Featured in today's briefing:
- How to make the return to office inclusive.
- A legal challenge to board diversity requirements.
- The rise of the dress shirt, the decline of the tie.
The latest virus forecast: The US has had a 1% increase from two weeks earlier, with about 30,500 new cases on Friday and cases up in about half of US states. Cases have doubled in Washington DC and increased 60% in New York City over that time period, as the BA.2 subvariant continues to spread. Scientists are monitoring the new XE subvariant, which has spread in the UK and begun appearing in the US, and could possibly be more transmissible than BA.2.
The business impact: “Recession in the next couple of years is clearly more likely than not,” former US Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers told Bloomberg. CEO optimism about future business conditions fell this month to the lowest level since 2016 in a Chief Executive survey, amid recession, inflation, and supply chain worries.
Focus on Inclusion and the Return to Offices
The current return to office period is rife with questions about inclusion. Principal among them is how do you use the shifts around work to make workplaces more inclusive for workers of color especially?
For answers, we reached out to Daisy Auger-Domínguez, who wrote the new book Inclusion Revolution and is the chief people officer at Vice Media Group. Here are excerpts from our conversation, edited for space and clarity:
Research suggests that the engagement of workers of color and their sense of fairness in the workplace have risen amid remote work, which Slack's Future Forum has interpreted as meaning that there is less code switching and workplace toxicity than when in person. What's your view of this?
I'm not 100% behind that notion—it depends on the company and the industry. There are some organizations and industries for which I can see how that might be true. Working remotely, you don't have to be subjected to everyday microagressions or put on what I call your ‘emotional armor’ because you don't know what's going to come at you. Absolutely, that is real.
But there are also power dynamics and power abuses over video. I see it in the case of people hanging up on videos. Who feels they have the right to hang up versus who doesn't? I see it in who shows their image versus who doesn't show their image. I see it in who chats and who doesn't need to chat. The social force that makes you think, 'Well, if everyone's chatting then I need to chat,' is the exact same pressure that you had in-person when you were in a meeting where people would talk and you felt like, 'Do I need to raise my hand? When do I raise my hand? When do I speak up?'
What are the specific dimensions of inclusion that are most relevant and urgent in this moment when organizations are bringing workers back into offices?
I've been calling it 'the Ease Back.' We're not returning to offices. We're easing back to offices. Part of it is also buying ourselves time to rebuild our muscles for commuting and for managing teams that are now hybrid. We spent the entire summer last year categorizing all of our employees into the hybrid models. Like most companies, about 80% to 85% of our employees are hybrid. The remaining 10% to 15% are mostly remote or mostly in office.
We came back, and we've spent a lot of time trying to give voice to employees. That's one of the most important dimensions. It is what clearly came up in the summer of 2020 as one of the elements that employees felt they didn't have, from a power perspective. Managers and leaders might be insisting that they want employees in the office, but we have to give voice to their concerns and then respond—not react—in a thoughtful way.
We've been very, very intentional about the language that we use. I've sent notes almost every other week or so to our employees in preparation. I'm very intentional in saying that I don't know what it's going to look like. I say things like, 'We're taking a look at this, but here's the data that we've collected from all of you' or 'Here's the anecdotal feedback that we've been collecting.'
We started building asynchronous brainstorming projects with employees globally. The questions that we're asking them are things like, 'What do you miss the most about working in offices? What do you think is the best environment for an office? Where have you built really deep connections with your teams?'
The next piece is communication. We're sending out a note, and we're sharing with everyone where all the neighborhoods (which are what we're calling teams) are in the offices. Why? Because we have a little over 50% of our employees who have been hired during the pandemic, so there are people who have never even been to our offices who don't know where to sit.
The final point is about empowerment, so that employees feel that they get to shape it and co-create it with their managers.
The role of managers has changed in the past two years. What ideas do you have for team managers to improve the day-to-day experience for women and people of color?
