The pandemic changed the way we work. 15 CEOs weigh in on what’s next

 The pandemic changed the way we work. 15 CEOs weigh in on what’s next

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The shutdowns caused by the Covid-19 pandemic forced Corporate America to embark upon a massive work-from-home experiment that presented many unknowns: How do we keep workers safe? Can we stay productive? What’s the best way to communicate and collaborate? How long will we be out of the office?

A year and a half later, corporate leaders have learned some valuable lessons. One big takeaway: flexibility. Expecting workers to commute to the office five days a week will largely be a thing of the past at many companies – at least for now. While some companies will embrace a fully remote model, others are opting for a hybrid work plan that gives employees more control over their schedules while still maintaining some in-person office time. And, of course, there are some companies that want everyone back in the office.

Still, it’s a work in progress. And company leaders will need to fine-tune their strategies as they take on new challenges, like employee burnout, a tightening labor market and the prospect of new Covid-19 variants.

CNN Business asked CEOs at more than a dozen major US companies to tell us about the lessons they’ve learned during the pandemic and what they think the future of work will look like. Here’s what they had to say:

(The following responses have been edited for clarity and length.)

  • Chobani
  • Citi
  • Dropbox
  • Drunk Elephant
  • Edelman
  • General Motors
  • LinkedIn
  • Mailchimp
  • Mastercard
  • New Balance
  • NRG Energy
  • Petco
  • Slack
  • Stanley Black & Decker
  • Zillow

Chobani

Chobani

Hamdi Ulukaya

founder, chairman and CEO

The future of work must include fair and equitable compensation, part-time options…robust benefits packages, parental leave, extensive health and safety programs, and a positive and inclusive environment — these elements should no longer be revolutionary, but the norm”

What are the biggest changes you have made to your workplace policies since the pandemic?

When the pandemic first started, we determined that a majority of our employees are essential workers, so we immediately mobilized to ensure their safety and well-being. At the same time, our office workers shifted to working from home. There were valuable lessons for every area of our business:

• Companywide conversations about mental health are long overdue. Everyone needs support, from entry-level employees to the executive leadership team. Chobani started offering access to free counseling and life coach sessions, which have been extremely popular and will remain as a benefit.

• Child care is often an added stress, even when there isn’t a pandemic. When schools and daycare centers closed, Chobani launched a subsidy program to give parents special funding for emergency child care on their workdays. We relaunched the program for our essential employees when schools and child care centers reopened with modified schedules, and it is still in place today.

• For our office workers, we can be more flexible. It became clear that working from home works, so many of our office employees will be returning to a “hybrid work model.” We believe this will allow our employees to enjoy a flexible and empowering way of working.

What are some of the biggest hurdles you face as your employees either return to the office or embrace a new type of working model?

I envision a work environment where employees come to the office to collaborate and be together — not to travel miles and miles into our office to have the same setup they have at home. This will require honest conversations with our managers and trusting our employees along the way to ensure the vision is met and overall productivity is enhanced. I’m sure there will be some growing pains, but this new model will truly have something for everyone.

What do you think the future of work will look like?

The future of work is here. We must trust our employees and also continue to harness the power of in-person collaboration. The future of work must also include fair and equitable compensation, part-time options (which we’re starting to explore for our manufacturing teams), robust benefits packages, parental leave, extensive health and safety programs, and a positive and inclusive environment — these elements should no longer be revolutionary, but the norm.

When business treats its employees well, it’s good for business. For example, last year, Chobani increased our minimum wage rate to start at $15 an hour, which pushed our average hourly wage to be approximately $19 an hour. I’m glad to see other companies beginning to do the same.


Photo: Ivan Valencia/Bloomberg/Getty Images

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Citi

Most of us will be on a hybrid schedule that requires us to be in the office at least three days a week… Hopefully, this flexibility can keep the doors open to people who have traditionally found it difficult to maintain a career in our industry.”

What are the biggest changes you have made to your workplace policies since the pandemic?

If there is one silver lining, the pandemic has forced greater attention across the business world on the importance of employee well-being.

Because of the new challenges in balancing our family lives, we subsidized backup child care, offered nanny placement services and provided discounted tutoring and college prep. And to help colleagues cope with the strain of the crisis, we expanded health and wellness programs, offering additional access to telemedicine visits, mental health resources and medical prescription delivery at no charge.

Earlier this year, it became clear that the relentlessness of the pandemic workday was just not sustainable. The blurring of lines between home and work, the nonstop Zoom calls, the late-night emails — they were taking a toll on everyone. A colleague suggested to me that we designate Fridays as a day when we turn off our cameras on Zoom. I’ll admit, I originally was against the idea. But after talking to others, I realized it needed to happen. We’ve also tried to set some boundaries around scheduling calls outside of what had been traditional working hours pre-pandemic, and we gave everyone a mandatory day off in May to relax and recharge.

