By Kevin J. Delaney
Welcome to our new weekly 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 future editions by email.
The latest virus disruption forecast: Dr. Anthony Fauci says he’s confident there will be a vaccine by early 2021, though pre-Covid-level normality won’t return until late in the year. New outbreaks in Europe are worrying, as Spain and France hit infection levels exceeding their springtime peak. (The Times has a helpful piece comprehensively walking through the likely scenario ahead, and The Atlantic has an excellent overview of what’s coming as temperatures drop.)
The business impact, by the numbers: Offices are at about 50% normal occupancy levels, based on key-card access data; manufacturing and warehouse locations are at almost 70%. Sixty percent of business closures due to the pandemic are now permanent, according to Yelp data. The number of job promotions in August was about 40% below a year earlier and hiring was down 11.3% from last year, according to LinkedIn.
RETURN TO WORK: CASE STUDY
Wall Street is pushing ahead with reopening offices despite infections among employees who’ve returned. JPMorgan Chase is perhaps the most aggressive, giving sales and trading staff a Sept. 21 deadline for returning to the office and looking to bring back as much as 50% of its employees in New York in the coming weeks.
It’s a useful test case—what can we learn from JPMorgan’s approach so far?
Infections are inevitable. The company sent some workers home this week after an equities trading employee tested positive. It had earlier sent a whole floor of workers home in its Sydney offices following an employee’s positive test result. (Goldman Sachs and Barclays had similar incidents.) JPMorgan says the infections aren’t related to the return to the office, and it’s following protocol when they crop up. “If you do these types of phased reopenings, there are going to be certain increases in transmission activity,” Columbia University’s Jeff Shaman told Bloomberg.
The reality for most is hybrid. Workers in JPMorgan’s corporate and investment bank are cycling between remote and in-office work. “Depending on the type of business, you may be working one week a month from home, or two days a week from home, or two weeks a month,” division head Daniel Pinto told CNBC.
Try some training. The bank is requiring returning workers to sit through an animated video about etiquette for hand-washing and hallway interactions.
There are exceptions. JPMorgan is allowing workers with child-care issues or medical complications to continue working from home.
Little perks probably help. JPMorgan has been reimbursing Uber and taxi rides for some workers to get to the office so they can stay off mass transit.
Save some money. Pinto says that having proven remote work capability means JPMorgan could cut its real estate costs by shifting to hot desking, and close backup trading floors standing by if its main offices need to be shut. Elsewhere in banking, Fifth Third Bancorp is cutting about 20% of its corporate office space as part of a plan to shed $200 million in expenses.
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, who has been back in the office since June, has been outspoken about the importance of returning to work. The bank found that productivity dipped, especially on Mondays and Fridays, when workers were remote. (That’s in contrast to other studies that found either no or positive impact on productivity.)
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Big question: What happens when the weather really turns? The physical and mental space we enjoyed from being outside is about to constrict as things get cold in the northern parts of the U.S. More time spent indoors will also likely contribute to the spread of the virus. “It’s not going to be easy,” Dr. Fauci warns.
Takeaways for business leaders:
Promote seasonal flu shots. Mid-October is a good time to get one to carry you through all of flu season, since the immunity can wear off over time.
Improve office ventilation and air filtering. Experts recommend bringing in more fresh air in the mix and using denser filters in your HVAC system, as well as running it around the clock.
Encourage colleagues to still find ways to spend time outside, for safety and mental health reasons. About 40% of Americans have experienced depression or anxiety during the pandemic, and health experts say being further confined inside will worsen that.
For our health and sanity, we’d do well to embrace the Norwegian concept of “open-air living,” or friluftsliv, and go outside no matter the cold. “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing,” goes a Norwegian expression.
Companies are wrestling with who comes back to the office first. Some are using apps and algorithms to decide. ADP developed software that asks employees whether they’re able to work in the office and comfortable doing so.
VMware is cutting salaries if workers chose to work permanently from another locale. An employee who opts to work from Denver rather than the software company’s Palo Alto, Calif, headquarters, will face an 18% pay cut. Moving to Los Angeles or San Diego means an 8% drop in pay. The salary adjustments are based on the “cost of labor” in different cities.
