By Kevin J. Delaney
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The latest virus forecast: The US has had a 57% increase from two weeks earlier, averaging over 100,000 new cases per day and hitting a record of almost 133,000 daily cases. Much of Europe is in some stage of lockdown. The likelihood of a vaccine being freely available for the public by early spring 2021 appears to be slipping. N95 masks are again in short supply at health-care facilities.
The business impact, by the numbers: Economic growth globally will likely wane as restrictions ramp up. Half of the 22 million Americans who lost jobs this year during the crisis remain unemployed—the unemployment rate for Black Americans is 10.8% versus 6% for white Americans. Women made employment gains in October. Seasonal hiring is on track, amid ecommerce and curbside pickup strength. Marriott said its hotels were 35.1% occupied during the third-quarter, compared to 74.9% a year earlier.
FOCUS ON THE POST-ELECTION WORKPLACE
Joe Biden is president-elect. Now it’s the day after. And the calls for business leadership on political and social issues likely will only increase if Washington is as gridlocked as people expect. What should leaders of organizations be doing now? And what’s the best way to approach politics with work colleagues? For answers, I spoke this week with Heidi Brooks, a senior lecturer in organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management. Her “Interpersonal Dynamics” elective for MBA students is one of the most popular classes at Yale SOM, and her research focuses on “everyday leadership.” Here are excerpts from our conversation, edited for space and clarity:
This has been a wrenching stressful, complicated election time for many people. Should we address that in the workplace, and how would we best do so?
We have to address it as at least a contextual factor that's having impact on people. Not the same impact on everyone, but certainly a context in which we are working or trying to work. A lot of people have been asking me about focusing and productivity. How can I actually get anything done when I just really want to just track what's happening with the election? But there's also the larger picture of questions coming up of: Who are we? And what are the rules of engagement? And can we even work together? Those kinds of questions are revealing and underscoring schisms that are tense for us to negotiate.
If I'm leading an organization and addressing my team this coming week, what would be your advice?
It's important to acknowledge that you see some of the context that's impacting people, to let people know that you see them. Indicating that you see that the context is having impact on the work, and that it's relevant. You might not be sure how it's relevant, so that's the place for inquiry. It's an important time for everyday leadership to be able to say, ‘Hey, I know a lot is going on. How is everybody doing? Let's talk together about why we work together.’ Keep a sense of people's value and use and role to the shared purpose at the fore.
People's sense of connection to what their role is and why we're doing it gets a little tenuous. The least that I can do is to start by saying: reminder, here's why we're here and what we're doing, and the purpose of it. The hope and aspiration, a little bit of reminder of the vision and hope of the work. We need a little hope right now and a little connection to a sense of purpose.
What's your advice if you have a different political opinion from a colleague? Would you advise engaging with that?
I think it is possible to engage. But not engaged like a debate, but engaged by saying, 'Hey, there, there might be a tension between us because we see things differently. And, you know, I want to let you know that I get it that we come down on different sides of this conversation. I don't need to engage in conversations to try to advocate for my perspective to draw you to my side. And I don't need you to do that with me. But I just want to let you know, I see you and I still work with you. And I want to.’
It looks like there could be gridlock in Washington over the next four years. With more limited prospects for politicians effectively addressing societal issues, will business leaders be even more on the hook for wading into those issues?
You're seeing that elevation of not only business leaders, but athletes and actors. That really indicates almost a desperation for leadership that works and for leadership that shows us how to navigate being human at this time together. Workplace leaders, because everyone has workplaces, are sort of more similar to most people. Workplaces are where adults learn and grow. It's where we spend our time.
If we can learn how to work together at work, it has all sorts of implications for how we work together in our countries and our playgrounds and our churches. So what we learn at work will extend into where we live, play, and pray.
You can read a full transcript of our conversation.
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WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW
With a Biden win, the US approach to fighting the virus gets more serious, and initiatives impacting business are more likely. His first move as president-elect will be creating a task force to fight Covid led by public health experts.
Biden claimed “a mandate for action on Covid, the economy, climate change, systemic racism"—all issues that businesses have been grappling with. The outcome of January Senate runoffs in Georgia will influence whether he has Congress on his side for ambitious change, including an extra-large stimulus package. State voters passed a number of initiatives affecting businesses:
California voters approved the gig worker referendum. Proposition 22 exempts ride hail and delivery app companies from treating workers as employees.
