Beyond Oz: Crystal Ball Predictions for Post-Pandemic Travel, Cities, the ‘Burbs and Beyond

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The last year felt like the part in The Wizard of Oz, as our heroic misfits obediently follow the Yellow Brick Road to find the Wizard with all the answers.

You know what happens next - they get to Oz and have trouble getting in. When they finally gain entrance and pull back the curtain, they see that the Wizard is just like them - he doesn’t know what the hey is going on, either. 

One of the best parts of the last year, though, has been to observe the resilience of some people forging ahead to make their lives without waiting on bumbling Wizards to catch up.

To be clear - I'm not pointing at any politicians here. Of course, there is a political aspect to recent events that can and will be debated. But that debate is a noisy waste of time if we don't start with ourselves. 

The Wizard behind the curtain lives in all of us. Times of crisis reveal him. Those who fire him and take the wheel generally feel better about life and are inspiring to others along the way. 

So let’s peer into the crystal ball and check out some possible post-pandemic scenarios of opportunity, in this case with ‘burbs, billionaires, cities, new ways of living and working.

I’ll posit specific examples of each, but first, you may wonder, why should you listen to me? 

Great question. I provide my crystal ball street cred in this post, along with some tips to help you sharpen your vision, too.

For now, let's dive into whatcha came here for:

‘Burbs and Billionaires.

I grew up in a Houston suburb and lived all over Texas; closer to town in Dallas and over a decade in hallowed Austin. 

Now I love the Lone Star State, but all I can say to all y’all flocking from the East and West coasts to the suburbs down here is Howdy and Good Luck With All That. 

Bring your long johns because we can’t guarantee you will have heat next winter. We can guarantee the same sprawl and bad traffic, so that should make you feel right at home, but...

TaDah! No real mass transit. 

By the way, I’ve ridden the bus in Austin, and it doesn’t count.  It's nice when it finally shows up, but it's no BART. 

And that's just fine because Texas is an oil and gas state. We want you with 2 cars, preferably a pickup truck and a Chevy Suburban, both sitting in traffic more than in your garage. 

OK, nobody get in a tizzy; I’m just kidding. We don’t have BART, but obviously, we do have many advantages. Houston’s diversity, immigrant population, and lingering wildcatter business attitude keep it well-positioned for growth and leadership in the coming decades. 

Austin may get there, too. Perhaps Oz is portable and can be beamed over Central Texas like a dome, radiating from Elon Musk’s hub. 

Lest you think I’m a Texas party pooper, let me say I think Musk’s relocation is the coolest thing that has happened there in a long time. 

That leads me to another prediction that came true - my brother and I were talking about the lag for decent internet options in rural areas. He said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had a federal initiative like the Rural Electrification Administration in the ’30s?”

I said, “Yes, but that's not going to happen. Some billionaire is going to figure it out first.” 

Two days later, my dad sent me a picture of a piece in the WSJ about Elon Musk’s Starlink. I hadn’t heard of it until that moment.

(As an aside, I love that my dad still gets a paper WSJ and sends me a photo of interesting articles so I can look them up and read them on the WSJ app on my phone.)

In fact, billionaires will be a big part of fixing the other stuff that ails us, mostly because it becomes a problem for them if it doesn't get fixed.

Things like education and health care and Texas’ electricity grid issues, too. I imagine that ERCOT and some elected officials have already received inquiries from Musk’s people after the February Deep Freeze. 

Co-working Boom

In September, I was in Katy and Cypress, Texas. They are both humongous Houston suburbs, with hundreds of sprawling rows of not-so-little houses on the prairie. 

I was cruising in my birthday girl Turo-rented Tesla, eyeing the strip centers, dying to jump on the co-working soul train that is rolling toward us.

Co-working will explode in the suburbs as people realize that the whole fam working, schooling and living at home 24X7 - with no end in sight - makes the March 2020 lockdowns look like a fun slumber party. 

WFH folks are already asking for their companies to pay for co-working memberships. Large employers like Facebook are planning for remote work hubs in areas with large concentrations of employees.

We’ll see co-working spaces locate nearby those hubs to serve smaller vendors, consultants, and small businesses. This will lead to some super interesting career and industry cross-pollination. 

Who else loves this idea? Send me a note. As the saying goes around here in Houston, “I don’t care who your daddy is. If you got money and a good idea, come sit by me.”

