The big experiment

MARKETS

  • Minneapolis update: A former Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee on the neck of George Floyd, a black man who later died in police custody, was arrested and charged with murder yesterday. Protests over Floyd's death have engulfed Minneapolis and spread across the nation this week.
  • Geopolitics: President Trump made a flurry of big announcements regarding China yesterday, including revoking Hong Kong's preferential trade status and ending the U.S.' support for the World Health Organization.
  • This is one confusing economy: Consumer spending dropped 13.6% in April--the most on record. At the same time, household incomes and personal savings posted record increases. That's the government stimulus payments kicking in.

Want Morning Brew Daily Served Fresh to Your Inbox?
Drop Your Email Below...
 

REMOTE WORK

Can We Work From Home...Forever?

Picture
Remote work has grown on corporate executives like a hot bowl of cauliflower gnocchi. They held off on principle for years, but one bite suddenly turned into 20, and many are now considering making the switch permanent.

What have we learned a few months into the Great WFH Experiment? It's been a pleasant surprise.

According to an Upwork survey...

  • 56% of hiring managers think it's gone better than expected, and one-third said productivity has increased (less than a third said it decreased).
  • 62% plan to offer more remote work going forward.

It's not just management that's pleased. Three-fifths of U.S. workers who are working from home because of the pandemic want to stay remote, according to Gallup.

  • Pros: No commute, fewer meetings, no more listening to your deskmate talk about their weekend. Mid-day Peloton rides.
  • Cons: Tech issues, home distractions (kids), communication barriers, less inter-team contact. Plus, many workers are putting in three extra hours a day and having trouble separating work from their personal lives.

Those were a lot of drawbacks...but some experts think they can be mitigated. "What we're experiencing now isn't truly intentional remote work, it's crisis-induced work from home," Darren Murph, head of remote at GitLab, told the WSJ. Companies who move forward with remote work can spend more time putting infrastructure in place to support their employees.

The hard truths

The traditional office wasn't exactly perfect before this. And remote work has its own pain points.

Access: Working from home is far easier for knowledge workers and higher earners. Black and Hispanic/Latino workers are disproportionately left out of remote opportunities.

Equity: The gender pay gap among full-time remote workers has widened over the last six years, according to Owl Labs. And during the pandemic, women have continued to shoulder a greater portion of "invisible labor" like childcare, housekeeping, and shopping.

Trust: If employers don't trust workers to work when they're remote, it can increase burnout and hurt morale. A boom in employee surveillance, from screen capturing tech to logs of keyboard strokes, has accompanied the recent WFH experiment. Privacy advocates fear this could normalize surveillance.

COST SAVINGS

One Benefit of Remote Work: Follow the Money

Picture
Pivoting to remote can be like having a small wedding. You tell people it was for high-minded reasons, but...you probably also saved some $$$.

We're not saying your boss doesn't care about your work-life balance, just that she also cares about not covering your three kombucha/day habit. According to a Global Workplace Analytics report, the typical firm can save an average of $11,000 per half-time telecommuter per year.

Where do those savings come from?

  1. Real estate and related costs. Rafat Ali, CEO of travel publisher Skift, told Folio the firm will save $600,000/year by not renewing the lease on its Manhattan office (it made over $10 million in rev. in 2018).
  2. Reduced payroll. When Mark Zuckerberg rolled out Facebook's new long-term remote policy this month, he indicated that employees who leave Silicon Valley will also bid farewell to their Silicon Valley salaries.

Then again, Zuckerberg said Facebook wouldn't necessarily save money from going more remote because it'll incur other expenses, such as occasionally bringing employees back to HQ for "onsites."

Then again again, he probably knew not to say, "We're doing this because money."

Zoom out: The research still isn't 100% conclusive, but there's some evidence remote work boosts productivity, engagement, and retention, which can indirectly pad companies' bottom lines.

SECONDARY EFFECTS

Long Sweatpants, Short the Big Apple

There are the obvious consequences of a larger portion of the workforce working from home. Some are less obvious. We compiled a few under-the-radar effects that might not immediately come to mind.

Shared workspaces will gain: During non-pandemic times, don't expect "remote work" to necessarily mean "work from home." People will flock to shared workspaces like coffee shops in order to be near other people while they work--something that hasn't been a possibility given closures of nonessential businesses.

Athleisure boom: The apparel category was growing before the pandemic, but without meetings, offices, or networking events to attend, growth has been supercharged. Shares of athleisure poster child Lululemon soared to all-time highs this week.