Intermediaries are providing fast virus testing for their clients’ staff, including by flying the tests to labs in lower-infection areas of the country. P.C.R. tests, generally the most accurate, cost about $100 each, and turnaround can take 36 hours.
Lawyers say companies can require staff to get the vaccine once it’s available. Though you likely have to offer exemptions for people who object to vaccination on the basis of religious beliefs or if they have a medical condition that makes it unsafe.
New research confirms that mothers are bearing an outsized percentage of the professional impact of the pandemic. Mothers are more likely to leave or lose their jobs the more responsible they are for their kids’ education. And fathers’ increased participation in childcare unsurprisingly reduces the professional toll on mothers. (Findings nicely summarized in this Twitter thread.)
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings says remote working is a pure negative, making it harder to debate ideas. He predicts his workforce will return six months after a vaccine is released, and most companies will settle on a post-pandemic work week with four days in the office and one from home.
Business interruption insurance claims are being denied, but insured companies are fighting back, filing hundreds of lawsuits. Insurers argue that government emergency closures are to blame for business losses, and in any case, they can’t be expected to shoulder the massive financial pain. Business interruption coverage is often included as part of property insurance policies.
Banks are laying off workers again, having frozen cuts during the lockdown. So far 60,000 jobs have been eliminated in 2020.
Companies should create a chief location officer position, argues urban policy guru Richard Florida. Florida offers recommendations for thinking about corporate headquarters post-pandemic -- including considering second-tier cities that don’t suffer from exorbitant rents, extreme inequality, or congestion-- in a lengthy piece for HBR.
Law partner offices are shrinking because of the pandemic. Firms are anticipating that lawyers will be working remotely more of the time, and so are shifting to unassigned offices that can be used by whoever is there. And they’re making them smaller to save money -- partners who might have been used to 15-by-20-foot offices could find them in spaces as small as 10-by-12.
Remote work can be tougher on people of color. Experts say they tend to have more limited connections to power and decision-making, so the isolation of virtual work puts them at an extra disadvantage -- sometimes referred to as “distance bias.”
Diversity, equity, and inclusion requires commitments that go beyond the work day. CNN’s Mitra Kalita offers a dozen great ideas, including doing at least three calls a week with talented women or people of color that are non-transactional in nature. You’re not approaching them about a specific job opening, but trying “to soak up how they consume media, what they’re reading/thinking, what challenges they face, what brings them joy etc.,” Mitra suggests.
Randomly selecting from a candidate pool for middle-level jobs is one way to reduce bias and increase diversity. Management professor Amanda Goodall argues in the FT for a three-stage process:
Post the job and also reach out to strong candidates to solicit applications.
Screen the applicants for those with the requisite skills or other criteria.
Give the job to someone randomly chosen from this pool.
One lesson of Jane Fraser’s ascension to be CEO of Citigroup, is to not make qualified women wait in the wings endlessly for the top role. Wall Street has a bad history of deeming women “not quite ready” for the most senior jobs. Fraser has spoken candidly about being a working mom while rising to the top. She worked part-time when her kids were young, and has said, “You cannot have it all… Many things have had to give, personally and professionally."
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
Hire a teacher. Kinesis in Portland, Ore., turned over its empty offices to the five school-aged kids of its employees and paid for a teacher to help them with remote classes while their parents worked, undistracted, from home.
Upgrade your Zoom presence. Try to score an invite to mmhmm, a company with an odd name founded by former Evernote CEO Phil Libin. I saw someone give a Zoom presentation with it this week -- and it seemed genuinely useful.
Put everything on your calendar. “Sleep is on the calendar, going to bed is in there and so is free time,” explains venture capitalist Marc Andreessen in a long interview about how he manages himself. “I find if you don’t schedule enough free time, you get resentful of your own calendar.”
CEOs with uncommon names run companies differently. New academic research concludes that “CEOs with uncommon names tend to develop a conception of being different from peers and accordingly pursue strategies that deviate from industry norms.”
MBA students have buyer’s remorse. Over 60% surveyed by Bloomberg said the pricetag—which can top $80,000 for a year’s tuition and fees—isn’t worth it, especially when classes are virtual and there’s less networking with faculty and peers.
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 to receive new weekly editions as an email here. Have a great week!