Featured in today's briefing:
- What people want from food in the new workplace, and how companies are adapting.
- The mask mandate mess.
- The impact of salary disparities amid the Great Resignation.
The latest virus forecast: The US has had a 52% increase from two weeks earlier, with over 46,000 new cases on Friday, though thankfully hospitalizations are low and deaths declining.
The business impact: Consumer spending is shifting back to services and leisure from buying goods, according to a new Federal Reserve analysis. The strongest job markets in the US are in Austin, Texas; Nashville, Tenn.; Raleigh, N.C.; Salt Lake City; and Jacksonville, Fla., according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. They’re all in mid-sized cities with mild climates and low to no state income taxes.
Focus on the Role of Food in the Future of Work
There are so many rituals, practices, and beliefs that are petering out in our post-pandemic working lives. The handshake. The necktie. The notion that workers can’t be trusted to be productive when they work at home, or in a cafe, or anywhere else they can land a laptop. (This text was drafted on an Airbus A321.)
In the next few years many employers will be delegating another decades-old amenity to the dustbin: the company cafeteria. Instead of one sprawling (and likely pretty empty) destination, there will be many smaller ones designed to entice workers to gather at any hour to connect and collaborate.
This prediction comes from Fedele Bauccio, chief executive of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Bon Appétit Management Company, the food-service provider that shook up company cafeterias across the country by partnering with the likes of Oracle and Google and collaboratively pioneering new concepts like ethnically diverse food and free meals. Bon Appétit’s clientele swiftly grew to include organizations like Best Buy, Starbucks, and MIT; while its fortunes, unsurprisingly, took a significant hit in the pandemic, it remains a billion-dollar enterprise whose 1,000 locations cooked and served 200 million meals last year.
Some takeaways from our recent conversation with Bauccio:
- The traditional cafeteria is a thing of the past. “Those days are gone,” he says. In its place: “smaller, unique concepts placed throughout the campuses. There are pods of places where they can experience different concepts and different kinds of seating.”
- Taking action on corporate values, which includes issues like climate change and animal welfare, has never been more critical for companies looking to recruit and retain younger workers. “How do we support community? How do we support farmers? If you go on our website, you'll see a lot of messaging going on. Young people care about those messages,” Bauccio says. “They care about where their food comes from. They want us to support community within 150 miles of our kitchens all over the United States. That's a big, big deal.”
- Companies are using food not only to lure workers to offices, but to encourage them to collaborate once there. “Clients and employees have told us that, although it's nice to be able to be at home, they miss the collaboration and miss coming together. Part of that is food because that’s when they come together to share their ideas, collaborate, and create innovative solutions.”
- Workers, particularly those in the food-service industry, are worn out from the pandemic. “All over the country, people are struggling to get enough employees, and we pay more than a living wage and full benefits for everybody. People are exhausted and burnt out, and they want to do something different.”
- We’re getting bored with burgers. “There’s been a huge change in terms of more authentic cultural foods, whether Indian food or Filipino food, other than the hamburgers and deli sandwiches,” he says. “People want to experiment with their food, and they seem to experiment at work more than they do at home.”
- Plant-centric meals are healthier…and easier to procure in a supply-chain crunch. Supply-chain issues are “why we try to stay away from animal protein and try to do more produce and grains,” Bauccio says. “They're not only healthier and better for you, but they're also easier to source.”
As companies around the country struggle to figure out how to convince workers to head back to headquarters and how to reconnect them once they’re there, food—with its ages-old power to motivate and to build community—is becoming an increasingly valuable tool. A recent event at Microsoft with food trucks offering fried chicken and Korean barbecue for free was reportedly packed. Ford said its workers, which just started a new hybrid-work program, are praising its beefed-up cafeteria and bean-to-cup fresh coffee. JPMorgan Chase, which recently, and rather reluctantly, announced that many of its workers will work a hybrid schedule, unveiled plans for its new headquarters that includes a state-of-the-art food hall.
On the other end, cutting back on the provisions can spark a swift—and surprisingly sharp—backlash. Former Dropbox workers griped to Business Insider that the company decision to axe the gourmet cafeteria damaged company culture. Meta got publicly slapped for its decision to start its free dinner meal at 6:30pm rather than at 6:00pm. And most recently, Goldman Sachs—known for taking a particularly hard line on its stance that all workers should return to working in offices five days a week—generated headlines when it scrapped the free breakfasts and lunches it began offering during the pandemic. (The bank upped its “out of hours” meal stipend by $5 and said it was replacing the free meals with other “new experiences and offerings.”)
Read a transcript of our conversation with Bauccio, which also included discussion of the state of the job market and how growing up in the kitchen with his mother shaped his career.
What Else You Need to Know
Mask mandates in many places vanish overnight. Numerous businesses dropped their mandate after a Trump-appointed federal judge in Florida struck down the requirement on airplanes, trains, buses, and other public transportation.
- The mandate was promptly dropped by most major airlines, Uber, Lyft, and Disney.
- 83% of employers had either already discontinued the requirement or plan to do so this year, according to a survey in The Wall Street Journal.
- The Biden administration appealed the ruling after the CDC concluded the mandate was “necessary” to protect the public.
- The city of Philadelphia rescinded its indoor mandate days after it was reinstated.