We’ve also introduced new programs for colleagues to spend time on their passions outside of work. We now offer a 12-week sabbatical program for employees to pursue personal interests, as well as a program that allows employees to spend two to four weeks working with a charitable institution. At the same time, we’ve thought about how to support our colleagues looking to create their family and enhanced our reimbursement of expenses related to adoption or surrogacy to $30,000.

What are some of the biggest hurdles you face as your employees either return to the office or embrace a new type of working model?

When Covid broke out last year, we dropped everything and moved quickly to make sure all our people were safe and set up to continue doing their jobs from home. The way back in is going to be more measured, more deliberate, and it’s not going to be the same for our various markets around the world.

Starting this month, we plan to have colleagues back at our NYC HQ and some other US offices for at least two days a week. We are requiring colleagues to be vaccinated and wear masks to help ensure a safe workplace. We continue to make these decisions based on data, not dates, and if the data changes, we absolutely will adjust our plans accordingly.

I know there’s going to be a lot of anxiety about returning. It will take some adjustment. Consider all the things we did without thinking twice that will now give us pause… Can we shake hands? Can we hug? Is it safe to meet in a conference room? Is it okay to keep my lunch in the office fridge? We each have our own risk tolerance – and it’s up to me and my team to make sure that our offices are not only welcoming but are also safe and provide a comfortable environment for everyone.

There are also new challenges in a hybrid working model that we are just beginning to confront. For instance, how do we make sure the right people are in the office at the same time so they can collaborate? How do we balance conversations in which some participants are in person and others are on Zoom? How do we integrate all of the people who have joined Citi during the pandemic and been working remotely almost exclusively? It’s essential they feel they belong to the team and to the firm and that we invest the time and provide the experiences for them to feel like true Citibankers.

What do you think the future of work will look like?

I was in London recently, where many of our traders are back in the office, and the joy I felt being around others after such a long time away struck me to the core. The banter, the debates, our warmth, even our endearing quirks — you just don’t experience them the same way over a Zoom screen. At the same time, banking is an apprenticeship business. The feedback from an impromptu conversation after a meeting or coaching from your manager walking by your desk after watching you in action — these moments are so important to everyone’s professional development.

So we are planning for the majority of our people to be back in the office when it’s safe, but they will have more flexibility. Most of us will be on a hybrid schedule that requires us to be in the office at least three days a week, which will be a time to foster collaboration, learning, mentoring and contributing to our culture. We believe this more flexible way of working is important to our colleagues and is not only compatible with running a successful and competitive bank but, in many ways, will provide a competitive advantage with talent. Hopefully, this flexibility can keep the doors open to people who have traditionally found it difficult to maintain a career in our industry.


Photo: From LinkedIn

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Dropbox

Dropbox

Drew Houston

co-founder and CEO

I see the 40-hour office workweek — an artifact of factory work — finally becoming a thing of the past. Employees will escape grueling commutes and gain more control over their day.”

What are the biggest changes you have made to your workplace policies since the pandemic?

The abrupt shift to working from home was disruptive for everyone. But we also recognized that it presented a unique opportunity to entirely re-imagine how we work for the better. We went back to first principles, reconsidering what the workweek ought to look like, the purpose of the office, and how we use technology to support us in this new way of working.

We spent a lot of time thinking about how we were going to approach this, including studying what our industry was doing and asking our employees how they felt. We found that most people preferred working remotely and that the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. So in October 2020, we announced that we were becoming a Virtual First company. This means remote work is the primary experience for our employees. But we still believe that there’s no substitute for the in-person experience. Getting together face-to-face is hugely important for teambuilding and maintaining company culture.

Given these shifts, we decided to completely reimagine our offices as entirely collaborative spaces that we call Dropbox Studios. When it’s safe to do so, we’ll be able to get together in real life for important meetings, events, trainings and more.

What are some of the biggest hurdles you face as your employees either return to the office or embrace a new type of working model?

It’s still a challenging time — the pandemic is far from over. Not being able to see our colleagues in person over the last 18 months has been tough for all of us. We’ve been focused on finding ways to help our team to manage their work-life balance and recapture a sense of human connection even though we’re all working remotely.

We’ve also taken care to support our employees through this transition with resources, such as our Virtual First Toolkit, and even created a team that’s dedicated to all things Virtual First. Studios also play a key role, and once it’s safe to do so, we anticipate planned in-person gatherings.

One thing we all have in common is that no one really knows how this is all going to work. We need a level of humility throughout this. Instead of focusing on hitting the bullseye on the first throw, we’re learning and adapting as we go.

What do you think the future of work will look like?

2020 was the tipping point. The ramifications of this will be enormous — I believe we’ll look back on this shift as the most significant change to knowledge work since that term was invented back in 1959, and its impact on our industry will be comparable to the rise of mobile and the cloud. Distributed work will unlock the potential of these technologies in the same way the highway system unlocked the potential of cars and ultimately reconfigured modern life.

