Reset: Rapid virus testing, 2021 budgeting, reverse mentoring, bras

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 it by email each week as well.

THE VIRUS

The latest virus forecast: Covid cases have been climbing in many areas of the world, including the US, Canada, and Europe. The US has had a 24% increase from two weeks earlier, averaging about 43,000 new cases per day. New research suggests a virus mutation could make it more contagious—which at the very least reinforces the possibility that any vaccine could need to be continuously updated, like the flu shot.

The business impact, by the numbers: About 60% of Americans who took a pandemic-related pay cut are still earning less than they were before the crisis. Half of Americans who lost a job because of the pandemic remain unemployed. In contrast, CEO confidence continues to rise, as sales rebound and some workplaces and schools reopen. Nike’s earnings this week help illustrate this: the company posted strong results, but has said it expects to lay off staff this year, as it shifts its business.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Rapid virus testing is becoming more widespread. United Airlines next month will offer passengers flying from San Francisco to Hawaii to take a Covid test, and will deliver results in 15 minutes.

United is using Abbott’s ID NOW test. GoHealth Urgent Care will process the tests in the airport. Passengers can also complete a mail-in test from Color at home. If they test negative, they can avoid Hawaii’s 14-day quarantine for visitors.

Look out for a new wave of employee burnout. There’s the potential for duress as remote work stretches on, weather gets colder, and working parents deal with hybrid or remote schooling.

“Keeping the workforce connected remotely was sustainable for a period of time, but it is harder as it goes on,” Levi Strauss CFO Harmit Singh told CNBC. “Employee burnout is a core issue.”

In a Wired article headlined “How Work Became an Inescapable Hellhole,” Anne Helen Petersen argues that technology—alerts and ubiquitous connectivity—are responsible for such burnout, and the pandemic only exacerbates it. The piece itself is stressful to read.

​What can be done?

  1. Mandate breaks. Levi Strauss made the last Friday of every month a company-wide holiday and instituted meeting-free Fridays. It also asked staff to shorten the length of meetings.

  2. Increase support. Initiatives such as additional funding for extra childcare or more flexible scheduling can ease stress. Counseling and coaching can help too. Some companies are letting employees use money allocated for perks like gym membership allowances for whatever they want.

  3. Talk about the purpose of work. Asking colleagues to discuss their guiding principles can increase mental resilience. And when a company’s actions are in sync with its stated values—by genuinely diversifying its leadership, for example—that makes work feel more meaningful.

INTERVIEW: FOCUS ON 2021 BUDGETING

Many organizations are in the throes of budgeting—and finding it especially challenging to navigate this year. I spoke with Sam Marwaha, who recently became chief commercial officer at Evidation Health and who as senior partner at Boston Consulting Group spent years working with c-suite executives on their budgeting and strategy. Here are some takeaways from our conversation:

  1. Invest in new opportunities. “The downside is going to happen to you regardless of what you do,” says Sam. “But then there's also the upside—in times of adversity, there are new market opportunities. It’s also an opportunity to pick up new talent.”

  2. Balance the risk and opportunity of your investments. “There are likely some adjacent things that you’re feeling more comfortable about, that are the singles and the doubles that you want to give as stretch goals as part of existing business operations,” says Sam. “But then you want to balance those out with bets that are riskier, but have a bigger payback and give you option-value for extensions to the business: new customers, new geographies, new markets, or new services. You can apply risk-adjusted valuation for those things, and then translate them into action items, which gives you the budget for next year.” (This HBR article from 2018 suggests one helpful framework for allocating riskier innovation budgets.)

  3. Make hard decisions. “If you want to invest in the upside, then you have to cut deeper in other areas,” he explains. “One of the hardest things to do is adjust cost downwards. A moment like this gives everyone the motivation to make those tough choices.”

  4. Read signals your revenue is giving you. “With new offerings, we might value them quite differently because they are an indicator of future growth. And other revenues might be something that might taper off. This happens in places like pharma all the time where they’re watching closely revenues from newly launched products and newer commercial approaches vs. mature products they know are declining,” Sam says.“What are the leading indicators of top line, and therefore implications on the bottom line?” Those indicators help you revise your budget as the year goes on.

