1. The Post-Messaging World of “We’re With You”

The compound trauma and call for change that our society is going through has had a unique, welcome side effect: our BS meter for advertising has been massively upgraded.

You smell it everywhere, because it’s hard for brands to fill ad space without looking ridiculous. Infection spikes, unemployment rates, and social justice actions make for lousy tie-ins to soda ads and dubious workplace profiles. But with the massive blowback to performative allyship over the last few weeks, what does the new normal of brand messaging look like? The entire script for what makes a “normal” ad campaign is gone.

Everybody will scramble to see which tone works without getting pilloried for empty virtue signaling. Ads will get safer and vaguer, trying not to alienate sides but still trying to land on some form of “progressive.” Sympathy and authenticity will be front-and-center, and we’ll definitely see more people of color in ads of all kinds. Corporations will continue to tout big donations and employee fairness. By October, brave souls might try a weary strain of comedy. By the end of the year we’ll see a full embrace of “we made it through this together” commercials, promising a brighter 2021.

The smart brands will double-down on monetary, principled support for positive social causes in unvarnished ways. Make the brand part of the change, and make a public commitment to their own (hopefully) ethical workforce policies. And, of course, they’ll get back to talking about the actual merits and values of actual products, versus trying to glom onto whatever’s in the zeitgeist as part of your higher purpose.

2. A (Measured) Leap Forward in Startup Diversity

We’ve seen “Diversity Makes Your Team Better” articles for decades now. But true diversity in VC-backed startup culture is still a mixed bag. On the capital and the entrepreneurial sides, tech leadership is still overwhelmingly white, and not particularly vocal about gender equality or sexual orientation.

This doesn’t just make for similar-looking pitch decks and leadership pages on a company’s website, it absolutely affects its products, too. A of lack diverse, empowered voices on a UX research or development team leads to shaky assumptions that mask themselves as certainties. User behavior, accessibility, product marketing … it’s so easy for user profiles to align quickly with the assumptions and demographics of a product team. 

That’s not going to change overnight. But, the continuing exodus from Silicon Valley, the rethinking of remote work, and a powerful, resurgent focus on inclusive workspaces will help. Anybody who wants startup money will get asked how they plan on creating a diverse team. There’ll be more pressure from tech reporters to show who gets funding, and for what. Pitch decks will have more inclusive language and a broader analysis of how different audiences can use a product. Startups that can show a commitment to community involvement, diverse leadership, a safe work culture, and social change will get a second (and third) look.

3. Office Culture Will Miss Democracy

Remote work is going to expose the wealth gap in NYC offices, big time, and it’s going to be a challenge to maintain company culture.

In many ways, offices are equalizers. Especially in New York, where it’s not uncommon for c-level executives to sit in the same offices, with the same equipment and accommodations, as their assistants.

It’s a bit easier to go fully remote when you have plenty of room to carve out a dedicated office. But, as junior-level reports who live with roommates in small apartments are finding out, creating the space to be productive and stay sane is a rare luxury.

So … younger, less financially-stable people will be forced to leave New York for more manageable living and working situations. It’s not necessarily all bad; a dispersion of skill and talent back out into the heartland could be a net positive economically, politically, and socially. 

But that core of talent all having to co-exist in the same space helps us more than hurts us. Fewer boundaries in an office culture translates to a free flow of ideas and perspectives.

4. A New Role for Developers

With wider acceptance of remote work, there will definitely be a rise in the global outsourcing of labor. That shift will have massive implications on wages and production. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but individuals and companies will have to figure out how to navigate a new reality.

For a lot of software developers, I think the key to surfing that change will require more active engagement with the client. Personal branding will be a big part of it too — being able to both do the work and explain the value of what you’re doing. 

Basically I think people skills and comfort-building may become more of a requirement for engineers of all stripes. The approach will shift to “We’re part of your team.” instead of “We’re building something for you.”

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