The most basic is to really listen, to build relationships, and to ask better questions. We have spent a long time asking the wrong questions. We ask the question, 'Why is this place not more diverse?' But we don't ask, 'What are the conditions that we've created to keep people out of this place to keep it the same organization?' Managers don't spend enough time sitting down with their team and asking questions like: What are the obstacles to your success? What's holding you up right now? How can I help you reduce those obstacles?
That's not a simple question to be asked. You need to build the trust, and trust is consistency over time. People need to trust that if they share their hangups with you, that something will actually happen. Managers may not have processed enough to think that this person who's in front of you may not trust you enough to tell you exactly how they're feeling. So don't ask them how they're feeling. Make it more contextual and ask them specifically what is hanging them up. What are their challenges? What are their obstacles? What does that look like? And genuinely ask, 'How can I help you overcome them?'
Once you've asked these questions, then you actually have to act on them because that's how you build trust. Certainly, we're looking constantly at representation for teams and other initiatives across the employee lifecycle, but it begins with listening. It begins with asking better questions, and it begins with building trust by actually being responsive to what you hear.
You've said it is both important and challenging for managers to embrace discomfort. How would you explain the need for discomfort and how to navigate it to a manager?
The biggest challenge to diversity is fear. We fear what we don't know. We fear saying the wrong thing. We fear not doing enough. We fear messing up. It's overcoming that fear that is really what's going to set us free. It depends on managers and leaders. I'll give you an example. When I joined Vice during the summer of 2020, managers were having a hard time conducting performance conversations with Black people. They would come to me saying, 'I don't know what to say. That person has not delivered on their job, but I don't know how to say it.' And I said, 'Well, how would you say it to a white person?'
I asked them to sit down and tell me what they would say and what their fear was. The fear was getting canceled, that someone was going to post on social media. What they truly feared, though, is not delivering in the way it should be delivered. They weren't exercising their own courage muscles to do the right thing.
This is their team member. Managers are responsible for ensuring that they have as much of an opportunity for growth as everybody else on the team. You actually diminish their opportunity for growth by not being willing to give them the feedback that they deserve. Research has shown that Black people and brown people, especially women of color, do not receive the feedback that they need. By the time that they get fired, demoted, or pushed out of an organization, there are years worth of constructive feedback that could have been given. And it is not their fault. It is the manager's.
Read a full transcript of this conversation here, including discussion of what to do and not do when hiring.
What Else You Need to Know
A California ruling dealt a setback to efforts to increase board diversity. A court struck down a law that required publicly traded companies with a main office in the state to appoint at least one member of an underrepresented group to their boards by the end of 2021.
- A similar law requiring women on boards is being challenged, and the decision opens other diversity efforts to legal tests.
- Companies still need to be mindful of shareholder pressure as well as guidelines from the Nasdaq exchange that set targets for diversity and require disclosures.
- The legal setback comes amid significant progress. The number of non-white board members of Russell 3000 companies rose over 20% last year to represent 17% of seats. Women held 27% of all board seats in 2021 for Russell 3000 companies, and more than 42% of all public company board appointments last year were women.
The ratio between what CEOs and their workers earn surged. The median chief executive’s pay for the 280 S&P 500 companies that reported figures jumped to a record $14.2 million for 2021.
- The ratio of a CEO’s total annual pay to a median worker shot up to 245:1 for 2021 from 192:1 for 2020.
- One factor is that the stock market rally delivered far-larger windfalls to bosses, much of whose compensation is in shares, than employees.
- The US did not always have this level of inequality. The ratio of CEO to median worker pay was 20:1 in 1965.
- Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren last year proposed legislation that would impose additional taxes on companies where the CEO to worker pay ratio is 50:1 or higher.
Citigroup attracted political flak for offering to pay travel costs for employees seeking abortions. Republicans in the US House of Representatives demanded that the chamber drop Citi as their credit card provider.
- Rep. Mike Johnson and 44 Republican colleagues wrote a letter criticizing Citi for advancing “the liberal agenda of abortion on demand.”
