Featured in today's newsletter:
- ‘Flip-skilling’ workers to address climate challenges.
- A new law against workplace NDAs.
- Better virtual presentations.
The Macro Context
- Research published last week in the journal Clinical Microbiology and Infection found that rapid Covid tests yield false negatives in around 75% of cases.
- An estimated 55 million people plan to travel for the holiday this year, an increase of 1.5% from 2021.
Focus on How the ‘Climate Era’ Will Transform the Way Work Is Done
Over the course of the UN Climate Change Conference, or COP27, which came to a close on Friday, one of the central questions that emerged was: How can businesses transform their practices to meet climate goals?
For answers, we reached out to Bryan Walker, a partner and managing director at global design firm IDEO, where he leads the Organizational Transformation Center of Excellence. Increasingly, adapting to what Walker calls “the climate era” has been a focal point of his team’s work. “Organizations are going to have to transform in order to transform their industries to match the challenges and opportunities of this era,” he says, much like the internet transformed the way we do business.
We spoke with him about how organizations can rethink their product and talent strategies for the climate era. Here are excerpts from our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity:
You argue that the climate era isn’t just a restraint, but also an opportunity. Are there examples of companies that have shifted their mindsets in that way?
We collaborated with Ford on the F-150 Lightning, the electric version of the F-150 pickup truck. Often the mindset with green products is, ‘We're going to take our product and we're going to make it green.’ Inherent in that mindset is defining success as just as good as the original one. Well with the F-150 Lightning, we decided that we weren't going to create an electrified version of F-150 or a green F-150. We're going to create a better truck.
We took a human-centered design approach, where we spent time with a lot of F-150 drivers to understand their real needs. Then we began to imagine, ‘Now if it's electric, how can we address those needs even better?’ We ended up with all kinds of features, like the ability to take down the tailgate and plug in your power tools to turn it into a workbench. The F-150 Lightning is much more connected as a vehicle. It can light up its surroundings 360 degrees.
All of these features make it a better truck, but they're features that you could not have had unless it was electric. Once that came out, it became a proof point. It was evidence that we can create better products, not just create green products.
How can leaders apply this same mindset to talent?
More and more, climate is becoming a core component of any organization's talent strategy. If you're going to attract and retain top talent, employees want to see that you actually care about climate.
So how do you do that? This one's not rocket science. First, build greater employee awareness and engagement around it. A lot of that is helping people see how climate fits into not only the business and purpose of the organization, but also their individual roles.
Another strategy is upskilling, which starts with baseline climate-change awareness. Then, depending on specialties, it goes more and more technical in certain areas. The trick there is to minimize the jargon because that seems to be where sustainability becomes inaccessible. Another strategy is to depoliticize addressing climate, which gets at language.
A final strategy is flip-skilling, or having employees apply their relevant skills from existing roles to new roles that will address the climate crisis. We don't have a ton of time to meet the climate challenges ahead, so we have to be pretty quick about shifting the workforce to lean into them. What are the technical skills you have and the competencies you have today and how do they apply to a role or an approach that is actually pro-climate?
Can you say more about depoliticizing climate and using language to get more employees and consumers on board?
We do a fair amount of work in the food industry, and one classic example of using language to frame climate challenges in a more accessible way is to talk about extreme weather, not climate change. These trigger words are audience and industry specific, but that gives you an idea.
What change-management advice do you have for leaders who are trying to bring their workforce along with them to take action?
With transformation in general, but particularly with climate, people have to see it in order to believe it—and believe in it. That's the first step of transformation: helping more people see it so they can begin to believe it. It's one thing when it's an abstract argument in a presentation, but show me what it actually looks like. Make it tangible instead of using pie charts and bullet points filled with buzzwords. Show me what the future looks like, how our organization will show up differently, and show me a first proof point or two that we can actually pull it off. Give me a beacon of that first project or two that has come to life and is putting us on that trajectory.
Then I can really believe it. I can see that end destination, and I can see the first steps that have actually happened. That's how you can begin to build momentum around the change. It's not easy, and unfortunately, I think too many people try to skip over this step, but that would be my advice.
What Else You Need to Know
Congress passed a bill banning non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual harassment at work. Companies will soon be barred from forcing current, future, and past employees to sign such NDAs.
- The bipartisan legislation is meant “to change the culture in the workplace right now,” said representative Lois Frankel of Florida.
- More than a third of the workforce is currently bound by some form of NDA.
- Since March, US companies are also legally prevented from using forced arbitration for sexual assault and harassment cases at work.
- Activists say they will continue to fight to ban NDAs in all cases of workplace discrimination, not just sexual harassment or assault.
Disney is curbing business travel amid the economic slowdown. CEO Bob Chapek announced in an internal memo that the company will be limiting business travel to “essential trips only.”
- The memo encouraged employees to meet virtually as much as possible, and introduced a new approval process to greenlight travel.
- The company has also announced other cost-saving measures, including a hiring freeze and job cuts.
Childcare issues have employees missing work at record rates. Amid a pediatric “tripledemic” of flu, RSV, and Covid, around 104,000 workers—the most ever recorded—had to take time off in October because of childcare, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found.
- Around a fifth of workers had no access to paid sick leave at the start of the pandemic, according to the BLS, though multiple states have since passed sick-leave mandates.
- Exacerbating the problem is a lack of space in the country’s daycare facilities. In a recent survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, around half of childcare workers said their organizations weren’t serving as many children as they’d like to. Within that group, some 70% said the primary reason was an insufficient number of workers because “compensation is too low for recruitment and retention.” There are currently 88,000 fewer daycare workers than there were before the pandemic.
Return to workplace speed round:
- Office occupancy in New York City has stalled at 47% of pre-pandemic levels after increasing for the better part of a year.
- Big tech companies such as Meta, Salesforce, and Lyft are unloading office space in major cities across the country as they lay off workers in the face of a looming economic downturn.
- The number of employment legal disputes over flexible working increased over the past year as companies adjusted their in-office requirements.
- As Europe’s energy crisis continues, companies are encouraging—and even paying—employees to work from home to lower the organization’s energy costs.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Stand up for your next virtual presentation. Researchers have found that when the presenter stands, it improves attendees’ retention of information and increases the amount of visual attention a speaker receives.
- Create regular opportunities for mutual feedback. It can be daunting for employees to give feedback to their managers and other, more senior leaders. Help it feel more normalized by building mutual feedback points into regular 1:1 meetings.
- Clean up your inbox by deleting large attachments. If you find yourself running out of email storage space, sort your messages by attachment size, then delete anything at the top of the pile that’s no longer useful.
- Use “the critical incident technique” to address burnout. This social-science research procedure involves asking people to share anecdotes of a time when a critical consideration such as workplace fairness or a sustainable workload was especially supported or thwarted, and then using that information to generate specific ideas for improvement.
Bring your Minesweeper habit into the sunlight. Microsoft Teams users can now incorporate a multiplayer game function into meetings, with procrastination standbys like Minesweeper and Solitaire updated to foster group bonding.
- Users can also take advantage of the universal favorite way to make meetings more fun: ending five minutes early.