I predict and hope that co-working spaces will up their game - stratifying workspace options into First Class, regular, and bullpen.

Another opportunity - co-working spaces are at least 5 years behind with tech offerings. Y’all need decent podcast, and video studios that don’t look like your cousin’s basement painted black.  Y'all could outsource this to someone who knows better. hint hint. #CallMe

OK, moving on from the ‘burbs. Please. 

Death of the Road Warrior, Rise of the Truly Global Work Experience

First and Business Class travelers will travel less for business. Yes, this is already happening, so no crystal ball needed, I know. 

This is the part that could be interesting - they will begin to fly at unpredictable days and times because getting back to the office, or home for the weekend, isn’t as urgent as it once was, given the office and the fam are both at home now. 

In fact, more Business Class travelers may start to bring the family with them. 

The last few Business Class flights I was on were anything but, with kiddos and parents sprinkled about the cabin, invariably assuming that other passengers would play musical chairs so that The Family could all sit together.

Maybe The Family should have booked earlier? Maybe the airline shouldn’t sell a single seat 2 rows away from a parent willing to buy it for their 3-year-old? #strangerdanger

The #winwin answer:

Airlines can offer Family Friendly First Class to encourage families with moola to consolidate onto certain flights. This benefits the airlines - they already have charging ports for iPads, and for the price of a few juice boxes and coloring books, they snag those juicy multi-seat high ticket bookings. 

This idea also keeps Classic Business Class travelers happy because they can (and believe me, they WILL) avoid the FFFC flights in favor of a chance to actually experience a flight seated in their assigned seat, among grown-ups doing quiet businessey things. Or napping. Or both.

While we’re on the subject of travel, I predict travel plans and options will start to splinter in interesting ways, just as social media fragmented advertising and marketing content distribution. 

It's a very short hop from WFH to WF-anywhere, and we’ll see a trend of work and immersive travel start to merge.  As someone who has worked online from outside the US for several years, I’m excited to observe the options emerging for entrepreneurs and execs that now want to experience several months of working and living in other countries without a full-on ex-pat commitment.

In fact, it will become a fabulous career differentiator for mid-career people, kind of like the Peace Corps or overseas volunteering has been for aspirational students for many years.

For those who stay stateside, we’ll see greater affordability in some cities and many companies scaling back on office space. But you already knew that. 

Here's what might happen:

For some, WFH turns into WTF as isolation persists and the loss of face-to-face, non-Zoom contact compromises the casual networking necessary for creativity and career advancement. So, eventually, we could see a trend when moving back to the city for a job at the office becomes a perk!

Speaking of moving back to the city - watch out for a boomlet of urban-minded empty-nesters moving into underpriced urban areas for a few months or years.

People in their 50’s right now will live to be 100-plus if they stay healthy. At the same time, especially after COVID, many see the potential (if not the necessity) of investing time and money into growing a Life Part 2 business, one that speaks to what they really want to be doing and the legacy they want to leave.

That’s what I’m up to, building my own Life Part 2 work/life Oz. I started five years ago, living in Mexico City and other parts of the world. I stayed in Houston during the pandemic, and now I'm going back to Mexico and Montana this summer. After that, I’m moving to NYC in October for a few months.

Much like living as a local in Mexico City, doing the same in NYC has been a dream since my first visit many years ago. 

On that trip, I read EB White's essay "This is New York. Since that time, his muse has stayed with me, popping up at odd moments.  And that brings me to my favorite prediction of all - I see success as a writer in New York City.

Years ago, I thought, “Wow, would it be possible to take just a few months of my life and live in NYC like a local - drop by MOMA or the Guggenheim on any old Thursday, visit small galleries, meet writers and artists, go see black box theater, become a regular at the corner deli, and wear out some tennies on a favorite Central Park trail?” 

Now, with the world emerging from our global time out, Life’s answer is:

“Yes, it is totally possible. For persistent misfits and miracle-seekers, here is the real secret behind the curtain - the Yellow Brick Road continues out the back way, across the tracks, and up to the hills and mountains - Beyond Oz.”

And to top it off, Life threw a cherry on top - as it happens, my daughter, who graduated from college (and lockdown) in London last year, booked a one-way ticket to NYC in January to start her new life there.  

Thanks for reading!  What do you predict will happen in the next five years? How can you benefit from the changes we will face?

If you enjoyed this,  following me over on Medium is an easy way to show your support. 

photo credit - Seph Lawless

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