By Kevin J. Delaney
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The latest virus forecast: The US has had a 42% increase from two weeks earlier, averaging about 80,000 new cases per day and hitting a record of almost 100,000 daily cases this week. Infections are rising in 41 states, and public health experts say the virus is so widespread it has become hard to trace it to discrete sources or clusters. New York State will starting on Nov. 4 require visitors from non-neighboring states to submit negative Covid tests upon arrival.
The business impact, by the numbers: Just 15% of Manhattan office workers are predicted to return by the end of the year, down from an earlier estimate of 26%. Manhattan tech and finance employers forecast just half of their workers will be back by July. Americans spent 70% of the time they saved by not commuting on doing more work, child care, or chores.
FOCUS ON INCLUSIVE VIRTUAL MEETINGS
How do you make virtual meetings better, and make sure they don’t exclude or privilege certain people or groups? For answers, this week I spoke with Professor Steven Rogelberg of UNC Charlotte. He’s an organizational psychologist who studies the workplace and last year published a book titled The Surprising Science of Meetings. Here are excerpts, lightly edited for clarity:
What makes for better remote meetings?
The keys to virtual meetings are:
- Don't over-invite. Dysfunction increases with size.
- Actively facilitate, because there's so much need to do so. And if you don't do it, it doesn't get done.
- Keep the agenda compelling. I'm a big advocate of framing agenda items as questions to be answered, as opposed to topics.
What does research tell us about ways to make virtual meetings more inclusive?
There are two paths to inclusion. One is to keep the meetings lean so that people can get airtime and be truly engaged with the content. The second path would be a meeting leader diversifying their approach to meetings so that different styles and preferences can be accommodated. Typically meetings are designed to favor more extroverted individuals who like to use their mouths during a meeting. But, for example, we know that silence can yield more positive outcomes, especially with regard to brainstorming. This is a great option to diversify the meeting experience, where we share a Google doc with some questions to be answered and let people respond in silence. Using polling apps is a great mechanism for truly seeing whether you have consensus. If you have a bunch of people in a virtual meeting and you say, 'Hey, does everyone agree?' the dissenters often will be quiet, especially if the boss appears to agree. But if you use one of these polling apps, it's a great way of seeing whether dissent exists, and if it does, giving it voice, which ultimately promotes inclusion.
Other tactics for more inclusive meetings include distributing the agendas beforehand so that participants who aren't as extroverted have a chance to process and ready themselves for what they might say. Another is recording meetings and making the recordings available within a company because that gives people a chance to go back and process the material covered and then follow up.
People struggle with preparing fully for meetings. There's a time crunch. So while it's always a nice idea to give people a heads up about what's being discussed, I don't think that's going to be the path to true inclusion. That's just the path to having an informed discussion. Having recordings available is a path to transparency, so that people can access what's being discussed, what's being concluded, and what decisions were made. That's just a nice way of having a transparent workforce, which ultimately helps promote trust—which is a more indirect way of promoting inclusion.
You suggest using silence during meetings. Why?
The research demonstrates that when you compare groups brainstorming in silence and those that brainstorm with their mouths—the brainstorming-in-silence groups produce nearly twice as many ideas and the ideas tend to be more innovative and more disruptive. Because there's just not this editing that appears to occur and everyone can speak at once. You don't have the air-time jockeying that can happen when people are brainstorming with their mouths. And it can just be done very quickly and readily in virtual meetings. We could go to the chat, share a Google doc, and people click on that link and just start typing. The beauty of it is that you get this incredible engagement and you get so much more done in such a quicker time. The added bonus is that people can be adding comments to other people's remarks. So you're basically building this very dynamic interaction without a word being spoken.
For more discussion of what makes for better remote meetings, including how to approach creative brainstorming, meeting length, and hybrid meetings, you can read a full transcript of our conversation. And for more on the sort of polling apps Professor Rogelberg referenced, check out this post by Coda CEO Shishir Mehrotra, where he talks about how his company uses the Dory and pulse approaches.
Content from our partner McKinsey & Company
How stressed are your employees during COVID-19? Smart companies are focusing on their workers’ mental wellbeing and changing how work itself will get done. It is one of 10 decisive actions we recommend (it comes with a free 159-page collection of related McKinsey insights).
WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW
Some workers relocating during the pandemic face pay cuts if the “cost of labor” is lower where they now live. For example, a VMware employee who opts to work from Denver rather than the software company’s Palo Alto, Calif, headquarters, could see their salary reduced by 18%.
Compensation experts say that companies might now start breaking out cost of living premiums from base salaries, as a way to make such cuts more palatable.
Reddit this week announced that it won’t follow that practice, shifting to uniform pay ranges across the US no matter where staff live.
Reddit will continue to have different pay scales in different countries. That practice is very standard, but does raise issues of fairness and can create discontent among employees in low-pay locales. Why should someone doing the same work in India, for example, make a fraction of what a US colleague is paid?
About 7% to 12% of US households plan to move as a result of the new acceptance of remote work, according to a new survey by Upwork. Workers are seeking to leave major cities and move to less expensive housing markets.
