Featured in today's briefing:
- Reversing how we use office spaces could improve things.
- A new front for action on the caregiving crisis.
- The impact of group-bonding exercises.
The latest virus forecast: The US has had a 14% decrease from two weeks earlier, with about 30,000 new cases on Friday. Cases are up by more than 20% in Arkansas, Connecticut, and New York as the BA.2 Omicron subvariant is now behind more than one-third of infections and some health experts warn of a new US wave. Americans 50 and older are expected to soon have the option of getting a second booster.
The business impact: Unemployment rates are at record lows in 12 states, with Nebraska and Utah tied for lowest at 2.1%. But, amid inflation and war concerns, about one-third of consumers expect their financial position to worsen over the next 12 months, the highest level since tracking began in the 1940s. Women’s wages have been growing faster than men’s for the past six months, partly because women disproportionately work in lower-wage service jobs where labor shortages have prompted wage hikes.
Focus on How Offices Need to Change
Discussion about how office spaces need to change often focuses on the need for better meeting and gathering space—so that hybrid workers can more easily collaborate and build social connections when in the office.
But research also shows that a top reason that knowledge workers want to go into their offices is to get focused work done. They might not have a space at home where they can work uninterrupted, for example, or they might just find it easier to get into a focused mode after traveling into the office.
How can physical spaces better accommodate the many different needs of workers? To make sense of the countervailing considerations, we spoke with two experts: Janet Pogue McLaurin, an architect and global leader of Gensler’s work sector practices and research, and Anne-Laure Fayard, an ethnographer of work and professor at Nova School of Business & Economics in Lisbon. Here are some of the takeaways from the conversation, which was part of a recent Workvivo event, edited for space and clarity:
On libraries, and how spaces need to change
Pogue McLaurin: I'm hoping we're going to see far less open-plan cubicles. It's time. The pendulum had swung really too far to one side on open plan.
We've got to have far more access to private spaces. These are private spaces where people can focus and do that deep concentrative work. But it's also private spaces to do the coaching and the mentoring that we have been missing.
We’ve been designing spaces with open plans for people to focus and then you get up and go into a closed room in order to meet. Maybe we need to reverse that. Maybe we need to open up the space for people to actually come together.
There are all different types of ways that people come together and do group work. There's ideation, there's brainstorming, there's status meetings. Maybe there needs to be an array of more open and semi-open areas.
And you go into private areas when you really need to take that conference call, when you need to be on video, when you're doing a webinar that should not be done out in the open.
We're going to see a resurgence of libraries, quiet zones, maybe tech-free zones that may start to pop up. We can activate outdoor spaces and equip those spaces to actually do work, whether it's the rooftop or the terrace or spaces in between buildings, or just a work cafe, for example.
If people don't want to be in that space, then it's not going to get used. So how do we design spaces that not only reflect our organizations and what we do and encourage and foster innovation, interaction, and connections—but are places that people enjoy? It's really design for people, not efficiency.
Fayard: On top of that is what we call ‘permission’, which is really the organizational culture. Do you feel that it's okay to be sitting in that place? Pre-pandemic, I saw an innovation consultancy that had a library for head-down quiet time. But nobody used it.
When I started asking why, the junior people all said, 'We are a very open and extroverted company—it wouldn’t send the right signal.' When we talked with the senior management, we realized that in fact none of them had ever been in that library. So if you create these spaces, you need to give people permission to use these spaces.
Pogue McLaurin: As we think about post pandemic and coming into the office at different intervals, these spaces can also signal when you're available.
When we first put a work cafe in our own office, our office leaders would sit down there the first hour of select days, specifically to say, 'Come talk to me. I'm going to sit here and check email if nobody's coming and talking to me, but I am sitting here to be interrupted.' That's such an important signal, and we have to figure out these new signals moving forward.
‘Third spaces’ and what’s normal for younger workers
Pogue McLaurin: For the younger generations, the number-three reason that they want to come to the office is actually to maximize their individual productivity. They want to be visible to be promoted, and they want to be there to be inspired in terms of creativity and innovation.
That said, they're really using third places more than the other generations. By third places, I mean coffee shops, libraries, parks and other places that may be outside the company space. Or it could be third-space-like spaces that you're creating within your office space. The younger generations—particularly Gen Z—really want this opportunity to not just work in an office environment, but to actually work in all these spaces, both in and out of the office.
Fayard: For quite an important portion of this generation, a lot of their interactions are completely remote and virtual. They're on Discord, for example. They don't have the same need for physical interactions. I've been really challenging myself in the last few months talking with them about what I take as an assumption about work and interactions. And I'm realizing that there's a part of a population for whom what I think is the norm is not the norm. When we say, 'We're not going back to the normal,' we still have this normal in our head. And some don't really see it as a normal.