I also see the 40-hour office workweek — an artifact of factory work — finally becoming a thing of the past. Employees will escape grueling commutes and gain more control over their day. The workplace will now be wherever work happens, and the workweek will be whenever work happens best for each person. Companies will grow stronger as they integrate dispersed talent with diverse perspectives. And opportunity will spread far beyond exclusive urban clusters.

But it will require a new social contract and shift in mindset for employers and employees. Companies will need to rely on managers to find the right policies and behaviors for their teams. They’ll also have to trust employees to get their work done without constantly monitoring face time, and people will have to take more accountability for their results.

While we’ve gone through a one-way door, the way we experience work physically and digitally in the future is still largely to be determined. What is so exciting about this moment is that we get to decide how we want to work and reinvent it for the better.


Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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Drunk Elephant

Drunk Elephant

Tiffany Masterson

founder, president and chief creative officer

I think some people will want to come into the office while others will continue to stay home, and we will make it work. There’s no harder working employee than a happy employee and we want people to feel safe above all else.”

What are the biggest changes you have made to your workplace policies since the pandemic?

Over 60% of Drunk Elephant’s workforce had already been working remote, so we weren’t too disrupted by our offices closing from an operations perspective. I’d say we were very blessed and fortunate to be able to keep working from home.

Our way of coping was to go about business as usual during the days to maintain a sense of control and normalcy in the midst of uncertainty and anxiety. We were able to send products out to over 50 hospitals for over 4,500 frontline doctors and nurses and medical workers as a token of our appreciation for all they do. We remained focused on the business and our customers throughout and will continue to do so.

What are some of the biggest hurdles you face as your employees either return to the office or embrace a new type of working model?

Making sure that everyone feels safe and secure is a big one. Also, transitioning back to the office from the comfort and convenience of home is going to be a shocker for some. We’ll let people ease in and allow them to start back two days per week and go up from there as it seems fit. Some people work better from home and I expect we will be very understanding of that… I’m not one to talk because I prefer working from home by far and have always worked from home!

What do you think the future of work will look like?

I think some people will want to come into the office while others will continue to stay home, and we will make it work. There’s no harder working employee than a happy employee and we want people to feel safe above all else.


Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Drunk Elephant

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Edelman

Edelman

Lisa Osborne Ross

US CEO

The post-pandemic future of work is one rooted in flexibility, transparency and accountability… This includes recognizing that our ongoing dialogue is a two-way conversation, not us communicating on high. I want to hear directly and regularly from my employees via town halls, surveys and one-on-one conversations.”

What are the biggest changes you have made to your workplace policies since the pandemic?

It’s hard to say it, but in many ways the pandemic has actually made our work better. We’ve been forced to find the talent that is the right fit for our clients’ needs, regardless of geography, sector or practice, which has allowed us to unite teams in previously unexpected ways.

We have 60 offices across the globe, but sometimes we found ourselves reverting to regional silos. Employees are now increasingly able to explore new skills and partner with new colleagues across the network in order to spearhead amazing, purpose-driven work.

And even though we are far apart, it brought us closer. It created a new level of intimacy that let us get to know one another in different ways. We’ve seen each other’s homes, pets, children, and even each other’s aloneness. This increased insight, especially during such major crises, has made us more empathetic about each other’s situations and more comfortable reaching out to one another, both personally and professionally.

What are some of the biggest hurdles you face as your employees either return to the office or embrace a new type of working model?

Let’s be honest, we lost some of our muscle memory when we stopped going into the office. If it takes 30 days to create a habit, just think about the past 500 days of habit-forming related to working at home. We will have to relearn how to make that shift back and start recalibrating our minds and our bodies for that change.

Whether it’s reacclimating to commute times or adjusting to mask mandates in the conference room, we know it will take time and sustained employee listening to develop best practices that set us up for success and allow us to bring our best selves to work — either at home or in the office.

One of the biggest hurdles for me personally was just accepting that it’s okay to not know. It’s hard to resist the urge to plan six to nine months ahead, but there is freedom in that acceptance.

The next biggest challenge will be making sure we don’t simply flip a switch and attempt to return to business-as-usual overnight. There were a lot of hard lessons learned over the past 18 months that need to be factored into any future workplace decision-making.

What do you think the future of work will look like?

First and foremost, it’s a workers’ workplace.

The post-pandemic future of work is one rooted in flexibility, transparency and accountability. It is beyond clear that a company’s most important stakeholder is its employees, and we must do our part to keep our workforce engaged and fulfilled. This includes recognizing that our ongoing dialogue is a two-way conversation, not us communicating on high. I want to hear directly and regularly from my employees via town halls, surveys and one-on-one conversations, and I’ve made it clear that this is a culture where we will always openly discuss our needs, desires, fears and concerns.

The reality is that high-skilled American workers have more choice than ever before when it comes to career opportunities. They want to feel connected to their work and valued by their leadership, and CEOs play a major role in communicating that appreciation.