Many companies looking for employees to work from their offices now—either because the tasks involved require it or they value in-person work—are offering perks like free transportation, parking, child care, and meals.
Many corporate commitments to diversifying organizations have historically fallen short—something worth remembering amid public statements these days.
Silicon Valley is a prime example. Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft began releasing data about staff makeup several years ago, arguing that the transparency would help accelerate improvement—and there’s been limited progress since.
Some shocking data points: Last year 1.5% of Facebook’s technical workers in the US were Black, up from 1% in 2014. Only 3.3% of Microsoft’s technical employees in the US last year were Black, compared to 2.4% in 2016. Both companies have made new commitments to diversifying amid this year’s intensified focus on racial injustice.
What’s wrong here? To move those numbers, companies need to support structural change rather than just fighting to recruit the industry-ready graduates of color every year, argues Michael Ellison, CEO of the nonprofit CodePath, which focuses on this issue. He suggests making sure that every US student has access to quality high school computer science classes, and committing staff and money to improving computer science teaching at the college level.
Some law firms are now also focusing on high school. Attorneys of color make up fewer than 10% of partners at US law firms. Some big firms are working with nonprofit Thrive Scholars to recruit, train, and mentor high-performing Black and Latinx high school students.
Most organizations also need to fundamentally change. Creating a culture where everyone feels safe expressing themselves freely, weakening the dominance of white cultural norms, and actively dismantling biases in handing out plum assignments are among the measures identified by Professors Robin J. Ely and David A. Thomas in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review.
It’s really important not to squander this moment of corporate focus on diversity—I’d welcome hearing from you about what’s needed—you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts.
New software is helping minimize crowds—in offices and at stores. Companies are using it to stagger schedules for workers and identify areas where people are clumping up.
Maptician was originally created to encourage face-to-face interaction among workers. But now companies are using it to keep staff as far apart as possible, and trace contacts if there are any infections.
Virtual queueing services like QLess, Qmatic, and Qminder help customers avoid waiting in lines and show up physically only when it’s their turn.
Professional sports show how to—and how not to—beat the virus. With the baseball season over, there are some lessons from how major US pro leagues handled the pandemic:
The NBA’s bubble strategy, which I’ve written about before, was remarkably effective. But the players’ agreement to follow an exhaustive set of rules—the NBA guidelines were over 100 pages—was probably just as important as isolating them.
Major League Baseball’s less strict approach, which allowed travel and some fan attendance, could be a more realistic model. Despite seeing 57 players test positive, baseball made it through the season. Sports industry experts say it’s easier to imagine that approach than the NBA bubble for any extended period of time.
The leagues concluded that frequent testing was worth it. Both baseball and football increased to daily testing after outbreaks.
There weren’t any documented cases of pro athletes getting infected while playing outdoors.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
Communicate in bursts. Research suggests that periods of real-time-back and forth between colleagues is more productive than asynchronous messaging. Such rapid-fire exchanges enable focused energy, exchange of ideas, and reaching decisions—and the silence time in between such bursts can be used by individuals for deep, uninterrupted work. Colleagues can schedule moments for real-time interaction, or use the options in software such as Slack for signaling when they’re available.
Host virtual crafting sessions for your team. The “sewing circle” approach, where people sit around talking and making things—even if they’re all on Zoom—is a way for colleagues to better connect to each other. Nora Abousteit of Craft Jam recommends painting letters, basic embroidery, and wreath making as good places to start.
Zoom out on your zoom calls. Sitting farther away from the camera makes it easier for other people to derive meaning from your body language, and reduces some of the feeling of forced intimacy. The key is making your upper body visible, including your hands.
Create a “working handbook.” It’s especially important to write down workplace knowledge now that so many people are remote. GitLab has a 5,000-page searchable document shared across the company that details how it is run. Any employee can add to it, and meeting agendas sometimes reference specific sections as background.
The hot fashion accessory this winter season is—a blanket?? It’s practical at least, given how outdoors socializing is a reality during the pandemic. For when a scarf doesn’t quite offer the heat retention you’re looking for, consider the colorful cashmere Super Duper Blanket from The Elder Statesman, available for a fittingly bracing $2,055.
Young Americans are finding tricks for travelling recreationally outside the US. Fed up with the restrictions of the pandemic at home, they’ve been flying to Turkey, Croatia, Ireland, and the UK, using them as gateways for broader European travel. “My investors have all texted me, like, ‘I want to be in Ibiza. How do we do that!?’” one startup founder told The Cut.
Meanwhile, less-brazen tourists hankering for a European vacation are flocking to faux Old Country destinations like the replica of a Bavarian Alpine village in Helen, Georgia.
Traditional Thanksgiving gatherings are another victim of the pandemic. 74% of Americans say their celebrations will be smaller, and about 50% say they’re canceling holiday gatherings this year. Among upcoming holidays, the outlook for New Year’s Eve is strikingly bleak, with about half of Americans saying they don’t plan to celebrate at all.
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!