San Francisco voters passed a CEO tax. It applies to companies who pay top executives more than $2.7 million, when the CEO’s compensation is at least 100 times the median pay of their San Francisco workers.
Arizona voted to raise taxes on its highest earners. The hike for residents with income over $250,000 will fund education.
Going to the office regularly appears to increase your risk of getting Covid. New research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that adults who tested positive were almost twice as likely to report having gone to the office regularly than those who tested negative. The CDC recommends remote work wherever possible, and extra workplace precautions when not.
Major reopening efforts are underway even as the virus gains momentum. Economic pressures are driving moves to attract tourists, including in some cases from places where the virus is raging.
Vermont, with its highly tourism-dependent economy, is prepping for a ski season. Season-pass sales have exceeded expectations for the ski industry, with Vail Resorts reporting an 18% increase through mid-September.
Hawaii is seeing a flood of tourists, as it allows arriving fliers with negative tests to bypass quarantine.
Japan is holding baseball games in packed stadiums—including the indoor Tokyo Dome—to test virus spread during crowded sporting events in the hopes of holding the Olympics with spectators in 2021.
The NBA will begin a new season in the real world next month. Basketball’s Florida bubble was a model for keeping outbreaks at bay. But that wasn’t considered sustainable for a longer season and now the NBA will return to arenas around the country.
All of these activities stand to increase infections, though it will be informative to learn by how much. New research indicates that the UK’s Eat-Out-to-Help-Out subsidy for dining out was responsible for as many as 17% of its Covid cases over the summer.
Companies are recruiting Black board members at an accelerating pace. The largest publicly traded US companies, defined as members of the Russell 3000 index, appointed 130 Black board members in the five months from George Floyd’s death, compared to 38 in the prior five months.
Medical students recited an alternative version of the Hippocratic oath committing to racial justice and fighting misinformation. The pledge by University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine students includes this line:
“This oath is the first step in our enduring commitment to repairing the injustices against those historically ignored and abused in medicine: Black patients, Indigenous patients, patients of color and all marginalized populations who have received substandard care as a result of their identity and limited resources.”
Amazon is banning the use of noninclusive technical terms. They include "white/black lists," "master and slave," and "black/white days."
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
Ask questions to make virtual presentations less awkward. You can put a question in the chat window and read out some of the answers. Even asking rhetorical questions that you answer helps increase the engagement of people silently listening to you on their screens.
Rethink your assumptions about what “professionalism” looks like. Remote work provides an opportunity to revisit white-dominant business culture that judges people of color on how they look and act. A shift in culture when everyone is at home can help erase some of that penalty.
Keep in touch with former colleagues. New research finds that former employees of a company that return to work there perform better than other hires and are more likely to be promoted. Researchers think that’s because such “boomerang” workers come in with institutional knowledge and connections that make them more effective.
Spend time with productive colleagues—it will rub off. When researchers paired salespeople with each other for meetings to discuss their challenges and triumphs of the prior week, those matched with high-performing peers subsequently were more productive. That was true even if there was only one meeting.
People can figure out what you’re typing during Zoom calls without seeing your hands. Analyzing the micro-movements of someone’s shoulders, researchers could determine what websites someone was visiting while videoconferencing from home with 66% accuracy. Worth noting: Long hair and hunting and pecking on the keyboard thwarted the analysis.
Separately, Zoom now allows you to turn on “end-to-end” encryption so it’s harder for hackers or the government to spy on your video calls.
Online dating saw record increases when the pandemic lockdown eased over the summer. Match Group, which owns Tinder and OkCupid, added 1.1 million new subscribers from June through August. The return of virus-related restrictions that impact date locations like restaurants, movie theaters, and bars are expected to slow growth again.
Alcohol sales surged on Election Day—but beer and wine makers are hurting more broadly. Alcohol delivery company Drizly said sales were up 68% last Tuesday. But even with more at-home drinking, the pandemic-related drop in activity at restaurants and bars, where about 20% of alcohol sales happen in the US, is hurting the alcohol industry.
Japanese workers are retreating to a ferris wheel to get work done. Yomiuriland Park in a Tokyo suburb rents hour-long slots on its ferris wheel, which has a view of Mount Fuji. The park provides workers with a battery and wi-fi connection. Though one person who tried it acknowledged to The Wall Street Journal: “I got motion sickness because I went there on an empty stomach.”
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!