Featured in today's briefing:
- Top takeaways from the EmTech Next summit.
- The four-day workweek gains ground in the UK.
- How to have better lunch breaks.
The latest virus forecast: The US had about 110,000 new cases reported on Friday, flat with the level two weeks earlier. The government lifted as of today the testing requirement for all incoming international air travelers that’s been in place for 17 months, saying it is "not currently necessary."
The business impact: Consumer prices last month surged at a faster-than-expected 8.6% rate from a year ago, the highest annual inflation since 1981. Rising gas and food prices and rents are responsible for much of the increase.
Focus on Takeaways from the EmTech Next Summit
The EmTech Next conference, co-produced this week by Charter and the MIT Technology Review, covered technology and the future of work. But many of the takeaways from the two days of conversations with top executives and researchers concerned the importance of low-tech considerations, like maintaining a learning posture as a leader, cutting back on meetings, or studying philosophy. Here are some of the observations that stayed with us even after the summit was over:
Employers can’t make all of their employees happy on every issue, but they can continue to evolve and learn. Employers cannot and shouldn’t try to please all of their employees, said Katie Burke, chief people officer at HubSpot. That being said, “I do think all of us as leaders have an obligation to stay curious…. [you] can never get it wrong if you’re approaching things with empathy and curiosity.” As an example, Burke cited the response she said she gives when a colleague tells her she has made a mistake: “Talk to me about why….Let’s understand what we can learn from it, understanding that I’m not necessarily going to work to make you happy or perfectly content here, but I am going to listen with a ton of intentionality about how I could have done better.”
Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts start at home. Leaders can’t create truly inclusive companies if their focus starts and ends with the workplace. Stephanie LeBlanc-Godfrey, Google’s global head of inclusion for women of color, recommends taking stock of the diversity you encounter while off the clock: “Who's your doctor? Who's your accountant? Who's your interior designer? Who are the people taking on leadership roles within your life?” she said. “You can't say that you're this diversity champion… and then when you go home, you're in a homogenous environment in every aspect of your home life.” Making diversity a priority outside of work—in your social network, in the brands you seek out, in the books you read—will make it more of an authentic value within your organization.
Figure out how to make best practices the easier choice. Just as workers contribute more to their 401ks when plans are opt-out versus opt-in, managers are more likely to try new approaches when discovering those approaches is a frictionless experience, explained Stefanie Tignor, head of data science and insights at Humu. Organizations can share reminders of proven people-management tactics, such as nudging managers to recognize high-performing team members in different ways.
Instead of cultural competence, aim for cultural humility. Where the former can be treated as a box to be checked, the latter is more open-ended, requiring an indefinite learning posture. “I want to be more than competent,” explained Randal Pinkett, cofounder and CEO of the diversity-focused consulting firm BCT Partners. “I humble myself to acknowledge that there’s always more.” For example, cultural competence for a white manager might look like reading anti-racism literature; cultural humility might involve using those texts to consistently evaluate how their organization’s practices create institutional barriers for employees of color.
Apply design thinking to culture creation. “I consider myself to be an engineer or an architect,” said Tiffany Stevenson, Patreon’s chief people officer. “You're thinking about what an employee will see, do, touch, feel, interact with from the moment that they start.” Culture manifests as a series of actions, she explained—and each point of interaction between worker and organization is a chance for a company to act in a way that communicates its values and priorities. Patreon’s internal culture guide, for instance, has a section explaining company norms around hosting visiting musicians for performances, designing an experience (the show) in support of a value (serving creators): “When a creator leaves Patreon, they should feel like it was the best show of their lives…We hold each other to a ridiculously high standard as an audience.”
Companies should look to cities to understand where the metaverse is headed. As the rise of remote work pushes cities to compete for new residents in increasingly creative ways, one lure that will likely gain prominence in the coming years is a municipal “digi-physical” infrastructure that includes cultural programs, said John Egan, CEO of L'Atelier BNP Paribas, a technology forecasting company. Egan also argued that Web3 jobs will be primarily side hustles rather than primary sources of income for the near future.
Management training should include philosophy. When the online-learning platform Coursera launched its leadership academy last year, it included a module focused on non-technical knowledge and skills, such as moral philosophy, ethics, and emotional awareness. As companies grapple with their responses to social and political issues and learn how best to manage a remote workforce, “both managers and executives need to learn how to think,” said Leah Belsky, the company’s chief enterprise officer. “How do you actually think about your career and your future? How do you actually think about bigger macroeconomic issues? How do you make a decision on Covid?” To Coursera’s initial surprise, the module proved most popular among technical leaders.
Employers and unions can align on both flexibility and business performance. Thomas Kochan, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management’s Institute for Work and Employment Research, described the new social contract between workers and employers as an agreement that both parties “are held accountable for meeting each other’s expectations … for a workplace that values democracy, values productivity, and values worker respect.” In practice, that agreement happens when leaders and employees alike engage in “interest-based bargaining,” which goes beyond stating asks to exploring the issues and concerns undergirding them.
Hybrid work alone isn’t climate-positive. Even when people forego their commutes, the carbon impact is currently canceled out by factors like increased local driving and greater in-home energy consumption, according to Kent Larson, director of city science at MIT Media Lab. Rethinking city design to accommodate greater density and walkability, and to create neighborhoods where people can both live and work, has a positive effect on both carbon emissions and the “innovation potential of the community,” as people can more easily gather in third spaces such as cafes.
