Featured in today's briefing:
- The virtue of predictability, and Pinterest’s efforts to provide it.
- A new wave of layoffs.
- How to use emojis to solicit honest responses as to how people are doing.
The latest virus forecast: The US has had a 6% increase from two weeks earlier, with about 102,000 new cases reported on Friday. Cases are increasing in more than half of US states, but the Midwest and Northeast are showing improvement.
The business impact: US job growth in May was the slowest pace since April 2021, suggesting the labor market is starting to cool. Wages increased 5.2% from a year earlier, down from 5.5% in April. Retailers cut about 61,000 jobs in May, as inflation dampens spending and consumers shift their focus to travel and restaurants.
Focus on How to Have Predictability in a Flexible Workplace
Flexibility, the foundation for so many workplaces going forward, can also be a catalyst for chaos. Who’s in the office tomorrow? How much childcare will I need next week? Where did I leave my phone charger?
As more employees have the option to work anywhere and on schedules better suited to their needs, another, less-discussed principle is only growing in importance: the human need for predictability.
Schedule predictability has long been tied to greater wellbeing among hourly employees. And among full-time knowledge workers who previously went into offices five days a week, the need for predictability manifested in smaller ways: For example, one study found that the majority of employees will try to sit at the same desk each day even if they don't have a dedicated seat (something we’ve also noted).
It’s this desire for predictability that’s helped shape PinFlex, the new work-from-anywhere program unveiled by Pinterest earlier this spring. PinFlex is certainly flexible: Its roughly 3,400 workers globally can live anywhere in the country in which they’re based, with the expectation that they’ll visit a Pinterest office at least once a year.
We recently reached out to Christine Deputy, Pinterest’s chief people officer, to understand how the tech company developed PinFlex, and she spoke about its efforts to provide predictability in a flexible structure. Here are some key takeaways (her responses are lightly edited for clarity):
Establish new routines based on team or department need.
It's early days, but a number of companies from Harry’s to Ford have elected to have their employees decide at the team level how to work together. Developing team-level agreements is an oft-cited principle underpinning flexible work schedules.
Deputy: “Under PinFlex, schedules are decided at the senior team level. Marketing has a series of routines, HR has a series of routines, the engineering and product organizations, and the design team. They each have a process. So every leader of those functional or business areas has created a this-is-how-we-work [plan].
For example, our marketing team has a quarterly planning meeting that's three or four days. They have monthly calls where they're getting together to review operationally what they're doing. Then they have all-hands or all-team meetings that are virtual. So those are the routines that happen on a quarterly basis. You think, ‘Ok, those are set, now I can work my timelines around those routines.’”
Clarity around scheduling can also help bolster recruitment efforts.
Pinterest has found that its routines don’t just help its workers—it can make its jobs more attractive to candidates as well.
Deputy: “Our ability to give people clarity around the rules of engagement has definitely helped us move faster through a recruitment cycle. Candidates look for certainty. They want to know what the rules are. And when we weren't able to give that to them, there were definitely impacts.
Now that we've shared all of our policies, we're seeing our acceptance rate increase over time. We're starting to see more and more people say ‘yes’ to those roles because they're actually able to say, ‘You're meeting my requirements around the flexibility that I want. I don't have to relocate. I can understand how you want me to work, and I'm excited about that.’ So we're seeing that have a positive impact on our recruitment efforts.”
Commit to giving lots of advance notice around schedules.
Giving employees extensive advance visibility helps mitigate the downsides of a physically distributed workforce and is particularly important for employees who care for children or other family members.
Deputy: “We've made a commitment that we can let employees know one quarter in advance what their schedule will be, because I think that's also something that is really important….We've asked our leaders to really think about planning when they're having meetings, what their operational routines are.
Let's say I've decided to live where I have to take a flight to get into the office. I'm going in once or twice a quarter, so we really focus on making sure people can plan for that. And we're excited about that because we think that gives people both that flexibility and the predictability.”
Correction: An earlier version of this briefing misstated Christine Deputy's first name.
What Else You Need to Know
The wave of tech layoffs is now hitting new employees before they start. The cryptocurrency platform Coinbase shared in a blog post this week that it was rescinding several accepted job offers “in response to the current market conditions and ongoing business prioritization efforts.”
- Coinbase’s announcement, which also included an extension of the company’s hiring freeze, coincides with layoffs this week at two other cryptocurrency companies, Gemini and Rain Financial.
- More than 4,000 tech jobs were cut in May, the largest loss for the industry since December 2020.
The Lean In era comes to a close. Sheryl Sandberg, author of the movement-spawning 2013 book about how women can succeed at work, leaves behind a complicated legacy as she steps down from her role as Meta’s COO—with the impact of the pandemic on female workers having painfully exposed the limits of her empowerment manifesto.
- Sandberg, who cited burnout as the reason for her departure, is also under investigation by Meta for her use of company resources in planning her upcoming wedding, according to The Wall Street Journal.
- Her book, which sold millions of copies and inspired tens of thousands to join “Lean In circles,” promised women that advocating for themselves would help them accomplish more in their careers—a promise that many, particularly marginalized women, found empty when wielded against larger structural forces hampering their professional success.
