SHB asked me to write about what is on my mind. Those that know me the best would agree that this was a big mistake as it won’t be remotely on topic!
The onset of COVID was a time of reflection for me, and probably for you, too. I had an experience early in the COVID pandemic that I will remember forever. I was sitting with my wife and a few friends in a back yard on a clear, desert night outside of St. George, Utah, looking up at the stars. It was late — probably past midnight, and we were doing what we do best — philosophizing and trying to make sense of life. All of a sudden I saw a cluster of faint lights go by in the sky. “Neat,” I thought, “Elon Musk is shooting constellations of Starlink satellites into space as payload for his SpaceX rockets.” What happened next surprised me — I got mad. I think it was the comparison that in that moment seemed almost hilarious. Elon is shooting stuff into outer space. And I’m sitting here collecting rent, worried about staying solvent, trying to get residents to clean up after their pets, and taking major flak in the news as an evil landlord during the pandemic.
What I experienced during that moment is something that I believe tens of millions of American workers are facing now — a crisis of meaning.
Yes, the last business cycle was good. But pre-pandemic, I felt as though I had fallen into an almost addictive cycle of obsession with growth, overwork and all-out obsession without stopping to ask myself the question: Why am I doing this? What meaning am I creating for myself and others, beyond the obvious?
So what can be done to help us create more meaning in our work? I have spoken with hundreds of friends inside and outside the industry, and it seems to boil down to a few things:
- Do you believe that your organization’s mission is: a) being accomplished, and b) contributing to the greater good?
- Do you: a) feel that you contribute to this mission, and b) find it deeply personally satisfying?
Now I don’t know anything about rockets, so I am trying to find areas within my current realm of expertise where we can move the needle and make the world a better place than we found it. Here are a few trends that I am especially excited about that I think will do that.
Off-Site Construction and Sustainability
I recently toured Autovol Volumetric Modular in Boise, Idaho. I watched fully automated robots framing up walls, drywalling and fastening sheathing to multifamily units being built in a factory. Most units were done, start-to-finish and ready to ship within seven days. Although not a new concept, I think that off-site construction can help address some issues that are especially relevant today:
- Affordably automate the most undesirable jobs and do away with many of the inefficiencies of traditional construction by implementing basic assembly line technology;
- Create American jobs in indoor, controlled conditions with local supply chains; and
- Create sustainable buildings — many power-saving or tech-enabled sustainability products are retrofits, or are cost-engineered out. When installing these features in factory, it’s cheaper and easier.
Not convinced? Three in four members of the millennial and Gen Z groups are willing to pay extra for sustainable features in their housing. LED lighting retrofits, efficient HVAC, water saving features and solar are all relatively fast payback retrofits in most markets. Students are beginning to expect on-site power generation like they have expected recycling for the last 10 years. If we don’t offer closer to net-zero and carbon neutral living arrangements to our residents in the coming years, someone else will.
Decentralized Finance (DeFi) Protocols
Historically, banks have had two main functions — market making between borrowers and savers, and contract enforcement. Cryptocurrency has the ability to do both of these things in a decentralized, cheaper way. Crypto has now started to move out of a purely speculative play and into useful functions like lending, saving and currency exchange (google ‘DeFi apps’ to see). Major banks have recently started to dump money into these markets, and Bitcoin got its own ETF this past month. In short, I think in 10 years we will see increased returns to savers and lower rates to borrowers due to decentralized saving/lending markets.
In 10 years, we could be trading LP positions in real estate partnerships as specialized NFT token issues on huge internet marketplaces that have instant liquidity. You could easily pledge your LP positions as collateral, borrow against their well-established values, or buy in tiny increments with little to no transactional costs. GP positions would trade like governance tokens – similar to how some DeFi apps are functioning today. In short, I think that due to blockchain technology, real estate will move from being relatively illiquid to become very liquid and we will see appreciation in the asset class. Similar to what Robinhood has done for stock market investing, blockchain technology will bring institutional real estate ownership to the masses.
Okay, hear me out on this one. In 10 years I believe that MDMA and psilocybin-based therapies will revolutionize psychiatry and traditional talk therapy. Work being done by MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) and Johns Hopkins University will likely result in FDA approvals as soon as 2023. Given the current collective mental health crisis and the general crisis of meaning in a post-COVID world, I believe this will help individuals to heal from past trauma and to create more meaning in their work and in their relationships.
In short, I think that society as a collective is leveling up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in a post-pandemic world. It won’t be enough to simply provide jobs or products and services — we will have to demonstrate true value to humanity and bring that message down to each team member in our organizations. I really believe we have massively disruptive trends on the horizon both in technology and the way that humans work, and that will be exciting or terrifying, depending on how we react. Now, back to work. SHB
— Grant Collard is the founder and CEO of Redstone Residential.
This article was originally published in the September/October 2021 issue of Student Housing Business magazine. To subscribe, please click here.