All our decisions must be grounded in our corporate purpose – if you don’t have a sense of what you stand for beyond profit, it’s hard to communicate anything to your employees or any other stakeholder, especially in today’s purpose-hungry culture. It is up to the CEO to proactively and authentically pursue that purpose every single day.


Photo: Courtesy Lisa Osborne Ross

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General Motors

General Motors

Mary Barra

chair and CEO

Achieving our all-electric future requires attracting and retaining the best talent, and we are excited to focus our employee engagement and hiring on the work we do, not where we do it. We’re already adapting our recruitment efforts to include hiring positions that are designated specifically as remote.”

What are the biggest changes you have made to your workplace policies since the pandemic?

The pandemic changed quite a lot about the way we work, and it affected different parts of the company in different ways. Many of our employees began working remotely without missing a beat, while others never stopped going to a physical workplace. Still others, including our manufacturing, design, lab and warehouse employees, returned as soon as our safety protocols were in place.

The biggest change we’ve made is to adopt a ‘work appropriately’ approach, not unlike our company dress code of ‘dress appropriately.’ We implemented this based on extensive employee feedback, and it simply means that, where the work permits, employees have the flexibility to work wherever they can have the greatest impact on achieving our goals. Work that can effectively be conducted remotely includes independent work requiring no onsite resources, and information-sharing or status-update meetings using collaboration tools, such as Microsoft Teams.

For time spent in the workplace, the focus is on our business needs, including building vehicles, calling on dealers, working in our labs and warehouses, reviewing and developing properties, and some experiential learning and collaboration. Overall, ‘work appropriately’ places a high value on flexibility and an increased emphasis on accountability. And I think it has worked well so far.

What are some of the biggest hurdles you face as your employees either return to the office or embrace a new type of working model?

Given the size and scope of a company like General Motors, there is no one-size-fits-all model that can work for us. Fortunately for us, the solution lies in our greatest strength: our people. They understand our approach, and they embrace our values and use them as a guide on a daily basis.

We are committed to doing more to help create balance for everyone. For example, we are adding more than 200 new manufacturing group leaders in North America to offer better flexibility for those on the frontlines. We may also, for example, provide additional laptops and other devices to manufacturing sites, modernize workspaces and allow online trainings to be completed from work or home.

What do you think the future of work will look like?

I think we’re seeing it happen before our eyes. The workplace, like the work itself, will continue to evolve, often in ways we can’t even imagine today. But I think the changes we’ve implemented and our ‘work appropriately’ approach are signals of what is to come.

That will be true for our current employees, and especially for our future employees as we strive to make General Motors the world’s most inclusive company, and a destination for top talent in all functions and areas of our business. Achieving our all-electric future requires attracting and retaining the best talent, and we are excited to focus our employee engagement and hiring on the work we do, not where we do it. We’re already adapting our recruitment efforts to include hiring positions that are designated specifically as remote.

In this area, as in so many others, we’re bringing forward some of the more positive learnings of the difficult past year or so, as we try to create the best environment in which we do our best work. We’re still learning as we go.


Photo: Erin Kirkland/Bloomberg/Getty Images

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LinkedIn

LinkedIn

Ryan Roslansky

CEO

Over the next 18 months, you’re going to see a lot of uncertainty. A lot of confusion. It might even feel a bit messy, but I believe that over time you’ll start to see things start to settle. Companies and employees are going to come together where their values align.”

What are the biggest changes you have made to your workplace policies since the pandemic?

Like other companies across the globe, we made the decision to shift to a remote workforce almost overnight. None of us have ever gone through these decisions before. They’re not easy and we’re all figuring it out with each new day. As we have navigated continued uncertainty, though, we’ve relied on three principles to guide us: protect our workforce; start all decision-making with the facts, not conjecture or opinion; and ensure business continuity.

These principles guided our recent announcement that allows our 16,000 global employees to decide how and when they will return to the office, if at all, as we gradually reopen our offices. We’ve moved away from a one-size-fits-all policy and will let individual teams decide the working model that best suits their needs. This decision was grounded in our simple, yet powerful approach to how we work: We trust each other to do our best work where it works best for us and our teams.

Company shutdowns, a recent RestUp week off, no meeting days, and a Discretionary Time Off (DTO) policy in the US are all part of how we work. As we managed through the pandemic, what we saw consistently was that leading with our culture of trust, compassion and accountability always got us to the right place.

What are some of the biggest hurdles you face as your employees either return to the office or embrace a new type of working model?

We continue to build on what we’ve learned as our teams quickly pivoted into remote work environments and navigated unprecedented challenges, all while learning to work in completely new ways. Through this experience, we’ve learned that every individual and every team works differently, so embracing flexibility with both hybrid and remote roles is the best approach for us.

Many employees are hoping to hold on to the flexibility they gained over the past year: globally, 87% of employees would prefer to stay remote at least half of the time, indicating that many want a hybrid schedule. We’re continuing to invest in amazing workplaces for everyday work and those times when our teams come together.

