I met most of my coworkers on Wednesday. We had our first in-person gathering since February 2020 – all outdoors, COVID-safe. 

It was surreal.

Sure, I’ve seen everyone on screen. 3D is different. Most of them are taller than I thought. And younger. Or I’m just older.    

I’ve worked with some of them for 18 months without ever being in the same room, because we still haven’t reopened our office. Over half didn’t work here before quarantine. 

2X-ing our company in a year was a good thing. Not to revel, given the hardship faced by so many, but the pandemic, political turmoil, and economic uncertainty have been good for our balance sheet. Helping customers see through the windshield becomes significantly more valuable the foggier it gets. And it’s like morning in Point Reyes right now.    

Nearly all our pre-quarantine colleagues are from Pittsburgh. Most of the newbies aren’t. That’s another COVID phenomenon, obviously. But trying to build a rocket ship while the state of work is permanently altered, is like skiing a mogul-specked double black diamond in a whiteout. It’s even harder than coming up with all these metaphors. 

As great as it was to be with everyone, it was also bittersweet. We won’t be able to repeat it until COVID recedes or the weather gets warm in Pittsburgh again. Neither of those are likely until the spring, at best. I’ve never believed in company Christmas parties, anyway. The holidays are for family. 

So, how do you establish and sustain company culture remotely, when growing at this velocity? I don’t know yet. We just have to.

Competition for the rock stars I drank with on Wednesday night is intense. It’s not enough to pay well or shower them with equity. They want life balance and flexibility. They want to work for a company that has a sincere social mission and high ethics. They want to like the people they work with.

And if we can’t deliver all of that, opportunity is beating down their door. Or they’ll just quit, dip into the savings they accrued over the past year-and-a-half, and wait until something better comes along. 

Our team chuckles at me when I say I love them at the end of our all-hands meetings. But I do. Because they could be anywhere, and they choose to be here.

What’s not to love?

Here’s what we’re seeing:

Putting my data where my mouth is, Americans’ job satisfaction is lower than we’ve ever seen it. I can’t do this whole study justice in a few sentences, so check it out for yourself. Thirty-two percent of employed U.S. adults are unhappy in their current jobs, exactly double the percentage of one year ago. People who say they’re better off financially since pre-COVID are far more likely to be the ones quitting their jobs. Interestingly, while people in medical/healthcare jobs are among the least likely to be actively searching for a new gig, they are the most likely to be considering a wholesale career change. We’re still in the very early days of a workplace upheaval. 

Nearly half of Americans say they have held off making a major purchase in the last two weeks because of concerns over price increases or shipping delays. I’ve been nothing but bullish about the coming holiday retail season – due to the strong financial situation of most U.S. households – but my enthusiasm is getting softer by the day. Inflation fears, supply chain problems, and even the coming return of student loan payments in January have a lot of consumers growing timid. It’s particularly true among younger, Black, and Hispanic adults, which could matter a lot depending on what category you’re in. 

Staying with this theme, people are also stocking up on essentials as they fear grocery shelves drying up. Nearly half of Americans say they are planning to load up on essential items in the coming months as supply chain worries deepen. The behavior is particularly prevalent among Walmart shoppers – which makes sense on both socioeconomic and political lines. If you need me to explain that to you, you must be new here.

Speaking of Walmart shoppers, they’re also highly likely to take advantage of buy now, pay later programs this holiday season. In total, 21% of U.S. adults say they are at least somewhat likely to use programs like Afterpay or Affirm during the holiday retail rush. Seven percent say they are “very likely.” That number jumps 4X (28% very likely) among the most avid Walmart customers, with 48% saying they are at least somewhat likely to take advantage of buy now, pay later services this year. That’s a lot.

The pandemic has permanently changed the way people want to watch movies. I feel for movie theaters. As if the explosion of streaming and lower cost home theaters wasn’t already a strain, COVID accelerated everything. Seventy-one percent of Americans now say they would prefer to watch a new movie in the comfort of their home, with just 23% preferring the cinema. The numbers are much better (for theaters) among young people, which will of course determine which movies make the big screen and which ones don’t. 

Apparently, you people own way more shoes than I do. We published a study this week looking at trends in shoe-buying and I was blown away. Not by the fact that fashion fans prefer shoe-shopping over all other categories of apparel and accessories. I expected that. What I didn’t expect was that 21% of U.S. adults own 15 or more pairs of shoes – that number jumps to 25% among Gen Xers. Did that many of you really keep your old Doc Martens and Chuck Taylors from high school?

We’re really cranking out the research right now:

  • A lot of Gen Z consumers have tried plant-based meat but the majority of them don’t like it;
  • Americans are beginning to cut back on driving because of gas prices;
  • Over half of Americans are comfortable going back to major public events, the highest we’ve seen it since June;
  • Netflix and Walmart are partnering to sell show merchandise and it could be a big hit with young people (and I have no idea why we did so much on Walmart this week);
  • The more books people read, the more likely they are to volunteer.

The most popular questions this week:

Answer Key: Of course; Unacceptable, of course; Of course; Of course; Of course, if we haven’t already.

Hoping you’re well.


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