Experiment with ways to cut back on meetings. Ideas like core-collaboration hours and no internal meetings on Fridays are a good starting point, suggested Brian Elliott, executive leader of Future Forum, a future-of-work consortium launched by Slack. Meeting-free Fridays “may just compress all of your meetings into the first four days of the week. But even if it does, that means people get heads-down, focus time on Friday to get work done. And that’s better than not doing it at all.” He also said Slack has been using “async weeks,” a week each quarter when all recurring meetings are canceled.
What Else You Need to Know
A large-scale trial of the four-day workweek kicked off in the UK. For the next six months, over 3,300 employees across 70 companies will work 80% of their hours for full pay, provided they commit to maintaining their productivity.
- The rise of the four-day workweek has been prematurely forecast in the past—including by then-vice-president Richard Nixon in 1956. Now work flexibility and employee burnout during the pandemic have given new momentum to the approach.
- The UK trial is the latest of a growing number of experiments with reduced work hours. Companies that shift to four-day weeks generally report higher levels of worker wellbeing and engagement, with similar or increased productivity.
- The main adjustment they find necessary is to rein in the number and length of meetings. Companies with compressed weeks also need to ensure there’s still time for informal interactions between workers.
- Businesses ranging from law firms to burger restaurants have tried the approach. Food distributor Sysco recently moved its truck drivers and warehouse associates to a four-day workweek to improve retention.
The CEOs of 220 companies called on the US Senate to address the “gun violence epidemic.”
- The letter didn’t call for specific policies, instead citing statistics such as the fact that guns are the leading cause of death among children and teens.
- Some 145 CEOs signed a similar letter in 2019. The signatories this time include Unilever, Bain Capital, Bumble, and Levi Strauss & Co. The CEOs of major sports teams such as the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco Giants also signed.
- The US is on pace for the worst year on record for mass shootings. And workers increasingly expect CEOs to speak out on societal issues. Earlier this month, for example, 4,000 Salesforce workers asked the company to drop the National Rifle Association as a customer. (Salesforce didn’t sign the latest letter; this week CEOs Marc Benioff and Bret Taylor reportedly told employees: “We are not going to litigate which organizations are allowed to be a customer of Salesforce.”)
Return to workplace speed round:
- Apple CEO Tim Cook called remote work “the mother of all experiments,” adding that the company’s plans could change: "We might be the first to declare the starting point is most likely incorrect and will require adjustments.” (It already has: Citing rising Covid case numbers, Apple recently pushed back its requirement that workers come into the office three days a week, a policy that had triggered a high-profile employee backlash.)
- New research estimates that the market value of US office buildings will decrease by 28% within the next seven years if remote and hybrid work continue, a loss that equates to more than $500 billion.
- Some venture-capital firms say they are looking to fund in-person startups, dismissing remote workers as entitled and unambitious. That approach is “equivalent to ‘Looking to fund startups running Windows95’” tweeted Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman. “Time to live in the future and fully embrace remote.”
- Average office occupancy in major US cities has held steady at around 43% for months now, according to keycard access company Kastle Systems, which suggested that this rate may be a “new normal.”
- A growing number of homeowners are capitalizing on hybrid-work setups by dividing their time between two properties, purchasing small homes closer to work and larger houses further from urban centers for times when commuting isn’t an issue.
- Some 71% of hybrid workers reported that they have a strong connection to their peers that makes them want to work harder, compared with 63% of in-office workers and 60% of remote workers, according to a Citrix survey
- LinkedIn, which doesn’t require employees to work in its office, is trying to attract workers with programs like Reconnect, a series of in-person and virtual events around monthly themes. June’s “connecting together” theme includes a digital music festival.
- Intuit had at one point considered some kind of rigid return-to-office plan but decided to allow managers and teams to set their own expectations of which days to go in. DocuSign postponed four return-to-office dates before deciding not to require attendance for now.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Find your employees’ gratitude styles. One person may feel most appreciated with public recognition, while another may prefer a one-on-one thanks. Understanding how to communicate gratitude on an individual level makes the message more impactful than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.
- Use voice memos for asynchronous conversation. When a typed-out message feels too impersonal or not nuanced enough, recording and sharing your thoughts out loud can create the feeling of a direct one-on-one conversation. Audio messages in Slack, WhatsApp, and other services make this easy.
- Keep a “work diary” to avoid office housework. Especially for women and workers of color, who are disproportionately given assignments such as taking notes and ordering team lunches, a detailed record of time spent provides leverage when approaching a manager about rebalancing a task load.
- Align perks with values in job listings. A description that touts things like free snacks and ping-pong tables can signal to candidates that a company is papering over a toxic culture with shiny distractions—or, at the very least, that its priorities are out of order. More appealing to potential employees are benefits that indicate how an organization treats its employees, such as paid caregiving leave and fair compensation.
- Pair your lunch break with an activity. In the thick of the day’s chaos, it can feel like the path of least resistance to just power through the afternoon with a bag of chips for sustenance. Give yourself a compelling reason to recharge by using lunchtime for a non-work task that necessarily takes you away from your desk: walking the dog, doing a brief yoga flow, simply taking the time to prepare a more effortful meal and eat it outside. For managers in particular, modeling the importance of a midday break can make it easier for colleagues to follow suit and temporarily disconnect.
Work shorts are in this season. After two years sporting athleisure and“Zoom tuxedos”—work-appropriate on top, schlubby on the bottom—employees returning to the office are navigating new bare-kneed terrain. Some companies see a hyper-casual dress code as a potential recruitment tool; others are positioning it as a perk to lure workers back in person.
Google is trying to make shared Docs less awkward and more friendly. The company now allows users to leave emojis in place of comments.
The handbook for this new era of business doesn’t exist. We’re all drafting our own as we go along—and now we’d like to start doing so together. You can sign up here to receive this briefing by email.