RESET

Stakeholder capitalism got a poor report card. But one company made a big gift to its employees. And accounting firms announced measures to help make corporations more accountable.

  1. Researchers concluded that CEOs who signed the landmark Business Roundtable statement last year prioritizing their employees and communities alongside profits didn’t do any better than others in protecting workers during the pandemic or achieving racial and gender diversity. (You can read the full report here; starting on page 46, there are case studies of what specific top and lagging companies have done.)

  2. Ingersoll Rand gave nearly $150 million in equity to its employees. The move was designed to give them a stake in the company’s success. Nearly 16,000 staff, including hourly factory workers, received 20% of their annual salaries in stock. Until the 1980s, it was common for US companies to offer profit-sharing plans that distributed stock to employees. As Berkeley’s Robert B. Reich wrote earlier this year, “sharing the profits with all workers is a logical and necessary first step to making capitalism work for the many, not the few.”

  3. The World Economic Forum and four big accounting firms announced new metrics to measure whether a company is sustainable. “Investors and stakeholders now expect companies to report on non-financial issues, risks and opportunities with the same discipline and rigour as financial information,” the report concludes.

Business leaders said the talent pipeline isn’t to blame for any lack of diversity. Wells Fargo CEO Charles Scharf in a memo blamed the bank’s diversity issues on a “very limited pool of Black talent to recruit from.” Other corporate leaders quickly blasted that view: “It’s a myth. It’s untrue—it’s absolutely inaccurate,” Procter & Gamble chief brand officer Marc Pritchard said.

Hootsuite backed out of a contract awarded by ICE because of employee concerns. The Canadian tech company was awarded business apparently worth over $500,000 by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, whose abuse of migrants has been documented. That “created a divided company,” Hootsuite CEO Tom Keiser said, and the management decided to abandon the contract.

Companies are increasingly paying employees for the time they spend voting or volunteering at polling places. The business-backed nonprofit Time to Vote aimed to recruit 250,000 poll workers, and has already topped 350,000.

Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:

  1. Set up a reverse mentorship program. Reverse mentoring allows junior staff to share their ideas and experiences with senior colleagues, who get access to different perspectives. Such efforts help with retaining junior staff. Some best practices, as outlined in a report from BNY Mellon Pershing and Jennifer Brown Consulting:

    - Openness of top executives to learning from younger staff

    - Regular—at least monthly— meetings between pairings

    - Confidentiality and lack of hierarchy

  2. Do virtual offsites differentlyMake them shorter to keep people’s attention. And focus on preparation beforehand and followup afterward, which are often the most important things anyway.

  3. Get creative about shooting corporate video. Travel restrictions and virus concerns make it harder for video producers to shoot interviews in person. So they are using tools such as OpenReel that allow them to remotely control the video settings on the iPhone of someone they’re interviewing. The subject puts the phone on a tripod facing them and the producer controls it from there.

  4. Now that you’re home, take a nap. Research says 10-20-minute daytime naps improve cognitive performance and boost creativity.

CODA

Tea prices are rising, as people drink more tea when they work from home. Wholesale tea leaves are 50% more expensive than they were in March, and the price of tea bags is rising in stores. The tea industry says more than half of Americans drink tea on any day, and that increases when people spend more time at home. Bad weather where tea is grown and other issues are also behind a supply crunch that is pushing prices higher.

Bra sales are sagging. Women working from home are less likely to wear bras, or to shift to more comfortable options like sports bras or bralettes. “I’m not wearing one to make other people comfortable anymore,” one woman who ditched bras told the Wall Street Journal.

Politicians’ indiscretions are airing publicly over Zoom. An Argentinian lawmaker this week got in trouble for fondling his partner’s breast and burying his head in her chest on live video during an online congressional session. He said he thought his internet connection had dropped. A Spanish city councilor was spotted on video showering during a meeting.

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 weekly by email. Have a great week!