Featured in today's briefing:
- Real-time case studies of the return to the office.
- Netflix’s influential workplace culture guidelines get an important update.
- The outlook for business travel.
The latest virus forecast: The US has had a 56% increase from two weeks earlier, with almost 90,000 new cases reported on Friday and cases rising in nearly every state.
The business impact: Consumer price inflation dropped to an 8.3% annual rate in April from 8.5% in March, though grocery prices are up 10.8% and gas is up 43.6% over the past 12 months. Summer camp fees are 10% to 15% higher than last year amid high demand, camp closures, and inflationary pressures.
Focus on Early Lessons from Return-to-Office Approaches
Amid this global experiment in the future of work, the strenuous efforts of JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs to get employees back in the office are two case studies worthy of close real-time examination.
The details of what happened at both banks differ slightly, but the big-picture takeaway is the same. Take a hard line on return-to-office schedules at your own risk.
It started over a year ago, when the chieftains of Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan took strong public stands against remote work. Exclusively working from home “doesn’t work for those who want to hustle,” declared Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan, adding in a separate interview that people “don’t like commuting, but so what.”
“I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us and it’s not a new normal,” said Goldman CEO David Solomon of remote-work arrangements generally. “It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as quickly as possible,” he added.
While their official return-to-office details differed—half of JPMorgan’s employees can work in either a hybrid or remote model, while all of Goldman’s were told to return to the offices full-time—both firms made it clear that in-office working was preferred. And when employees began returning in earnest, both firms reportedly monitored worker office attendance by tracking ID swipes.
“At JPMorgan, nobody trusts you,” one staffer told Business Insider. Another said some managers appeared “deathly afraid” of their teams falling short of 100% compliance.
At Goldman, reports surfaced of employees allegedly threatening to quit in reaction to the five-day rule. Being monitored is “an uneasy feeling,” an analyst told Business Insider. “Knowing you're being tracked kind of feels like you're going back to high school and they're taking attendance."
In late April, some JPMorgan employees were reportedly granted a carveout and could reduce their days in the office to two from three. A person familiar with the bank noted that worker schedules vary by business and by individual manager and said a very small group was impacted by the change.
Earlier this month, Goldman’s Solomon appeared on CNBC and reported that in-person attendance in the firm’s US offices is between 50% and 60%, down from a pre-pandemic figure of roughly 80%. “It’s going to take time, you know; behavior shifts take time generally,” he said.
“You waged a public campaign, it would seem, to have people show up five days a week,” retorted CNBC’s David Faber. “It feels like you lost.”
Solomon said his view was always “rooted in flexibility” and that his approach has “been portrayed as much more dogmatic than it is.”
Nicholas Bloom, a professor at Stanford Business School who has studied remote work for years, says that in today’s working world, demanding employees return to work five days a week is a mistake.
“The biggest problem with [it] is what to do when, as is clearly going to happen, employees do not return to the office full time. There are only two choices,” Bloom says. “One is to ignore it. That makes the firm and its leadership look weak. The other is to sanction employees with fines and punishment. This is even worse, as you are punishing employees that are otherwise highly performing for a rule they broke which is pointless and arbitrary.”
“That is the fastest way to lose employees,” he adds.
London Business School professor Lynda Gratton, author of Redesigning Work, has noted that some companies like Goldman don’t necessarily need to care about employee work flexibility in order to attract talent. Goldman itself recently received a record 236,000 applications to its internship program.
A Goldman spokeswoman noted that in a town hall meeting on March 30, Solomon pointed out that on any given day before the pandemic, 20% to 25% of employees were working remotely, whether due to an ill child or a personal obligation. Solomon added that being in the office is more important for a young employee than a more experienced employee juggling a family.
We’re in a period of real experimentation, with each organization finding its way. And some experts have predicted that companies could largely revert to more traditional in-person arrangements over time.
But the cases of JPMorgan and Goldman show how best practices rooted in research—eg around the importance of aligning the expectations of managers and workers around flexibility, the need to approach return-to-office with empathy, and the importance of trust—are largely playing out as expected in real life.
What Else You Need to Know
Business travel is bouncing back. Airline fares rose by 18.6% last month, purchases of premium seats on flights are on the rise, and several corporate-travel companies told Bloomberg their businesses are getting closer to—or, in some places, even outpacing—their pre-pandemic activity.
- Airlines are adding amenities like larger overhead bins and more premium seats to lure corporate travelers.
- The latest surge in business travel runs counter to earlier predictions by the likes of Bill Gates, who had prominently predicted earlier that business travel would be less than half its pre-pandemic level once things normalized.
- Still, a Deloitte report cautioned that business travel is unlikely to reach pre-pandemic levels this year, noting that “not all road warriors will be eager to return to their pre-pandemic frequency” and that company leaders may be reluctant to spend on travel that the past two years proved non-essential.
- Corporate commitments to reduce their carbon footprints will pressure some organizations to keep business travel below pre-pandemic levels.
Netflix updated its influential workplace guidelines to address the fact that employees might not agree with some of its content. The new “artistic expression” section notes that “depending on your role, you may need to work on titles you perceive to be harmful.”
