Thanks for reading our briefing about what companies are doing to navigate the continued reality of remote work, to reopen safely, and to reset their practices for the long-run. You can sign up here to receive it by email as well.
The latest virus forecast: The US has had a 19% decline from two weeks earlier, with about 12,000 new cases yesterday, and over 69% of US adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine. The “hyper” transmissible delta variant of Covid now represents 20% of new cases in the US, and is expected to become the dominant strain. Dr. Anthony Fauci said current vaccines are effective at protecting most people against delta, but in Israel it has been linked to some “breakthrough” cases in those previously vaccinated.
The business impact: A majority of CEOs believe the business effects of the pandemic will largely be over by the end of the year and cite “talent” as their biggest concern, according to a poll by Fortune and Deloitte. Consumers are now more confident than they were before the pandemic. Some hotels and restaurants are turning away business because of insufficient staff.
Takeaways from the Return to Workplace Summit
Our Return to Workplace Summit this past week was dense with information on how to make the return a moment of transformation for organizations. We went back through the speakers’ comments to be able to share highlights. Here are some of their top pieces of advice:
- Centralize decisions about which days people come to the office in a hybrid scenario, where employees split their time between working remotely and in person. Meetings are better when everyone is either all-remote or all in-person, it’s a more efficient way to use space, and it reduces the likelihood that women and people of color fall behind in terms of promotions and raises, said Stanford’s Nicholas Bloom. “I generally used to be in favor of choice at the beginning of the pandemic, but I have changed my mind.”
- Take the “American in Europe” approach to hybrid meetings. “Whenever I'm in, say Germany, and there's just me and six Germans they always speak English because I don't speak German,” said Bloom. “So it's kind of like that with mixed mode. If there's one person at home, you really want everyone even in the office to join from their own laptop so it's a level playing field.”
- Document your organization’s practices. GitLab has a searchable company handbook that would stretch to almost 14,000 pages if printed out detailing company practices, and the decision-making that led to them. That way, if a manager isn’t working the same hours as a team member, “they're not the single source of failure,” said GitLab’s Betsy Bula. “It's about managing processes instead of people. If you've set out these processes, your people should be able to act accordingly whether you're online or not to answer their questions.”
- Institute ‘friends and family days.’ GitLab gives staff an extra weekday off each month to do something outside of their work and recharge.
- To be a good boss, be kind, be positive, thank people, and look after yourself. Above all, “focus on building trust,” said McKinsey’s Tera Allas.”When you start thinking about that word trust and what goes into it, it has all of the qualities that you'd want in your workplace.”
- Don’t rush employees back to their desks. “You don't need to do it,” said McKinsey’s Bill Schaninger. “You've just had an experience of [remote work] working—acknowledge that.”
- Leave “hustle culture” behind. “To everyone who says, ‘I don't know if you're hustling if you're not in the office,’ I would say I actually don't want you to hustle, crush it, burn yourself out,” explained HubSpot’s Katie Burke. “Hustle and burnout culture and the proximity bias are not isolated issues. They're in fact interrelated assumptions that I think belong in the past, not the future.”
- Tap into “returners” to fill your employee ranks. These are people who took a break from the workforce for caregiving responsibilities or other reasons. “Returnships for people that have been out of the workforce are huge and an untapped market,” said Burke.
- Acknowledge we don’t know how the return to workplace will go and approach it with empathy and honesty. “If we have bi-directional communication and a safe space, we can talk about how hybrid is working, who it's working more for, and who it's working less for,” says Google’s Stephanie LeBlanc-Godfrey. “Then we'll be able to test, iterate, and pivot to get to that sweet spot where all of us can be successful in this new work environment.”
- Make sure that both sides are sharing in workplace conversations. “When I have a conversation with a manager and I say, ‘Hey, I'm going through this really tough time,’ they shouldn't just listen and follow up,” said LifeLabs’ Massella Dukuly. “There should be a level of vulnerability coming from our leaders as well—that they're willing to share pieces of themselves with us.”
- Don’t rush to give up office real estate. “The need for more amenities, childcare, wellness, more meeting space, more conferencing, coworking space, all of these things that we are in the middle of exploring may very well compensate for a lesser need for individual office space,” said Gensler’s Laurent Lisimachio. “We might in fact need more space with these new ways of working,” added NYU’s Anne-Laure Fayard. She said that some companies she’s spoken with recently have even been discussing bringing clients to work with them in their offices.
- Think of offices as more flexible spaces. They’ll need to accommodate meetings, individual work, and also more informal interactions like those you have around a coffee machine, said Fayard. “Offices in this new world will certainly have to adapt to not only the lessons that we have learned over the past year, but also to an unknown future,” added Lisimachio.
