It turns out that most of us liked having our own space, even if it was just a beige cubicle, and didn’t really want to hot desk in something that looked suspiciously like a soft play area designed for two-year-olds.
At the same time, the working from home bubble has burst as well. Three years after the pandemic ended, many major companies have started insisting that their staff come back to the office at least three days a week, and often more.
Even firms such as Google, which create much of the software that enables home working, have demanded that its own people check in to work.
Meanwhile, Zoom, the company that capitalised most successfully on working from home saw its share price fall from $US490 at its pandemic peak to a low of $US59 in 2023.
What’s more, it was reported in 2023 that Zoom’s founder, Eric Yuan, had told staff at an all-hands meeting that he wanted employees to return to in-person work because video conferencing was making them too “friendly” and unable to build trust.
And take a look at ESG, a movement that demanded investors prioritise social targets over the seemingly more mundane matters of profits and returns on investment.
Over the past 12 months, it has been in full-scale retreat, aided by the Coutts scandal involving Nigel Farage. Investors are abandoning it, with the money committed to ESG funds falling from $US339 billion to $US315 billion by the third quarter of the year.
How many people can take it seriously any more? The electric car, meanwhile, was meant to be taking over the roads. It was a cheaper and cleaner way of getting around. And yet, by the end of this year sales were slumping, with manufacturers offering bigger and bigger discounts to try and tempt wary buyers, and with giants such as Volkswagen shelving investment.
Only the Chinese manufacturers such as BYD, with cheaper vehicles, are still booming. The cost of insurance was limiting, charging remained as tricky as ever, especially over long distances, and there was growing evidence that all the minerals going into their production meant EVs were not as good for the environment as previously hoped. The bubble may have finally burst, with start-ups such as Volta forced into bankruptcy.
Next, plant-based food start-ups struggled. Beyond Meat and Oatly, which makes oat-based milk, both saw their share price fall. Perhaps no one really wants an overpriced soybean burger, and maybe the future is not necessarily vegan.
Finally, we were all meant to be abandoning X, the site formerly known as Twitter, in protest at the views of its new owner Elon Musk. And yet, while its value has fallen significantly in 2023, we are still “tweeting” our views, and competitors such as Threads, Mastodon and Bluesky were about as lively as a high street on Christmas Day.
There are technologies and trends that will make a real difference over the course of this decade. AI might well prove to be crucial to accelerating growth, while reformed economies in Africa and South America, led by countries such as Argentina, may start to dramatically expand.
But the over-hyped woke corporatism that has dominated the 2020s so far may be running out of road. Will anyone miss it?
Indeed, if companies can get back to making decent products at a fair price, and paying their staff and customers on time, and not worry about their “social purpose”, the system will be a lot stronger – and will generate far better returns as well.
The Telegraph, London
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