The New Normal – What Could it be and how does it Relate to Additive Manufacturing?


Lee-Bath Nelson  

3D printed chess set after Marcel Duchamp plus mustaches new normal

While many countries are experiencing a second wave of COVID-19, people are still looking ahead (with hope?) to the future beyond, with or without a vaccine, and what will establish itself as the “new normal”. There are so many aspects to the “new normal” that I don’t think we can cover them all in 1 post and some of the aspects deserve a deeper dive but I will attempt to gather some opinions and possibilities here. Next week we’ll look into remote work and working from home as part of the new normal and also part of the more general #GoDigital trend.

Home Sweet Home?

Since we mentioned it, let’s say a bit more. One of the great leaps forward of an existing trend prompted by COVID-19 is the ability to work remotely from home or from co-work locations (with the pandemic it’s more home than co-work). Many companies that have not allowed (or at least strongly discouraged) work from home in the past found out that the work gets done, even efficiently, and there are operational savings. Needing less office space is one of them. It seems clear that the new normal will include some measure of work from home and/or from smaller satellite offices. In an informal (and not statistically balanced) impromptu poll on LinkedIn, asked how many days people wanted to work from home post COVID-19 in the new normal. As of early this week 255k people chimed in and over 70% of them would like to work at least 3 days a week from home while less than 5% want to get back to 5 days a week in the office. This has major implications on the new normal.

It’s Getting Real (Estate)

For one thing, remote work might affect the real estate market. If previously a home located 2 hours away from where you worked might seem a non-contender, now it seems very doable if you only come in once or twice a week. Conversely, living close to work hubs becomes less desirable. Some people claim that the city cores are emptying out now in the US and they are not going to rebound in the new normal. Many people have anecdotally told me that Florida is seeing an influx of New Yorkers, for example. In fact one such stanch New Yorker, James Altucher, claims New York will not rebound because of remote work, restaurants closing down, cultural institutions going bankrupt, and people moving to cheaper locations in search for more sqms (or sq ft) at an affordable price. Altucher explains he thinks that the reason NYC bounced back in previous crises (e.g., 2008) was that remote work wasn’t very feasible because there wasn’t enough broadband and now is really the first crisis where it is possible. To be fair, I did hear others say that so many wealthy people have real estate in NYC that they will not allow prices there to crash to the ground in the long term. Meanwhile, CNBC reports that there is a large drop in Manhattan deals in favor of some suburbs where residential real estate deals are at double their rate last year. Seems reasonable to assume that if people work more from home they would want a home office and maybe 2 home offices. (below 3D printed house by ICON, part of last week’s Tessa’s Picks).



While NYC has always been special, it seems that elsewhere in the US, as well as Europe and even in my neck of the woods (Israel) this is what people are talking about (and sometimes executing on): moving away from the city. Gen Zs are even telling me there’s a whole trend around going more country, cozy, back to basics called CottageCore that is gaining popularity fast, another accelerator of moving away from the city. On the other hand, some Gen Ys have said that there’s no replacement for in-person socialization in cities (i.e., clubs, pubs, etc) for their generation so I wouldn’t give up on cities just yet. How does this affect Additive Manufacturing (AM)? Well, in terms of facilities AM requires space so the ability to move outside cities would lower costs (and also probably lower rents for those staying in the city). However, less people may live in the area and so physically accessing 3D printers might be problematic. More thoughts on this next week when we discuss remote work.

Onboarding Corporate Culture

COVID-19 has a strain on corporate cultures that will likely persist in some ways for a long time. Managing a distributed workforce is a challenge and many managers have not had any experience or training for this. It requires large corporations to re-think management training, management support, and HR programs for employees as well as in general how their culture applies to the new normal. Many corporates have a culture of brainstorming sessions and other types of recurring meetings which may not translate as well to Zoom. Yet, it seems clear that Zoom and other such applications are here to stay as a very major business tool. It is clear that there is room for innovation to increase the collaboration capabilities and effectiveness of using such platforms. Can we hope for a brainstorming technology that can facilitate brainstorming in a self-learning way? That would be a global need, I would think, not just an #AMneed.

3D printed bitcoin piggy bank by Marius Gundersen

Another aspect of corporate culture that might need to be rethought is the expense account. The future of business travel is unclear but it seems clear that the volume of business travel will be reduced, even if a vaccine is found. COVID-19 taught us we can get a lot more done than corporations and people previously thought, without showing up in person. This will lower business travel volume and with it the number of lunches, drinks, and dinners on the road – ergo the expense account impact. Since business travel has increased dramatically in recent years this is probably a welcome pendulum swing for most business-people. Less so for the hospitality industry. I’ve gone from 2-4 trips a month to 0 in March (and since) and my inbox is full of emails from hotels I’ve stayed at offering 50-70% discounts to returning customers.

Having said this, business travel is widely expected to rebound post-covid. There is no replacement for in-person meetings (yet? where is the ultimate AR start up that can create the sensation of a handshake that is so important to building trust?) and there is research that shows domestic travel is highly cost effective, or was in 2009 ($12.5 of revenue for every $1 spent on domestic US travel). Ben Baldanza, the former CEO of Spirit Airlines, expects business travel to permanently decline by 5-10% post-covid and there are industry analysts that are more pessimistic, predicting we will only climb back to 75% of 2018 levels in 2022 (though over time, due to population growth, 2019 levels may return and be eclipsed). Several experts also predict that the supply of flights and hotels will decline (meaning prices might be higher) – some brands won’t make it through and those that do will focus on efficient routes/locations only. In addition, the cost per trip will increase due to cleaning and other requirements that will likely persist into the new normal.

Show me the Money

Formnext 2018 startup area and LEO Lane Additive Manufacturing photo by Sarah Goehrke

The big question for me, that relates to travel, is what will happen to shows. For AM, specifically, what will happen with FormNext (photo above by Sarah Goehrke)? Unfortunately, I’ve been hearing from large ecosystem players that normally have huge booths at FormNext that they are not planning to exhibit or even attend in person because it is their understanding that, unlike previous years, customers will likely not attend either. The FormNext organizers are working on a virtual show in parallel to the physical one – I wish them good vibes and smart thoughts as this will likely be the more popular platform (whether or not physical FormNext  is cancelled in the end). It could set the bar for all industry events and be very important in the short term but also impactful in the new normal as many people will likely be less eager to travel. Cracking the riddle of an effective virtual show (as opposed to a conference, where it is more straight forward) is definitely an acute need right now and going forward.

Speaking of conferences, Start Up Nation Central is organizing a virtual (free) conference on “The New Digital Age” September 8-10 and it will include a panel discussing the potential new normal in the travel industry (as well as a discussion on cities post-covid). Might be interesting to see if there are new insights – I’m planning to attend (and if there are new insights I’ll share on LinkedIn).

It seems to me that for the AM ecosystem the biggest ripple effect come from remote work. It could have a major impact on the features that AM solutions must offer and how they interact with each other but also on the availability of AM knowledge and how it is communicated and shared. It will also affect on our day to day work and habits inside the ecosystem and beyond it. More on that next week. Meanwhile, if you have comments or thoughts on the new normal post-covid please let me know, I love hearing different opinions!

For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates. (up top a 3D printed chess set that is after Marcel Duchamp (plus mustaches) created by Scott Kildall and Bryan Cera, and in the middle the bitcoin 3D printed piggy bank by Marius Gundersen)

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