Featured in today's briefing:

  • How workplaces can foster employee friendships.
  • New challenges for job seekers.
  • Zoom meetings on the big screen.

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The Virus

The latest virus forecast: The US had an 8% increase from two weeks earlier, with about 40,000 new Covid cases on Friday. A rise in test positivity rates suggests that the true number of cases is likely higher than what’s being reported.

The business impact: Business travel now spans more days on average than it did pre-pandemic, as videoconferencing and increased travel costs have undercut both the need for and the feasibility of single-day trips.

Focus on How Workplaces Can Support Employee Friendships

New research offers another piece of evidence that the widespread worry over the demise of the watercooler conversation may be misplaced: A Qualtrics survey of more than 1,000 US workers released earlier this fall found that hybrid employees form meaningful workplace friendships more easily than their fully in-person peers.

To learn more about how workplaces can effectively foster those relationships, we spoke recently with Dr. Ben Granger, chief workplace psychologist at Qualtrics. Here are excerpts from our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity:

Within a company, who is best positioned to help employees cultivate connections? Is it HR? Is it managers of individual teams?

When someone says they have a sense of belonging, they are saying that they feel emotionally connected to other people in the organization. They have shared value systems with their organization. There's transparency in the organization. They're valued and respected. Our research has been showing how critical having a sense of belonging is: It drives engagement, it drives intent to stay, it drives wellbeing, it drives inclusion, all of those really critical outcomes.

It has to happen at multiple levels. Senior leadership, systems, processes, technology that enables it. Having the managers be supportive leaders, frontline leaders, modeling that—encouraging people to join ERGs, for example. Participating actively in conversations with the ERGs. We have a lot of our senior leaders participate as guest speakers at these things. Those are all very tactical activities that happen at multiple levels.

And then once those systems are in place and there's a meeting cadence, let the individuals operate how they want to. Give them some autonomy. Try to equip that at multiple levels.

How do you incentivize investment in a work social life without doing it in a way that feels like mandatory fun?

We hear that from our customers: ‘These new activities are meant to create this sense of belonging, but it just feels like another thing to add.’ Especially during a time where we're bombarding people with new things. New benefits, new technology to help you collaborate in a virtual environment, new policies. We don't often think about, what can you take off of people’s plates? We think, ‘We need to add something new to help solve this problem,’ versus, ‘What can we remove?’

When we start to remove some of the things that are not adding value—let's say it's a technology that people use, but it's not really particularly value-adding—that opens up time and mental capacity to engage. One argument I would make as a psychologist is that when you unburden people, most of them are naturally going to seek out affiliation. One of the core motivators of human behavior is affiliation. So removing some of those things that are not necessary could help people naturally do one of the things that they would naturally do in a social environment, which is make friends.

You found that hybrid workers are more likely than fully in-person workers to socialize with colleagues outside of work and exchange information about their lives. That seems a little counterintuitive…

Frankly, I was not expecting to see that. To me, that was one of the most interesting pieces of the study. We don't have direct data to answer why. And this is a finding that's likely going to change over time. It would be a mistake to assume that this is the state of the world and will be in perpetuity.

It’s very possible that this is a product of what's happened over the last two-and-a-half years. Many white-collar professional workers have been in a remote or hybrid environment, and the common mode of communication has been virtual and digital. Had we done that study four years ago, we might have found something very different. We might have found that if most people are working in a brick and mortar environment, then it's naturally going to be much easier for them to make friends. But it’s quite possible that the environment has changed today.

What Else You Need to Know

Voters passed minimum-wage increases in Nebraska, Nevada, and Washington DC. Americans overwhelmingly voted in favor of increasing the minimum wage amid concerns about inflation and a federal minimum wage that has remained stagnant at $7.25 an hour.

  • In Nebraska, the minimum wage will increase from $9 to $15 an hour, effective in 2026, with annual cost of living adjustments each year that follows. In Nevada, the minimum wage will increase from $10.50 to $12 an hour by July 2024.
  • Washington DC’s ballot measure affects only tipped workers, raising their minimum hourly wage from $5.35 to the citywide minimum wage, $16.15.

