The Anywhere Economy
Get ready for the anywhere economy.
Historians will look back on 2020 not only as the year of COVID but also as the inflection point when people’s relationship to places changed fundamentally. In all of human history, this has happened only two other times:
- In the agricultural revolution, people stopped moving around to hunt and gather food; instead, they learned to raise food on farms, the fixed nature of which led to towns.
- In the industrial revolution, people moved off farms to live near factories, often concentrated in cities.
We still speak of the agricultural economy and the industrial economy as segments of today’s overall economy. But in the past fifty years, the information economy has been the primary story. Personal computers, then the Internet, then mobile devices have changed life as most people know it—and have given rise to today’s most valuable companies. Accelerated massively by the COVID pandemic, the information economy is now spawning the anywhere economy.
The anywhere economy is driven by the goods and services that address an increasing expectation: anything, anytime, anywhere, all enabled by the Internet. While the traditional economy faltered during the pandemic, the anywhere economy surged. Companies like Zoom, Netflix and Amazon became providers of essential services for work, life and sanity.
When the exception becomes the norm
Prior to COVID, digital technologies were increasingly enabling anywhere experiences like on-demand shopping and entertainment. But society-wide, these were still exceptions, not the norm. Then came 2020, when COVID caused anywhere experiences to truly become the norm: If you could plausibly work from home, you did. If you could shop online, you did. If you needed to buy a house or car, you did, remotely. Not everyone could take advantage of these options, but much of the population did—at one level or another, in many cases for the first time.
And often, what started as a constraint became a kind of liberation—from the workday commute, from everyday shopping trips, from the hassle of going to the doctor when, in some cases, you could see her virtually. Same for the lawyer, accountant, notary, and so on.
Did we want to do everything virtually? No. But were we surprised by how much we could do virtually, and how much better it often was? Yes.
To be clear, it was a bad time. The pandemic brought immense human tragedy and disruption. But amid the challenges, many people saw glimpses into better ways to live and work, changing people’s expectations of what they want when the pandemic recedes.
And thus we reach the inflection point for history’s third realignment of people to places, bringing with it the rise of the anywhere economy.
Are you on the right side of history?
Going forward, the question business and government leaders will increasingly need to ask is, “Am I helping or hindering people doing anything from anywhere?” Because when the pandemic recedes, people’s desire for anywhere experiences will only grow—in part, enabled by the infrastructure for anywhere experiences that was established during COVID. Where people found a better way, they’ll want to keep doing it. The businesses and governments that innovate to support this trend will be on the right side of history in the coming years and decades.
This does not mean everyone will want to do everything from anywhere, all the time. We will all welcome back many aspects of the in-person economy. But we will also welcome the continued option of anywhere alternatives across a wide range of activities in work and life.
- Augmentations. Some anywhere experiences will augment the in-person economy—for example, a wedding that most people attend in-person but that faraway people can also attend virtually.
- Partial replacements. Other anywhere experiences will partially replace their in-person equivalents—such as splitting time between home and the office, or being able to see a doctor virtually for some ailments.
- Total replacements. And still others will prove to be so much better than the old way, that they will eventually replace it.
At DocuSign, we believe we’re in that final category. If it’s something in life or work that’s important enough to sign for, we help people get it done from practically anywhere—in a way that’s digital, fast, easy and environmentally friendly. Also, we let organizations do the same for the entire agreement process, from preparing to signing, acting on and managing agreements. In our experience, once people see the better way, they don’t go back.
But whether it’s a product or service that augments, partially replaces, or fully replaces the in-person alternative, all are new contributors to economic growth and opportunity. In addition, they all create secondary opportunities for businesses that may not themselves enable anywhere experiences but that serve the anywhere economy in another way—for example, remodelers specializing in home offices, or services tailored to people who choose not to have a single fixed address.
So, the anywhere economy is upon us. It was a bright spot in the dark times of the pandemic. And in the years and decades ahead, it will continue to shine brighter—enabling new ways of living and working by redefining the relationship between people and places.
Dan Springer and Scott Olrich are the CEO and COO, respectively, of DocuSign.