While a lot has changed around us, what hasn’t changed is the strength of our culture. I could not be more proud of the work our team has been doing to realize LinkedIn’s vision during a time when it’s never been as important.

What do you think the future of work will look like?

We’re entering a moment unlike anything we’ve seen in the history of work, what I’m calling the Great Reshuffle. Companies are rethinking their entire working models, cultures and company values. At the same time, employees are rethinking what’s important to them moving forward.

Over the next 18 months, you’re going to see a lot of uncertainty. A lot of confusion. It might even feel a bit messy, but I believe that over time you’ll start to see things start to settle. Companies and employees are going to come together where their values align and this is going to be a positive shift in the world of work. More people will be doing work that brings them fulfillment at companies they feel passionate about, leading to greater success for organizations that engage their employees with compassion and trust.

The Great Reshuffle will redefine the future of work — and that’s a good thing for all of us. This moment has the power to change the fundamentals of not just how we work, but why we work.


Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images

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Mailchimp

Mailchimp

Ben Chestnut

co-founder and CEO

To me, flexible work is the future. If there’s one silver lining of the pandemic, it’s that this time away from the office has allowed us all to reevaluate our priorities.”

What are the biggest changes you have made to your workplace policies since the pandemic?

As the pandemic changed every aspect of our lives, Mailchimp focused on adapting our policies to meet the evolving needs of our employees. We quickly learned that our people need more support and more rest than ever to create space for a true work-life balance. Fostering a healthy company culture for our people is critical to business success, not a competing priority.

In response to Covid, we started providing extended benefits like an additional 40 hours of sick time and extended leave options through the end of 2021 for parents and caregivers. Beyond that, we came up with other tangible benefits to offer, like $1,000 bonuses, a weeklong company-wide summer office closure lasting from July 5 through July 9, and a 2021 gift box full of things, like a one-year subscription to meditation and sleep app Calm, a Nalgene bottle, masks and more.

We also implemented several summer policies, including paid summer hours. During this period, each Friday, Mailchimp ended the business day at 1 p.m. local time, and we’ve asked employees not to schedule meetings for the remainder of the day. We’ve done this to ensure that all employees have at least four hours a week without meetings to help minimize fatigue — while also creating space for catching up, learning and development, or just stepping away to spend time with friends and family.

What are some of the biggest hurdles you face as your employees either return to the office or embrace a new type of working model?

After working remotely for more than a year, Zoom fatigue and isolation set in hard. So we continue to adjust our work styles to fit new demands. Our product and graphic design teams, which were so used to collaborating and bouncing ideas off each other in person and across the lunch table, had to quickly adapt to brainstorming and ideating online.

While some employees find great success in working remotely, others benefit from coming into the office at least two or three days a week. So figuring out the right balance to keep people engaged – but also safe – is a big challenge right now. Just as we were gearing up for a limited return to the office, news of the Delta variant hit and we decided to delay our plans. Real-time decision-making is another huge leadership challenge, but we’re optimistic that we’ll find a hybrid work solution that works for all employees soon.

What do you think the future of work will look like?

To me, flexible work is the future. If there’s one silver lining of the pandemic, it’s that this time away from the office has allowed us all to reevaluate our priorities. That’s why Mailchimp adopted a flexible work plan that allows individuals to make a decision on the working style that works best for them.


Photo: From LinkedIn

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Mastercard

Mastercard

Michael Miebach

CEO

For a long time, we may have taken for granted the ability to see our coworkers daily… As we think about the future, there is an opportunity to strengthen the relationships we form with colleagues and teams, no matter where you are.”

What are the biggest changes you have made to your workplace policies since the pandemic?

If the past year has taught us anything, we need to be more intentional about how, where and when to collaborate. We’re taking what we’ve learned from the past and balancing it with the importance of human connection that makes us who we are and what we do today.

This carries through today with a continual focus on our employees’ mental health and well-being. We’ve introduced a series of benefits that help employees find the breaks and the opportunities to reset where needed. We also have new workplace policies, such as summer or winter Fridays, where employees can use the afternoon to rest up, relax and recharge. We also instituted a series of meeting-free days to help directly combat Zoom fatigue.

What are some of the biggest hurdles you face as your employees either return to the office or embrace a new type of working model?

As much as technology has helped us collaborate, there’s no replacing human connections. We’re social creatures by nature. It’s who we are and what defines our culture. When our teams come together, there’s an energy you can feel and I’m reminded of that every time I see my colleagues in the office.

Today, one of the biggest things we’re focused on is finding the right balance of being together with supporting flexibility in work locations. There’s no one definition across a global company. Each country and each region has different government guidance and requirements that determine the safety of their communities and our employees. We’ve put in place a global framework that allows for tailored and flexible approaches with each office.

