By Kevin J. Delaney
Thanks for reading our new 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 latest virus forecast: The US has had a 12% increase from two weeks earlier, averaging about 48,000 new cases per day as at least nine states hit new weekly records. Infections are surging in the U.K., Spain, France, Argentina, and India.
The business impact, by the numbers: One-third of companies say they reduced their budget for employee pay raises in 2021. Chief financial officers said their level of optimism about the US economy was about 60 on a scale of 100. (As I noted recently, CEOs are way more bullish—this is a useful test of whether CEOs’ or CFOs’ outlooks prove more reliable.)
FOCUS ON REOPENING OFFICES
What does the surge in infections mean for organizations that have reopened offices, and those assessing whether to do so? For answers, I spoke this week with Dr. Michael Osterholm, a leading US epidemiologist who directs the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. He’s pretty concerned—here’s an excerpt:
What's your outlook for a new wave of infections or the level of infections that we might see in the US?
“I think we're going to see a substantial increase in the number of infections right up through the time when a vaccine becomes available, and at least through early to mid winter.”
If you were running a company, would you be willing to reopen your office?
“It's going to be tough right now. I think particularly in the United States, with the amount of activity we have here, we're going to continue to see an increasing number of cases. Right now we're on a major uptick in cases. I think this is going to continue to be a challenge. And just as you saw how difficult it was to bubble the White House and keep the virus out, you're going to see a very similar situation right now in terms of the country.”
What's your view of the current state of testing and rapid testing, like the Abbott rapid test?
“Testing in and of itself with these rapid tests will surely detect some of the cases, and maybe even most of the cases. But it'll never detect all the cases. And all you need is just one individual to 'sneak through the system' and you can have a real problem. You don't need five torpedoes to get your ship to sink. One does it.”
For more detail, you can read a full transcript of our conversation. For another view, you can refer back to my interview last week with Caesar Djavaherian of Carbon Health, who believes offices can be safely kept open.
I’ve written about JPMorgan Chase as a case study for returning to the office, particularly given CEO Jamie Dimon’s outspoken views on its importance. This week Dimon said that he didn’t see a return to normal until next summer. The bank aims to operate its offices at just 15% to 25% capacity for now. And Dimon said that up to 40% of employees might work at least partly from home after the pandemic.
Some other remote-work takeaways from the week:
Microsoft will let most employees work from home up to 50% of the time once the crisis is over. With manager permission, they can also permanently relocate, according to The Verge, though they could see their pay reduced based on the cost of living at their new location.
Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield expects the majority of its workers will come to the office just one or two days per week after the pandemic. He also acknowledged that tech companies need to offer remote work options to retain talent in a highly competitive market. Slack separately announced new functions for its software that let colleagues drop into an always-on audio channel to chat and let users post non-real-time video messages—both features aimed at improving remote work.
You’re not the only one. “When you are working from home, it sometimes feels like you are sleeping at work,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. He noted how tiring videoconferencing can be.
WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW
The work of resetting companies to be more diverse and equitable grinds along. A few recent statements and measures stand out:
Glassdoor is now letting employees rank companies for diversity and inclusion. These data are potentially helpful for jobseekers, and for pressuring companies to improve their practices. Though why is this only happening now?
Bloomberg has started compiling the diversity disclosures of S&P 100 companies and cataloging measures they’ve committed to. Only 25% of them agreed to share their federal filings about racial and gender makeup. The Wall Street Journal reports that investors are increasingly pressuring companies to share diversity data.
Next year will be a weird one, at best, for events and conferences. Organizers are coming to terms with the reality that in-person events will be hard to pull off with the pandemic unresolved.
The massive CES tech fair, which attracted about 200,000 attendees to Las Vegas in January, is going virtual for 2021. CES was always one big logistical, crowded headache—but a virtual event surely can’t match exploring odd and amazing tech products from around the world in its vast halls.
The World Economic Forum is preparing for a much smaller in-person crowd for its annual meeting, moving it to May from January and to Lucerne from Davos.
Las Vegas resorts are setting up rapid-testing centers in hopes of attracting in-person events.
But some event organizers say they’d love things to stay virtual, as events can be logistically easier and more profitable that way. The Information founder Jessica Lessin wrote that a recent virtual event generated more revenue and had twice as many attendees as a year earlier, concluding: “All-virtual events are here to stay.”
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
Block off time for thinking. In a long interview about his working style, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek says he only has three or four meetings each day, and instead uses his time for thinking and more spontaneous interactions with colleagues. Ek also makes time for a walk and reading books before starting his work day around 10:30am.
Shift from mentorship to sponsorship. Mentors share their advice and experience. Sponsors advocate for the more-junior colleagues they’re paired with, deploying their clout in an organization.
Open pandemic-related benefits more broadly to all staff. Some accommodations might be designed for specific groups—but most people are struggling in some way or other. EY, for example, expanded a family leave program to be available for any personal leave.
Be open about bottom-line concerns. Researchers found that employees responded more when managers explained a new initiative as a way to save the organization’s money than when they emphasized the good it would do for the environment. This might be because staff were less skeptical when the managers made a financial argument.
Buy yourself a printer. You might find you can’t use your office printer because you’re working from home. In which case, treat yourself to one, and enjoy the convenience.
Zoom is to blame for a boom in botox injections, and big collars. Americans are deciding they want plastic surgery—such as $1,700 under-eye fillers—to upgrade their video conferencing looks. And designers are turning to supersized collars to make fashion statements relevant to the waist-up focus of the Zoom era. Blanca Miró’s La Veste label is on trend with its $98 ruffled detachable collar.
There’s a booming business in used Herman Miller office chairs. Companies are unloading high-end chairs as they trim their office space and consumers are snatching them up at bargain prices to use in their homes. One buyer got a $1,100 Herman Miller Mirra 2 at an 80% discount.
A former NASA researcher made his own Covid vaccine at home. Josiah Zayner injected himself with a version of a vaccine that had worked in monkeys, and it appeared to generate antibodies. But he said it was complicated to know what was going on, and he’d not advise others to do the same.
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!