Geographic dispersal: Office is gone from midtown NYC? So am I. Expect workers to settle in warmer-weather cities with a lower cost of living. On the employer side, not requiring that workers relocate to a physical office may open up new opportunities to find top talent on the cheap.

Shake-up in podcasting: When Spotify scooped up Joe Rogan for $100 million, it knew it was gaining more than an audio product--Rogan's also a video superstar. With fewer commuters listening to podcasts in cars and trains, we'll likely see more activity in the audio/video hybrid space Spotify and others are now investing in.

SMALL TALK

Miss Talking About the Weather?

Picture
Oscar Wilde once dissed conversations about the weather as "the last refuge of the unimaginative." But considering idle chit chat around the watercooler all but evaporates in remote work arrangements, it's worth asking: Is there any value in discussing last night's Survivor episode with a coworker?

Many business leaders hail chance conversations as essential
Silicon Valley can trace its pro-small talk mentality back to Intel, which laid out its workspaces to make sure employees bumped into each other like molecules. According to biographer Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs designed Pixar's HQ with a central "atrium" for gathering--and even positioned the bathrooms to encourage spontaneous employee interaction.

  • Jobs later planned Apple's new headquarters to consist of a ring of open workspaces surrounding a courtyard.

What's the point? The argument can be summed up in a 2013 memo sent by Yahoo's former CEO Marissa Mayer: "People are more collaborative and innovative when they're together." She was defending her ban on employees working from home.

Can Slack and Zoom replace small talk?
Possibly. But creating the kind of cross-team rapport you get from impromptu brainstorms and avoiding eye contact in the bathroom mirror is like using a whisk instead of an electric mixer. WFH experts like Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom say it's definitely possible, but takes effort.

Bloom told Recode that employees should have the following videoconferences every. single. day: 1) A half-hour group chat to talk about anything and everything except work and 2) 10-minute chats between bosses and direct reports.

PERSONAL

Reflections on Working From Home

Picture
This is Neal Freyman, the managing editor of Morning Brew. With our company completely remote since March 11, I thought you might be interested to hear what the experience has been like for the Brew writers.

There's been no disruption in our day-to-day: All our team really needs to write newsletters is a strong wi-fi connection and the steady drip of coffee. Not only have we managed to publish our existing schedule of newsletters without any problem, we've added one publication already during the pandemic (The Essentials) and are planning to launch another newsletter in a few weeks.

But I don't talk to other teams much. I think this is one of the biggest differences between working in an office and WFH--I interact with few others beyond the editorial team and the leadership team. I used to talk to the hilarious folks in our sales department every day when grabbing something from the office refrigerator, but I haven't spoken to most of them in months.

So while things seem to be going smoothly...I don't know what we're missing out on. Which face-to-face conversations would've led to the next big idea? Would morale be higher if our company formed a kickball team? How much better would the Brew's newsletters be if we could discuss our issues in-person?

I don't have the answer. But I, for one, am ready to get back to the office ASAP.

Disclaimer: The home office in this image looks nothing like mine.

WHAT ELSE IS BREWING

  • SpaceX will once again try to launch humans into space this afternoon. The first attempt on Wednesday was postponed 15 minutes before liftoff.
  • Kylie Jenner is no longer a billionaire, according to Forbes. An investigation revealed she's been "inflating the size and success of her business."
  • Tencent is in talks to buy a stake in Warner Music Group, the WSJ reports.
  • NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York City is on track to begin a phased reopening process on June 8.
  • Netflix is buying Hollywood's historic Egyptian Theatre.
  • The NCAA released guidelines to help schools bring back athletes to campus.

SATURDAY HEADLINES

As the pandemic reshapes the way people interact with nature, some odd headlines have crept out of the animal kingdom. We've included three real animal encounters from the past week, and one fake one. Can you spot the imposter?

  • "Citing Chicago trash invasions, biologists are convinced raccoons hold grudges"
  • "Monkeys 'escape with COVID-19 samples' after attacking lab assistant"
  • "Meet the otters who raided a spa during a coronavirus shutdown, sparking outrage"
  • "Man fined for animal cruelty and not wearing face mask after wrestling with bear at Polish zoo"

Want Morning Brew Daily Served Fresh to Your Inbox?
Drop Your Email Below...

 

SATURDAY HEADLINES ANSWER


Raccoons aren't actually giving you the stink eye.

Comments (1)

May 30, 2020
Comment