a control room before making an official decision.

And if fans get a little too heated by a call, FIFA says that the data generated by the system can be used to create “automated animations,” which can be played on stadium screens to show exactly why a call was made. Now, everyone can be part of the replay process.

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Digital influencers plot recession plans

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Digital influencers plot recession plans

 

The Future. Social platforms are already feeling the repercussions of an ad slow-down (fueled by recession fears), and influencers are bracing for brand deals to dry up. Although that may not totally come to pass, new monetization tools from nearly every social platform in existence may give anyone with an entrepreneurial sensibility the ability to ride the economic storm.

Creator cushion
What are influencers to do when brands stop paying the bills? Insider broke down five strategies recommended by creators and talent managers.

  • Launch direct-to-consumer products to create a more direct line of revenue.
  • Establish deals that extend several months to lock in a longer timeline of work.
  • Go beyond traditional brand partnerships and potentially use them as a launchpad for a paid book deal, podcast, or newsletter.
  • Rely on more passive income options like affiliate marketing, which can be more recurring than typical brand partnerships.
  • Establish a fan-paid model with memberships, subscriptions, or courses, which is essentially available through every platform now.

Luckily for creatorsInsider Intelligence analyst Jasmine Enberg notes that influencer marketing “has been more resilient than other types of digital marketing, and brands have continued to spend on their partnerships.”

Companies are expected to spend about $6.16 billion in the space next year — a pretty big increase from this year’s $5 billion.

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Emojis get lost in translation

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Emojis get lost in translation

 

The Future. Emojis are fun to use, but they’re ripe for miscommunication. In a professional setting, the stakes are even higher if an emoji is taken the wrong way. But messaging is  becoming more and more commonplace with remote work  Today, navigating proper emoji use could be the difference between mastering the next era of water cooler talk or finding yourself in hot water.

Crying or laughing?
That emoji may not mean what you think it means.

  • Fast Company reports that 74% of respondents to a survey from Duolingo and Slack have been misunderstood because of emoji use.
  • For example, the crying emoji is hotly contested — 25% use it to mean tears of joy, while another 25% use it to mean they’re upset.
  • The kissing emoji really throws people off — does it mean affection, platonic love, or something more romantic? It’s a minefield.
  • A PR team at Kate Spade New York even had a brainstorming session over what the heck an influencer’s use of the sneezing emoji meant. Turns out, Gen Z now equates it  with “that’s sick!”

Some companies avoid confusion by using emojis with specific meanings, such as an orange heart at Hermès or the hot face at Kate Spade.

Communication breakdown
With Gen Z no longer considering GIFs cool (it still breaks our hearts), the emoji has become the go-to visual communication tool, especially with the rise of remote work and the always-on nature of platforms like Slack and Teams.

But their use also reveals some pretty stark communication differences between generations. Younger people really don’t want their tone to be taken the wrong way, so they tend to overuse emojis, while older workers are fine with emails that just read, “Ok” (we shudder at the thought).

The big takeaway: emoji wisely.

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