Workers are now finding it more difficult to change jobs. More than a third of US employees said in a recent Harris Poll survey that they’re currently looking to make a move, but 70% of US job seekers reported that their search was harder than expected amid a cooling job market.

  • Some 72% of job-hunting respondents said that they were being ignored by the organizations they applied to, according to the survey of around 2,000 people.
  • The Conference Board’s Employment Trend Index, which tracks the strength of the labor market, dipped slightly in October after remaining flat for much of the year. "Job growth will likely continue over the next months, albeit at a slowing pace," said Frank Steemers, senior economist at The Conference Board.

The newest wave of tech layoffs continues. Following the recent cuts at Twitter and Stripe, thousands more tech workers entered the job market last week as Meta, Redfin, and Salesforce all announced that they were slashing headcount.  According to the tech-industry tracker Layoffs.fyi, that brings the total number of layoffs this year to more than 119,000 workers across 776 companies.

  • After competing hard for talent during a tight labor market, many organizations are grappling with the consequences of over-aggressive recruiting. “They’ve charged ahead with these plans that are no longer based on reality,” Caitlyn Metteer, director of recruiting at Lever, told The New York Times.

Return to workplace speed round:

  • Pfizer employees are expected to return to the office two to three days a week beginning in January 2023.
  • WeWork will close approximately 40 co-working locations as the company continues to face financial losses.
  • The amount of surplus commercial real estate up for sublease currently totals 232 million square feet, twice as much as before the pandemic. High vacancy rates and weak demand have led many real-estate developers to pump the brakes on new office projects and delay projects already underway.
  • With downtown office occupancy in St. Paul hovering around 50%, the city is challenged reviving both its on-the-ground businesses and those in its Skyway system, a five-mile network of glassed-in bridges that allow workers and residents to travel between buildings without venturing into the Minnesota winter.
  • Elon Musk has ended remote work at Twitter, informing employees that they will be expected to work on site “for a minimum of 40 hours a week” in keeping with his hardline stance at Tesla and SpaceX.
  • As companies struggle to bring workers back into the office, some are offering heavily subsidized concierge services to pick up employees’ laundry, walk their dogs, and run other errands.
  • Others are turning away from fun-centric perks like game rooms and instead investing in spaces intended to invoke a sense of peace, like wellness and meditation rooms.

Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:

  • Put a cap on your “don’t leave the house” days. Especially as winter sets in, it can be easy to hunker down for stretches at a time without venturing outside. Make sure your body and brain get regular time to refresh by setting a maximum number of days per week that you’ll allow yourself to stay exclusively at home.
  • Ditch the idioms. Figurative phrases can be a pain point for neurodiverse workers, who may be more comfortable with more to-the-point speech. Make your day-to-day communication more inclusive by swapping out potentially confusing expressions for their literal meaning, such as replacing “the elephant in the room” with “the thing no one wants to talk about.”
  • Use a RACI chart to empower decision-making. Help colleagues feel more ownership over their work—and, by extension, more engaged—by using a “responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed” framework that makes roles and responsibilities clear.
  • Have a “stay” conversation. Involve employees themselves in your efforts to retain them by asking directly, “What would it take for you to stay another year?”


Rumor has it that office gossip is changing. Remote work may have temporarily cut down on the amount of gossip that flows between colleagues. But  hybrid work—in which only a subset of teammates may see each other regularly—is creating the perfect conditions for it to thrive.

  • Even gossip isn’t immune to the spread of corporate speak: Gossip researcher Kathryn Waddington writes that in her work, she often hears it euphemized as “shop talk” or “post-meeting debriefs.”

Video meetings come to the big screen. Movie-theater chain AMC is partnering with Zoom to turn some of its theaters into videoconferencing spaces, rentable online in three-hour blocks.

  • Who hasn’t been wanting “power-recliner” seats and food and beverage service during our Zoom meetings?

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.