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Were it not for the pandemic, I would be in Aspen today, for Fortune’s annual Brainstorm Tech confab. Instead, it’s been postponed to December 1-2, when it will be held virtually. But Fortune did assemble a distinguished group of tech leaders yesterday for a virtual discussion of how the pandemic is changing business.
One prediction they chewed on was the death of distance–that with the rise of remote work, location won’t matter. “I feel like there is more opportunity now for people to get out of the bubble,” said Jewel Burks Solomon, head of Google for Startups, U.S. “I’ve experienced what it was like to have investors say, ‘Oh, you’re in Atlanta, you’re not in Silicon Valley, so sorry, companies we invest in have to be close to us.’ Now that is no longer valid.”
Maybe. But not everyone on the call agreed. Some, like former GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving, concurred that where you live “just doesn’t matter anymore. There is no plan to go back to the way we were before.” But others, like Joe Marchese, CEO of Attention Capital, suggested “these are such extraordinary times, and it is hard to trust current trends.” Entrepreneur Mark Johnson questioned whether the lockdown would give the edge to people who had existing relationships, and disadvantage newcomers who lacked “the opportunity to break bread, have a coffee, see someone in person.” And Electronic Arts CEO Andrew Wilson, while citing a surge in virtual sports, also acknowledged that “there is a certain kinetic energy that comes from putting creative people in a building together.”
Who’s right? Time will decide. But interestingly, many companies are having to make bets now on the future, deciding whether to allow employees to work remotely or ditch costly city real estate.
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