- That leaves mask mandates limited to a (confusingly) small group of places that includes hospitals, Broadway theaters, and some forms of public transportation in New York, San Francisco, and Boston.
- It’s a good idea to continue wearing a mask on airplanes, according to experts who spoke with The New York Times about where and when you should still mask.
The cost of returning to the office is ballooning, thanks to inflation and worker shortages. Average gas prices hit $4.33 last month, compared with $2.60 in 2019.
- Wages, which grew 5.6% last year in a hot job market, aren’t keeping up.
- The hike in prices adds to challenges companies face in convincing employees to return. “It was ‘I don’t want to make the commute.’ Now it’s: ‘I can’t afford the commute,,’” the chief of a global staffing agency told The New York Times.
- Summer camp tuition has skyrocketed amid worker shortages, camps attempting to make up for financial shortfalls generated in the shutdowns, and inflation.
- Security-software company KnowBe4 decided to allow most of its roughly 1,500 employees to work remotely indefinitely when its workers, partly put off by rising RTO expenses including the cost of dog sitters and child care, said they preferred to keep working at home.
As companies call more employees back to the office, workers’ levels of stress and anxiety reach the highest levels since the summer of 2020. While employee-experience scores, which measure eight factors including productivity and ability to focus, fell for all knowledge workers, they posted the steepest declines among those in the office full time, according to a Future Forum survey.
- The decline in work-life balance was twice as steep for full-time office workers compared to flexible workers, and they also showed more significant upticks in stress and anxiety.
- At least as bad, if not worse, is the fact that executives—who in many surveys say they want their employees to return to the office—aren’t rushing back in themselves: just 19% are coming into the office five days a week compared with 35% of non-executive employees. And the disparity is growing.
The scrap between Disney and Florida over the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill got serious. State lawmakers voted to revoke Disney World’s designation as a special tax district, a 55-year-old privilege that saves millions and allows the company to self-govern its 25,000-acre theme park complex.
- The move escalates the tension over a new education law that prohibits or limits discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida classrooms. Disney CEO Bob Chapek initially refused to comment on the law, but employee and customer backlash led him to change gears, and Disney publicly opposed the legislation. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis decried the “woke gesture.”
- The fracas illustrates forces driving the Republican Party and big business, long close allies, in different directions. It also highlights the expectations that CEOs take stands on societal issues, and the fallout that can occur when they do so clumsily.
Generous salaries for new hires at tech firms are stirring resentment among existing employees.
- A level-three San Francisco Google employee who joined a year ago was earning $192,000, for example, while the same kind of employee who had been at the company for three years was making $150,000, according to an external salary survey site.
- Some 53% of Googlers said their compensation was competitive in 2022 compared with 63% last year.
- Some existing employees are also demoralized by greater workloads to cover empty roles left by departing colleagues. And when they leave, companies are finding that replacing them is getting more expensive.
The way companies tally “Scope 3” emissions may discourage climate action. Currently, many firms use industry estimates to tally emissions related to their activities but outside their operational control when they don’t have reliable data.
- The approach allows companies not taking action to reduce emissions to coast on rivals’ efforts, rather than using the more reliable measure of their own primary reported data.
Return to workplace speed round:
- The clock is ticking for many workplaces still unsure about their in-person future: Roughly 11% of all office space in the US is attached to leases set to expire this year, giving companies a short timeline to decide how many people their offices will need to support over the long term.
- More large employers are rejecting a full-scale return. The law firm Cooley, in a departure from many of its industry peers, has announced that it won't require most employees to return to in-person work: While the firm's offices are slated to reopen this summer, anyone whose job can be done remotely will be allowed to continue working from home indefinitely. Deloitte has also granted its UK employees the flexibility to choose hybrid or fully remote work, giving up one of its London offices entirely.
- JPMorgan Chase—which is requiring half its employees to come back to the office full-time and most of the rest to work in person for at least part of the week—has reportedly frustrated workers with a hard-line approach to keeping tabs on their whereabouts, tracking people's ID swipes to enforce its attendance policy.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Keep yourself visible. Working remotely, whether that's full-time or part of a hybrid schedule, can make it all too easy to fade into the background and out of your teammates' minds. Make a conscious effort to prevent that from happening by investing time in relationships with colleagues and regularly updating your manager on all you've accomplished.
- Find a work best friend. Having a go-to person at the office (or on Zoom) doesn't just make the workday more fun; it can also help you manage stress and feel more engaged with your job. And for company leaders, creating opportunities for employees to form those friendships—at social events, training programs, or other company gatherings—is one way to boost employee retention.
- Set the stage for boomerangs. The most straightforward way to make sure departing employees know they can always come back? Tell them. When someone moves on to a new company, make it clear that they're welcome to return in the future, and put some weight behind your words by staying in touch as they make their next moves.
- Engage your senses outside. What do you see, hear, smell when you take a walk outdoors? Paying attention to the physical experience of being in nature can help you cultivate a deeper sense of purpose and connectedness.
Workday gaming is—believe or not—now cool with employers. Companies are even subsidizing workers’ videogame playing, hoping it will allow them to better bond with each other.
- For more structure, startup Luna Park, offers hour-long gaming experiences for teams of 10 to 200 people. Sessions can include a comedian host who ribs contestants, and its spaceship-themed gaming platform comes with flashy, sometimes goofy, graphics like a giant kitten.
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.