Reset: Race and reopening, NBA playbook, cloffices, hybrid work

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 VIRUS

The latest virus forecast: The US has had a 29% increase from two weeks earlier, averaging about 56,000 new cases per day. Most states are seeing increases, and experts expect things to get worse as winter approaches. Cases are rising sharply in Europe, with governments enacting closings and curfews and the WHO saying projections are “not optimistic.”

The business impact, by the numbers: A record number of S&P 500 companies are issuing guidance above analyst earnings forecasts, indicating they are performing better than feared. But CEOs’ bullish economic outlook plateaued, with 23% saying they planned to shed employees in the next year and 76% saying they will need less office space. States saw tax revenues decline by $31 billion for March through August, down 6% from a year earlier.

FOCUS ON A FAIR RESET

How do you reset business practices to be fairer through your efforts to navigate remote work and reopening? For answers, this week I spoke with an important thinker on equity in America: Angela Glover Blackwell, founder in residence at PolicyLink, a research and advocacy institute, and a member of the California governor’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery. Here are excerpts:

  1. Focusing on race is the responsibility of business, not just the government. “This is a moment of reckoning for businesses in America, where they have been shown the vulnerabilities of the nation….That glimpse allows for a reckoning within business around race. When we have focused on race in this country, businesses have pretty much seen it as the government's responsibility to get it right, to enforce anti-discrimination laws, to [address it in] education and other places. I think this shows that it's up to business to be part of it. We need to figure out how to lean in with the political might of business around the policy agenda, but also lean in around businesses hiring people from the communities that we need to build up as the consumer class, investing in the creativity of people of color who we need to build up as the creative class, figuring out how to create workplaces that are workplaces where there is a sense of belonging for everybody who is there.”

  2. The CEO should also be the diversity, equity, and inclusion officer. “There's a whole list of things that have been over in the diversity, equity, and inclusion office, trying to get the attention of the CEO and others that now ought to be brought in. And this becomes a guide for the business in terms of how to be able to operate in the 21st century going forward. I was asked recently...what would you say to people who are doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work within banks? I would say if the CEO is not the diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, it is not happening.”

  3. Give workers a say in how to operate safely. “We have so many unhealthy situations for workers because of the absence of worker voice. The getting rid of unions, the making it difficult for workers to organize—it's just killed worker voice. And worker voice is important because those who are closest to the work, those who see the dangers, those who understand [ways for] more efficiency, those who understand how to do it better ought to be able to be equal partners in the workplace. And so we need to build up worker voice, and doing that around these issues of safety is just so important.”

  4. Give workers predictable schedules. “Now that so many children are having to go to school remotely, their parents' scheduling becomes very important—because they can't just go to work at any time. They need to be able to plan that this is when they're going to have to work, and to be able to work that out with partners, families, friends, and childcare workers. So fair scheduling is something that is now more important than ever.”

Angela this week co-wrote a Los Angeles Times op-ed about California’s new equity metric for reopening: counties cannot further reopen until infection rates fall to low levels in their communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

The Business Roundtable, the group of big-company CEOs, separately announced initiatives related to racial justice, including support for raising the federal minimum wage and greater transparency by companies around diversity and pay equity.

  1. Writer Anand Giridharadas this week blasted the Roundtable’s earlier initiative around “stakeholder capitalism” as empty rhetoric, in a speech to the National Association of Corporate Directors. "Where were you in the run-up to the climate crisis?” he asked the attendees. “Where were you during widening inequality over the last four decades? Where were you in the run-up to the subprime crisis?"​

CONTENT FROM OUR PARTNER McKINSEY & COMPANY

Two million and counting… American working women are feeling way more pressure from the pandemic than men, with more than two million thinking of leaving the workforce. And stress levels are significantly higher for women of color—particularly Black women. Read McKinsey’s latest report, which flags six action areas for companies to get women’s employment back on track.

WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW

The NBA showed America how to take the virus seriously. Men’s professional basketball amazingly had zero positive tests during the three months that 22 teams were sequestered in Orlando, with roughly 6,500 workers supporting them. Some of the key measures:

  1. Exhaustive planning that produced an over-100-page document for players detailing highly elaborate protocol around testing, quarantining, activities permitted during time off, guest visits, and countless other topics. Among the details anticipated: baggies that referees added to the end of their whistles to collect any spittle.