- The guidelines document adds: “If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.”
- With this new section—which it said was the product of 18 months of internal discussion—Netflix is attempting to limit expectations for how responsive it plans to be to employees’ views on societal and political issues. “We let viewers decide what’s appropriate for them, versus having Netflix censor specific artists or voices,” it explains.
- Employee dissatisfaction with Netflix management spilled out into the public last year, when the company defended a Dave Chappelle program in which he made remarks that some viewed as offensive to transgender people.
- Similar controversies are roiling companies including Disney. And surveys show that workers are willing to leave their jobs if they don’t believe a company’s leadership is speaking out sufficiently on societal and political issues, making the line Netflix is drawing significant.
- Netflix’s guidelines, and an earlier version in the form of a slide deck, have been called “Silicon Valley’s most important document ever.”
Inflation is taking a mental toll on workers. Some 72% of human-resources leaders said in a recent survey that inflation-induced anxiety was bringing down performance among their workers, and 61% of workers agreed.
- The survey, from the employee-engagement firm Reward Gateway, also found that nearly half of workers want their workplaces to increase their support for employee financial wellness.
- In response to rising inflation, California is raising its minimum wage to $15.50 an hour, up from $15 for large businesses and $14 for small ones. The move, which will increase pay for an estimated 3 million workers, was triggered by a 2016 state law requiring automatic wage increases if inflation rose above 7%.
- Nationwide, inflation-adjusted hourly wages have dropped 2.6% over the past year.
California put the four-day workweek on hold. State legislators opted not to advance a bill establishing the standard workweek as 32 hours, down from 40, for private companies with more than 500 employees.
- The bill, which faced opposition from the California Chamber of Commerce, would have made hourly employees eligible for overtime pay after 32 hours of work, a change that would have affected around 2,600 companies.
- While company leaders identified a shorter week as the most in-demand perk in a recent Gartner survey, just 6% said they had plans underway to implement it.
- Some companies in California and beyond have already implemented their own four-day weeks, with mixed staying power.
Return to workplace speed round:
- Less than 10% of office workers in Manhattan have returned to fully in-person schedules, according to a new employer survey from the Partnership for New York City. Some 38% are in the office on any given weekday—well below a prediction earlier this year that occupancy would hit 50% each day by April.
- Adobe has updated its performance-review system to better reflect remote work (and the fact that bosses have less of a window into their reports’ workday), shifting from quarterly reviews to a dashboard that allows employees and managers to solicit and collect feedback on an ongoing basis.
- Ian Goodfellow, head of machine learning at Apple, recently resigned over the company’s return-to-office policy, which will require employees to be present three days a week by the end of this month. Other Apple employees recently published an open letter calling on the company to loosen its in-person demands.
- Salesforce is now filtering job candidates by time zone rather than location, with co-CEO Bret Taylor explaining: “The pandemic has taught us that it doesn’t matter in which city you live. Only the time zone is important in order to communicate and work together in this world.”
- Renovations are outpacing new construction, according to the American Institute of Architects, driven largely by office overhauls meant to make the spaces more attractive to potential tenants.
- Newly focused on spaces that foster collaboration between employees, organizations are revamping their conference rooms with homier decor, outdoor settings, adjustable dimensions, and wall-mounted cameras for better Zooming.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Give new hires paid time off before they start. That’s the premise of hospitality startup SevenRooms’ “Fresh Start” program, which includes two weeks of paid vacation time leading up to a new employee’s first day. It’s an initiative the company uses as both a recruiting draw and a safeguard against burnout.
- Transcribe your meetings. Using text-to-speech software to record what’s being said allows all participants to be fully engaged without worrying about taking notes. It also permits people to scale back on meeting attendance and just scan notes for any relevant discussion. (Google recently announced that it will be adding the feature to Meet later this year.)
- Prioritize with a rolling task list. Set a limit for the number of items you can have on your to-do list at one time, and hold yourself to it. Need to add something to an already-full list? To make space, you can either check off something else or delete another task that’s less important.
- Make sure your colleagues have high-quality headsets. Researchers found that users of professional headsets were 11% less likely to feel left out of the conversation in virtual meetings, compared with those using built-in laptop audio or consumer headsets and microphones.
- Lead with kindness when hiring. Some 77% of people aged 18-29 said they were more likely to apply for a job listing that mentioned “kindness.” The survey oversampled queer youth and BIPOC people.
TGI Wednesday. It’s now the most popular day of the week for in-person work, and offices are rising to the occasion, loading up their Wednesday schedules with wellness events, social gatherings, and other perks.
Is remote work a superpower? “Moon Knight” director Mohamed Diab told Axios he never met one of the show’s editors in person, even though show production lasted three years. And despite the virtual workflow, the show had the least amount of reshoots in Marvel history.
Automation is coming for berry bushes. Fieldwork Robotics, a British robotics company, has successfully put robots to work picking raspberries significantly faster than human workers can. (Though to be fair, the robots do have four arms apiece.)
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.