- Citi announced the benefit in a proxy statement. While the language is vague, the policy was widely interpreted to be in response to the recently enacted Texas law that restricts abortion access.
- The move was the latest sign that the Republican party is at odds with much of corporate America over social issues.
We are doing as much unproductive work as we ever did, according to a global survey by Asana. White-collar workers spend more than half their day on “work coordination,” which includes follow ups, searching for information, and communicating about work.
- Only about a third of our workday is spent performing the job functions we were hired to do—a number that hasn’t changed much since 2019.
The state of Hawaii considers a four-day work week for its employees. State Sen. Chris Lee argued that shifting to four 10-hour work days instead of the traditional five 8-hour shifts would improve quality of life and potentially allow some offices to stay open longer.
- A proposal in the California Assembly would reduce the standard work week to four 8-hour days for companies with over 500 employees.
Return to workplace speed round:
- Goldman Sachs’s position that employees must work in office five days a week hasn’t deterred applications to its internship program, which soared 16% to 236,000.
- People need to be in the office, argues ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who asserts that younger employees need in-office settings to develop their management styles. “If you miss out [on that]…I don’t know how you build great management.”
- The hybrid work model won’t last at Google, predicts Laszlo Bock, the tech company’s former head of People Operations. Bock says his research at his current company Humu shows the perfect mix of employee productivity and happiness is three days in the office and two days remote.
- About three-in-five managers believe remote work is on the wane and workers will be back in the office full-time by the end of the year, according to a recent survey by GoodHire. And about 77% of managers said they’d be willing to implement “severe consequences”—including firing or cutting pay or benefits—for those who refuse to return to the office.
- On the other end of the spectrum, Pinterest’s new work model allows employees to work anywhere in the US or in any country or region where the company has an office. For in-person activities the company will cover travel and expense costs for employees who live more than 70 miles from the gathering spot. All employees will be expected to visit a company office at least once a year.
- JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon—who a year ago said “People don’t like commuting, but so what?”—announced in his annual shareholder letter that about 40% of the company will be able to work in a hybrid model and 10% will be able to work remotely.
- Big tech conferences remain mostly virtual. Apple announced its annual developers conference would be online. Meta’s “inaugural business messaging event” in May is virtual; hybrid events may be possible in the future.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Turn remote work into play. Need contributors to your company’s blog? Offer an award to whoever writes an article that attracts the most readers, for example. A study found 72% of those surveyed said gamifying work makes them try harder.
- Get a triangular table for meetings that combine remote and in-person attendees. The shape allows a centrally placed camera to capture everyone in the room; remote attendees can more easily be eye level.
- Diversify your portfolio of meaning beyond work. The Japanese term “Ikigai” is often associated with a formula for finding a dream job that combines what you’re good at, what you love, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs. But its original meaning is closer to a reason to “wake up to joy” and suggests that you should focus also on nonwork reasons for being.
- Making space for the expression of unhappy feelings at work can benefit productivity and well-being. Researchers found that a company with a culture in which workers shared their personal troubles with each other outperformed its peers.
For more excellent tips, read the “Ask a Resourceful Human” column on HR Brew written by Charter co-founder and COO Erin Grau.
Men’s dress-shirt sales are rebounding as office workers gussy up again. It’s not all the old traditional look; shirt makers are offering more-liberated options with looser silhouettes and casual fabrics.
- Necktie business at Brooks Brothers remains 30% below pre-pandemic levels, however.
Women still want off-screen comfort. Even as they get off of Zoom, where only their top halves were visible, many women are still prioritizing comfort on bottom as they return to offices, according to Stitch Fix.
- That means looser trouser silhouettes with elastic waistbands and loafers and knit flats.
Buongiorno, digital nomads. Italy plans to roll out one-year, renewable visas for remote workers relocating from outside the European Union. The move is connected to the country’s plan to revitalize its rural villages.
- Germany, Portugal, Antigua and Barbuda, Bermuda, Georgia, and Malta offer similar visas or permits.
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.
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.