- Nearly 2 million women left the labor force between the start of the pandemic and the beginning of this year, largely because of caregiving pressures, as well as layoffs in pandemic-battered industries disproportionately populated by women of color, such as retail.
New state laws aim to punish companies taking a stance on climate change. Oklahoma’s Energy Discrimination Elimination Act, enacted last month, requires the state to cut ties with any financial firms that refuse to do business with fossil-fuel companies; a similar measure is on the table in Louisiana, focused on that state’s retirement funds.
- Other corporate struggles to achieve meaningful climate action are more self-imposed: A new Greenpeace report on “greenwashing” in the aviation industry found that several major airlines put forth exaggerated marketing claims about their climate conscientiousness while failing to commit to any significant reduction in carbon emissions.
- The Dutch airline KLM is currently facing a lawsuit from environmental advocacy organizations in the Netherlands over its “Fly Responsibly” campaign, which the plaintiffs allege misleads consumers about the environmental impact of its flights.
- Climate-related lawsuits like the one against KLM are on the rise—worldwide, there have been an estimated 2,000 to date—but victories, especially in the US, have been rare.
Employers in small and midsized cities are struggling to compete for talent. A growing number of workers in those markets are forgoing local jobs in favor of remote positions at larger national companies, often for better pay.
- In cities such as Wilmington, North Carolina, and Madison, Wisconsin, nearly half of all LinkedIn job applications are now for remote roles.
- At the same time, more people in cities are looking to decamp to other areas. In a recent Gensler survey, 35% of city-dwelling respondents said they wanted to relocate, up from 23% in the spring of 2020.
Return to workplace speed round:
- Tesla CEO Elon Musk emailed employees this week with an ultimatum, saying that workers must either return to the office full-time or quit. (The car maker also plans to cut 10% of its salaried workforce, as Musk has a “super bad feeling” about the US economy.)
- A California judge this week rejected a request from Amazon to dismiss a class-action lawsuit against the company from employees seeking to recoup money spent on work-from-home expenses such as internet and office setups.
- Commute time is one of the biggest factors deterring workers from returning to the office, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of 24 major US metro areas, which found a direct link between an area’s average commute time and a decline in its office occupancy rates compared to pre-pandemic.
- A growing number of New York companies are moving their offices from Manhattan to Brooklyn in an effort to lure employees back to in-person work by easing their commutes.
- Interest in in-person job listings is rebounding, according to the job-search site Indeed, which concluded in a recent report: “An occupational sector’s likelihood of offering remote work no longer has had a statistically significant relationship with relative job seeker interest.”
- The real-estate firm CBRE says that the spaces it manages now have an equal number of conference-room seats and individual workspaces, up from a pre-pandemic ratio of nearly four personal seats to every one in a meeting room, an indicator of the office’s new role as a largely collaborative space for hybrid workers.
- New York City mayor Eric Adams’s office notified municipal workers this week that they must to return to full-time in-person work, and that “hybrid schedules of any kind are not permitted." The announcement comes amid high attrition among city employees, with the overall full-time workforce down 6% from pre-pandemic numbers.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Use emojis to check in. Opening meetings by asking attendees to share how they’re feeling via emoji is an efficient way to gauge individual and collective emotional states, and can invite more honest responses than verbally asking people how they’re doing.
- Find your listening style. Do you tend to jump straight into problem-solving mode? To offer validation? Is your brain working to extract the most salient information as quickly as possible? Once you know your default listening mode, you can more easily shift it to match what the other person needs in the moment.
- Set a time limit for your interview process. A drawn-out ordeal is both costly for companies and a turn-off for candidates, and is often a sign that hiring managers don’t know what they’re looking for. Keep interviews and hiring efficient by making sure managers have all the information they need to make a decision.
- Swipe to inbox zero. Adjust the settings of the Gmail app on your phone to more efficiently process emails as they pop up on your screen: In “swipe actions,” you can designate the left swipe and right swipe motions to mean snooze, delete, or mark as read, among other things.
- Set a buffer between work and bedtime. Whether you’re working flexible hours or catching up outside the normal 9 to 5, shut your laptop at least a half-hour before going to bed for a better night’s sleep.
Your work coffee habit is possibly extending your life. A new large-scale study found that people who drank more than one cup of coffee a day had a 30% lower risk of death. (Researchers caution that there could be other factors at play.)
- In the study, those who drank about three cups of coffee per day had the lowest risk of death.
“Zoom towns” are paying remote workers to move in. A Pennsylvania program is offering free housing to remote workers willing to relocate to rural areas.
- A total of 10 transplants will be selected from a pool of applications to move to one of two towns piloting the program, Bellefonte (population 6,276) and Kane (population 3,500), which are also providing gift cards to local businesses.
Employees returning to in-person work are remembering one of the cold realities of office life: the lack of temperature control. Workers who had been used to tweaking the thermostat to their liking at home are re-adapting to chilly offices by wearing sweaters, coats—and even gloves—at their desks.
- The return reignites an issue that impacts people differently: researchers have found that women’s lower body temperatures make them more likely to feel uncomfortably cold at the standard temperatures offices target.
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.