If you missed the Return to Workplace Summit, you can access a video replay here.
Content from our partner McKinsey & Company
The state of Black America. The disparities on display during the pandemic were a jolt to America’s conscience. Missing from some conversations? A rigorous fact base. A definitive new report documents the racial gaps in the US economy—and sketches a vision of what could be gained by closing them.
What Else You Need to Know
The Long-Term Stock Exchange gets its first listings. Tech companies Twilio and Asana plan to list their shares on the LTSE, a startup exchange that requires companies to meet stakeholder-friendly governance conditions.
- The two companies, which are adding dual listings on the LTSE alongside their existing New York Stock Exchange listings, will commit to measures in areas such as employee diversity, charitable giving, and executive compensation that the LTSE will then monitor.
- The LTSE is the brainchild of Eric Ries, who described the idea for an exchange focused on the long-term health of business and society rather than short-term gain, in his bestselling 2011 book The Lean Startup.
New research from Norway bolsters the case for aggressively pushing paternity leaves. Paternity leave is a powerful engine for more equitable workplaces: when men take time off after the birth of children, it helps narrow earnings and promotion gaps experienced by women.
- The research on Norway showed that salaries of men who took paternity leave grew less quickly than their male peers. But if their peers also took paternity leave, there was no such penalty.
- Given its societal benefits, one approach would be to make paternity leave mandatory. But incentives also work, like reducing a family’s combined parental leave time if the father doesn’t take any, as Sweden has done. Another approach would be for companies to boost pay for men who take paternity leave.
- At a minimum, male leaders can model the practice by taking paternity leaves themselves.
The future of conference rooms might be a curved table facing a wall. That’s part of Microsoft’s vision for making hybrid meetings—where some attendees are in-person and some remote—less awful. Participants in the room sit along one side of the table facing a wall-sized projection of those who are attending virtually.
- For people in the room, this “Front Row” concept aims to make it feel like everyone is present in the room. For those who are remote, everyone shows up looking as if they’re remote, displayed as rectangles on their computer screen.
- The approach does generally require getting new tech gear and furniture for conference rooms.
The retention crisis could be even more acute among management and executive ranks. Fifty-three percent of managers and directors and 51% of executives surveyed by Qualtrics said they plan to look for a new job in the next year. That compared to 37% of individual contributors.
Return to workplace speed round:
- The return to the office has been slow for VMware. Just 99 employees showed up when it reopened its Palo Alto, California, headquarters, which has a capacity of about 8,000 people.
- Roughly three-quarters of workers are comfortable sharing their vaccination status with their employer and colleagues, according to a new Just Capital survey.
- Nokia plans to redesign its offices to have up to 70% of the space allocated for teamwork and meetings rather than individual work.
- Morgan Stanley will require employees and visitors to be vaccinated before they can access the company's offices in the New York City area.
- Allstate concluded that 75% of roles at the insurer can be done remotely, with another 24% hybrid and just 1% fully in-office.
- Steelcase used barbecues and an employee bagpipe band to entice employees to return to the furniture maker’s Michigan headquarters.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Don’t put a years of experience requirement on your job posting. It reflects time served rather than talent and skills, which are more important. And it could needlessly limit the diversity of your applicant pool.
- Block off the first two hours of your Monday workday for things other than your everyday work. Try using the time to pursue learning and development goals or creative projects, or use it to figure out how to improve the processes and tools you use for your work. It helps your brain warm up and frontloads things that are otherwise easy to put off.
- Be honest if asked in a job interview how you feel about working from home. If they have concerns about your preference, then ask them to explain why so you can respond with specifics. Also, research the company’s culture and approach before the interview, so you can prepare your case if needed.
- Record every meeting. That lets people who miss one get up to speed, which is especially important with distributed teams and flexible work schedules. Ideally you’ll have automated transcription so people can search for their name or other terms.
The pandemic did in jacket requirements at some of the fanciest eateries. Manhattan’s Le Bernadin restaurant upon reopening dropped its “jacket required” dress code as unhygienic. That’s because as many as 10 diners showed up without jackets each night and had to wear loaner sportcoats from the restaurant, an unsanitary practice during a pandemic.
It also strengthened relationships and reduced the birth rate. Divorce rates fell and 70% of people in relationships said they were extremely satisfied with them, much higher than previously. That’s possibly because couples’ bonds were cemented by the effort required in the past year. But there were fewer babies to show for it. The number of US births fell 4% last year, the largest drop since 1973.
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.