  2. Daily tests, which cost over $100 each.

  3. Mandatory masks for those not playing or officiating games, some of whom were allowed to leave the bubble after their workdays.

​It’s hard not to contrast the NBA’s attention to detail with the White House’s cavalier approach to the virus. Fortune has a deep dive on how the season played out.

People are worried about going to the office. Nearly three-quarters of workers surveyed recently said they had concerns about going into the office, and over half said they would consider leaving their jobs if they didn’t feel their employer was prioritizing safety. Workers in their 30s were the most concerned about safety, possibly because they’re most likely to have young kids.

New data from Google heightened questions about how productive you are when working from home. And companies are confronting the challenge of hybrid workforces expected even after the pandemic.

  1. A Google vice president earlier this month emailed executives with a warning that internal data showed engineering productivity had dropped off during the second quarter, according to The Information. Newer engineers appeared most impacted by remote working, raising concerns that they were missing out on mentoring and support normally available in the office.

  2. The Google VP wrote that the data were “still relevant,” but a Google spokesperson told The Information that a September survey showed engineers felt more productive than even a year ago. And companies are divided on their assessment of whether remote work makes people less productive.

  3. CEO Sundar Pichai has said Google would likely let staff work from home more often once the pandemic is over.

  4. Many businesses assume that the workplace will be much more hybrid. And that is prompting discussion about the problems of having a two-tier workforce if some workers are in the office while others are at home.

  5. “We had reservations on the hybrid model because they perpetuate two very different employee experiences that could result in issues with inclusion, or inequities with respect to performance or career trajectory, and this is a non-starter for us,” Dropbox’s global head of people Melanie Collins told Quartz. The tech company is shifting to a virtual-first approach, making any offices just meeting spaces and telling staff they can’t use them for solo work even after the pandemic ends. If employees need to work outside of their homes, they will be given access to co-working spaces.

  6. One practice of some hybrid workplaces is to have everyone join meetings by videoconference. That way there’s not a difference in the quality of communication—and ability to participate—between people in and out of the offices.

Companies broadly are pushing back to summer 2021 the date when they could require most staff to return to the office.

Zoom launched new features that could make it even more central to virtual events. They include events listings, integration with payment services like PayPal for ticket sales, and artificial-intelligence-assisted moderation tools.

US workers will likely see roughly 4% to 5% increases in health insurance costs through their employers in 2021. As open enrollment season begins, companies are trying to absorb at least some of insurance cost increases so that employee contributions are flat, or increase similarly to recent years.

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

  1. Create a user manual for yourself. Sharing your answers to simple questions about how you work and what motivates you makes teams more successful. Sharing details about how your prefer to communicate also makes it possible to imagine working without Slack and just minimal use of email. “The most important part of the user manual is the Emergency Protocol: how to get a hold of each other when something goes awry,” explains RadReads’ Khe Hy.

  2. Pick up the phone. Research shows that hearing each other’s voice creates connections between people (adding video doesn’t seem to make a difference.) Greater connection helps counter the loneliness that accompanies workplace burnout. The New York Times has suggestions for connecting with coworkers, including scheduling check-ins and assembling lists of questions to discuss with them.

  3. Team up, rather than just lean in. A new book titled A Blessing by Bonita Stewart and Jacqueline Adams argues that allies are essential for Black women to confront bias, transform cultures, and succeed professionally.

CODA

You might have a “cloffice” and not have realized it. The hunt for a work-at-home space with some quiet and a door you can close has driven many of us into rooms otherwise used as closets. The term for that is a “cloffice,” and if you want to see what the luxury version looks like you can check out Instagram fashion star Lindsi Lane’s closet-and-office combo.

Those with cloffices might understand the appeal of a “sanity shed.” That’s an outbuilding or garden shed repurposed, and often redecorated, for work. Or you can spring for a new “Studio Office Shed” with French doors, pine boards, and transom windows for $10,899.

Don’t like any of these options? There’s now “Hotel Office.” With vacancy at over 50% globally, hotel owners including Accor and Mandarin Oriental are cutting special deals for those seeking a change of workspace. Spending your workday in a hotel room could be a nice break from a cloffice, especially when the special deal includes a free cocktail or poolside massage.

Americans are borrowing ebooks from libraries in record numbers. One service that works with libraries has seen ebook checkouts increase over 50% from last year. Publishers usually license ebooks to libraries for a specific time period or volume of checkouts—but some are now concerned the surge in library ebook usage is hurting their sales.

​​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!