What Else You Need to Know
With federal child-care funding stalled, will states address the caregiving crisis? New York state is moving toward doing so, with a budget plan allowing families earning up to $138,750 to qualify for subsidized care by 2024.
- This is the first year in which two of the three top leaders in the state who control the budget are women.
- Also in response to federal inaction, theSkimm released a database of companies’ paid family leave offerings, aiming to bring transparency and momentum to private-sector efforts in the absence of any national paid leave requirement.
The “Rooney Rule,” a practice borrowed from the NFL that mandates interviewing diverse candidates for top jobs, isn’t leading to a more diverse C-suite.
- At least 100 public companies adopted the practice to recruit people at all levels. But while women and people of color are well-represented at the lowest rungs, there is still little representation at the executive level. (Boards have gotten more diverse because of outside pressures.)
- Companies adopting the rule typically pledge to interview at least one candidate for a given job who brings racial or gender diversity.
- Some hiring experts say that to have an impact at least 30% of those interviewed should come from underrepresented groups.
Less than 25% of US employees feel strongly that their organization cares about their wellbeing—the lowest percentage in nearly a decade, says a Gallup survey taken last month.
- The percentage was nearly twice as high at the onset of the pandemic, when many employers scrambled to put safety plans in place. Then it plummeted.
- The decline was particularly precipitous among managers.
- Employees who feel strongly that their organization cares about their wellbeing are almost 70% less likely to actively search for another job.
US corporations faced a record 529 shareholder resolutions related to environmental, social, and governance issues so far this year, up 22% from the same point in 2021.
- Many resolutions seek details on carbon emissions or on employee diversity.
- Successful recent resolutions include one urging the Jack in the Box fast-food chain to accelerate sustainable packaging efforts.
Companies could get a reprieve in complying with New York City’s new pay transparency law. A new bill under consideration would push the effective date out to Nov. 1 from May 15, exempt more small employers, and exclude jobs that aren’t required to be performed in NYC.
- Companies have been scrambling since the law passed to prepare to publicly disclose salaries where compensation previously has been opaque. It requires employers to include minimum and maximum salary ranges in job postings for any position offered in NYC.
- The new bill was referred to a City Council committee this week. (You can track its progress here.)
Return to workplace speed round:
- Co-working and flex-space operators are benefiting from the shift to hybrid and remote work, as companies seek to buy time as they decide strategies. Demand for such spaces rose 40% in North America during the last quarter of 2021 from the previous quarter.
- Meta’s top executives have relocated to far-flung locations, including the UK, Spain, and Israel—in what management experts say is among the most extreme scattering of leadership at such a company. CEO Mark Zuckerberg regularly works from his Hawaii compound, though the company says he plans to spend more than half his time in Meta’s home state of California.
- UBS is planning a phased introduction of a flexible work program that includes offering fully remote work to eligible US employees.
- Acknowledging that many employees may never return, New York officials are discussing revamping zoning to allow for more housing in midtown Manhattan. Manhattan was home to nearly 11% of all office inventory in the US last year, and offices are currently even less in demand than they were after Sept. 11.
- No commute, a flexible work schedule, and less time getting ready for work are the top benefits US workers cited for working from home, according to WFH Research. Collaboration, socializing, and work/life boundaries are the top benefits cited for going to the office.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Create some rituals. Group bonding activities—like a company cheer or firing a Nerf gun to conclude a project—led to a 16% increase in how meaningful employees judged their work to be.
- Reconnect with long-lost friends. They probably are the professional network you could benefit from. And it’s better to reconnect when you don’t need anything immediately in return.
- Go ahead and (carefully) confront a problem colleague. Start by telling your “jerk co-worker” what you’d like them to do more of, focus any complaints on specifics rather than generalizations, and ask for feedback from them as well.
- Kill the “um.” Record yourself talking to understand how you use such filler sounds, pause before answering questions to collect your thoughts, and prepare with bullet-pointed notes before speaking.
Work-day lunches have gotten a lot more expensive. The average price of a bowl of salad is up 11% since last March. Sandwiches are up 14% and wraps 18%, according to payments company Square.
- “It’s 20 bucks for lunch. What the hell happened?” one Mass. office worker complained to The Wall Street Journal.
Competition for parking spots is heating up again. Return-to-office pioneers who got used to primo positions now find themselves jostling with colleagues for the spaces closest to the office or equipped with electric-vehicle chargers.
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.