One example is how we’re exploring the concept of ‘neighborhoods’ in the office. Teams are assigned general areas, but not a fixed desk. Employees can reserve any desk based on when they decide to come in with their teams. Another example is our global return-to-office approach, bringing employees back two days a week, with each team having the autonomy to decide their own schedule.

When the pandemic first forced so many to shift to working remotely, people were able to lean into relationships and keep the spirit and the ethos alive and strong. But company cultures were then stretched and tested in the following months. As we all evolve our views on work, workplaces and workforce, the connective ‘glue’ of culture will be even more important.

What do you think the future of work will look like?

I’m optimistic about the future. There’s no doubt it will be both more digital and more human. We’ll have to blend the two to create powerful experiences.

For a long time, we may have taken for granted the ability to see our coworkers daily. We weren’t aware of how valuable that face time was. As we think about the future, there is an opportunity to strengthen the relationships we form with colleagues and teams, no matter where you are. New technologies will be a seamless thread that ties this all together. It will allow us to maintain flexibility and accommodate multiple methods of working.

In all our offices, we’re investing in the technology that will enable the hybrid workplace of the future. The goal is to have a seamless, inclusive experience no matter where you are. The space we just opened in New York is a testing ground that will bring new features – social spaces, open air spaces, new collaboration rooms and flexible floor design (think of a mosh pit) – to other offices around the world.

But, the future of work will not be definitively defined today. It will evolve over time. And, our employees will be instrumental in how we shape things going forward.


Photo: From Mastercard

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New Balance

New Balance

Joe Preston

president and CEO

I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all approach to the future of work. You must create a model that supports your business goals and prioritizes culture, leadership and inclusion to help employees perform at their best.”

What are the biggest changes you have made to your workplace policies since the pandemic?

Like many other companies, the pandemic has enabled New Balance to evolve how we work and reimagine the purpose of our workspace to support our associates and foster agility, flexibility, collaboration and teamwork. Trust and transparency are at the core of our model.

We have developed a ‘work-based hybrid approach,’ which identifies what type of work is most effectively done in person versus remotely. Based on this work-based approach, we are not defining an arbitrary number of days of in-office work. Instead, the amount of time an associate spends in the office will vary based on their role and responsibilities. Time in the office will be focused around innovation and collaboration, coaching and development, and we’ll continue to invest in technology to support global teamwork and connections.

What are some of the biggest hurdles you face as your employees either return to the office or embrace a new type of working model?

If there is one thing we learned during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is the importance of being adaptable. Recognizing the uncertainty that remains in the US and around the world, our return to the office will be a period of transition where we will all need to stay nimble and flexible. We remain committed to prioritizing the health and safety of our global associates and the communities where we work and live and will evolve our approach based on their best interests.

What do you think the future of work will look like?

I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all approach to the future of work. You must create a model that supports your business goals and prioritizes culture, leadership and inclusion to help employees perform at their best.

At New Balance, we are defining what the future of our work will mean by balancing our learnings from the pandemic with our unique culture, the various needs of our associates, and our strategic business objectives. To that end, we have adopted several philosophies that focus on associate performance, engagement and inspiration, and prioritize agility, empathy and continual learning to best foster our unique culture and ensure a global mindset.


Photo: Courtesy New Balance

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NRG Energy

NRG Energy

Mauricio Gutierrez

president and CEO

There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to optimal work hours and settings, so the important thing is for leaders to recognize this variation across their workforce and empower their teams to design a work experience that meets the needs of the business.”

What are the biggest changes you have made to your workplace policies since the pandemic?

The transition from normal operations to our pandemic protocols was primarily quick and seamless because we extended our safety protocols from the workplace into the home, encouraging employees to mask up and providing resources like virtual access to doctors, work-from-home ergonomics tips and access to online counseling.

I have always been a big supporter of in-person work. Our office environment is incredibly collaborative. We have an open environment and when we have questions for one another, we walk over and talk it out! Moving to calls and video for all communication was quite a shift for many of us.

Now, more than a year in, we’re finding that employees like the flexibility of remote work. As we return to the office, most in-office employees are adopting a hybrid model where they can still enjoy the flexibility of working remotely alongside the in-office collaboration that’s so difficult to replicate digitally.

What are some of the biggest hurdles you face as your employees either return to the office or embrace a new type of working model?

Our biggest hurdle has to do with the integration of Direct Energy, a business we acquired during the pandemic. Combining two companies with different cultures, integrating new business lines, and optimizing processes are difficult under typical circumstances — doing that work while remote is something entirely different. Now, as we’re adopting our hybrid in-office schedules, many people are officially “meeting” their new supervisors and colleagues for the first time while figuring out how to integrate our organizations. This is a very exciting time, but a time full of change nonetheless.

What do you think the future of work will look like?

I think the future of work will continue on the path of enhanced flexibility, with hybrid work environments and the deployment of tech that allows teams to operate in a way that fits their purpose. We’ve seen that there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to optimal work hours and settings, so the important thing is for leaders to recognize this variation across their workforce and empower their teams to design a work experience that meets the needs of the business.


Photo: Courtesy NRG Energy

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Petco

Petco

Ron Coughlin

chairman and CEO

Hopefully, the future of work will be a lot more pet-friendly, with a lot more furry love in it! That will go a long way toward making work more fun, healthy and productive at the same time.”

What are the biggest changes you have made to your workplace policies since the pandemic?

The pandemic challenged us all. But with a focus on the health and wellness of both pets and people, it’s also made us stronger.

In our Pet Care Centers, which have stayed open throughout the pandemic, we took countless steps to meet or exceed the ever-changing government regulations and CDC guidance. Whether implementing social distancing, rigorous cleaning and sanitizing protocols, mask requirements, or even introducing contactless curbside pick-up nationwide — we’re continuing to take every possible step to help keep our employees and customers safe.

Our corporate office employees have been working remotely for a year and a half now, and I couldn’t be more proud of how they continue to support our frontline workers and the pets and pet parents we serve.

Once we do return to the office, our policies will reflect the lessons we’ve learned over the past year, and while we’ll definitely return to an in-office culture where pets are a big part of the equation, there will be greater flexibility for hybrid solutions that make sense for our business and our people long term.

What are some of the biggest hurdles you face as your employees either return to the office or embrace a new type of working model?

Right now, one of the biggest hurdles I think all businesses face is getting as many people vaccinated as possible. As CEO of a company laser-focused on health and safety, that’s a top priority for me.

At Petco, for every partner who is fully vaccinated, we’re providing a one-time $75 payment, plus $25 to the Petco Partner Assistance Fund, which aids employees experiencing financial hardship. Fully vaccinated partners are also now automatically entered in a weekly drawing for 10 $1,000 prizes, and we’ll continue to encourage vaccination as we look to do our part in helping to keep our communities safe.

What do you think the future of work will look like?

Hopefully, the future of work will be a lot more pet-friendly, with a lot more furry love in it! That will go a long way toward making work more fun, healthy and productive at the same time.

With more than 11 million new pets in homes since the pandemic started, it’s no question pets have been our emotional saviors. They’ve been critical to our national sense of well-being and there’s a growing body of evidence that shows office pets also help reduce stress and increase creativity. So as businesses iron out their return-to-work plans, we’re encouraging more of them to re-open their doors to their employees’ pets, too.


Photo: Courtesy Petco

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Slack

Slack

Stewart Butterfield

co-founder and CEO

This is no time for retreat to the comfort of well-worn habits, or meager attempts to accommodate a restive workforce. This is a time for business leaders to build a better workplace and world.”

What are the biggest changes you have made to your workplace policies since the pandemic?

Like most companies before the pandemic, Slack was an office-centric company. But we learned over the last year that flexible work works — we were even more productive and innovative. We continued serving our customers and closing deals at a record pace with greater work-life balance.

Slack is now a digital-first company. Almost all employees can choose to work remotely and we’re advertising nearly all jobs as remote or office-based, with Slack as our digital HQ.

This is our flexible, digital-first approach:

• Executives will lead by example. There won’t be any dedicated executive floors in any of our offices, and executives will focus their office time on team events and customer interaction. Our guidance to leaders is to spend fewer than three days per week in the office.

• Getting teams together in person should have a purpose, such as teambuilding, project kickoffs and other events that are planned in advance, pairing flexibility with predictability.

• Shared space is for teamwork. While we’ll always support the needs of those who require individual space, the office is team- and customer-centric. We’ll have to experiment and redesign our shared space to be a more flexible, activity-based workplace for teams.

• We need to move away from a 9-to-5 schedule filled with unnecessary meetings.

• All employees have a “home” team with core hours tied to that team’s time zone and should have team-level agreements that blend time together with meeting-free zones.

Embracing this digital-first shift won’t happen overnight. But if we’re flexible while we learn, experiment and evolve, we’ll make work simpler, more pleasant and more productive.

What are some of the biggest hurdles you face as your employees either return to the office or embrace a new type of working model?

Today we have what is likely to be the greatest opportunity we will ever have in our lifetimes to reinvent and re-imagine how work gets done. From the way organizations are structured and how information is shared to the way we track progress and make decisions, everything is open to radical reconfiguration and fundamental improvements.

The greatest obstacle to fully taking advantage of this opportunity is the heavy gravitational pull of the status quo. It is hard to question everything and easy to fall back on old habits. Change is hard and experimentation can feel very risky. Flexible principles and an iterative approach will be key to navigating these challenges.

One thing we’ve learned from remote work is that employees are longing for deeper connections with each other. Since day one, we built Slack to foster productivity, but also human connection. It makes it easier for quick, friendly, spontaneous exchanges that resemble how we would talk to each other in real-life — in the kitchens, elevators or desk areas of a physical office.

At Slack, we’ve onboarded over 40% of our team since we went fully remote in March of last year. We’ve had to completely redesign our onboarding programs for new employees to make this work, but the effort has paid off.

Remote onboarding may be a new challenge, but by expanding our talent pool to more places, not only can we access more talent, we broaden economic opportunities. We need to keep developing asynchronous collaboration tools for people to work on their own time so that child care, elder care and other family obligations no longer have to be insurmountable obstacles. I also believe it gives more people — like introverts and others who may not be as comfortable speaking up in person — the chance to connect and make a greater impact.

What do you think the future of work will look like?

The future of work will be more flexible, inclusive, connected and productive. Businesses that thrive over the next decade will be those that embrace this bold reinvention.

The hard work of re-imagining the employee experience for a digital-first world will be rewarded with more talented and engaged employees, a workforce that better reflects the customers it serves, and a company that can confidently affect positive societal change. This is no time for retreat to the comfort of well-worn habits, or meager attempts to accommodate a restive workforce. This is a time for business leaders to build a better workplace and world.


Photo: Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images

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Stanley Black & Decker

Stanley Black & Decker

Jim Loree

CEO

The future of work will look like a more caring and compassionate place where employee well-being is prioritized. We’ve been mindful of the pressure and challenges our people face, and we’re committed to a culture of respect, inclusion, engagement and well-being for all.”

What are the biggest changes you have made to your workplace policies since the pandemic?

Like most manufacturers, we immediately instituted the basic Covid protocols, including mandatory masks, temperature taking, distancing workers on the line and case tracking.

In May 2020, when we surveyed our salaried employees worldwide, they told us they were confident we were taking the right steps regarding health and safety efforts. For those who were working virtually, the vast majority said they had quickly adapted to new ways of working and were feeling productive. They were finding virtual work to be largely a positive experience, and less than one-third said they were eager to get back to the office. This gave us a window of time to develop a more flexible work strategy reflecting “People Technology” at the center of our operating model.

Our new hybrid work model has roughly one-third of office-based employees working in a Stanley Black & Decker physical location, one-third working fully virtual and one-third flexing their time between working on site and virtually. This provides more flexibility for when, where and how work gets done.

Among our initiatives:

• We’re adding more open, collaborative individual workspaces and conference room space, plus phonebooth-style rooms for private calls. Our space will have far fewer enclosed cubicles and traditional closed-door offices, even for executives.

• We’re adding immersive collaboration technology to make the experience as equitable as possible, regardless of where people are working. We’ll bring virtual participants to the center of conference room tables instead of off to the side on a wall, for example.

What are some of the biggest hurdles you face as your employees either return to the office or embrace a new type of working model?

The pandemic has brought many challenges to people, personally and professionally.

We’ve improved our wellness offerings, including support for mental health, managing anxiety and stress, and helping parents with kids at home with homework assistance and resiliency programs, for example. We’re doing everything we can to make sure we have benefits, tools and resources available as we navigate this next stage of the pandemic, especially equipping our leaders to have frequent, empathetic conversations with their team members to stay connected to their ongoing needs.

In addition to our improved wellness offerings, we created guiding principles that support our culture, across all of Stanley Black & Decker. These commitments are designed to support a culture of respect, inclusion, engagement and well-being for all. They include:

• Prioritizing our work – and providing flexibility for personal needs

• Acting with compassion

• Being sensitive to family situations

• Respecting our colleagues’ time

• Taking care of our health and well-being

• Connecting and empathizing

What do you think the future of work will look like?

When people are empowered to follow a work style that suits their holistic needs, they are more engaged, higher performing and better connected to the organization’s purpose. We strive to equip our people with the environment to make this happen.

Our hybrid model includes redesigning our space for enhanced and simultaneous collaboration with colleagues who may be sitting a few feet away or a few thousand miles away.

Employee expectations for work flexibility have shifted and grown. We believe our hybrid approach will allow us to maintain and embed the positive aspects of virtual work while staying focused on the strategic priorities that have made us successful.

In addition to the physical differences, with a smaller office footprint and hybrid model where not every employee is in the office or onsite daily, the future of work will look like a more caring and compassionate place where employee well-being is prioritized. We’ve been mindful of the pressure and challenges our people face, and we’re committed to a culture of respect, inclusion, engagement and well-being for all.


Photo: Courtesy Stanley Black & Decker

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Zillow

Zillow

Rich Barton

co-founder and CEO

The future of the workforce is going to be more diverse… We see flexible work as a game changer that will help us attract and retain more diverse team members, from every corner of North America, who will bring new ideas and new energy to our company.”

What are the biggest changes you have made to your workplace policies since the pandemic?

Prior to the pandemic, we had a traditional office-centric culture at Zillow because we believed it was critical to our innovation and creativity. The pandemic completely upended that belief, and, in July of 2020, we announced a permanent policy that the vast majority (90%) of our people may decide where they will work, thrive and be the most productive.

Our change to a location-flexible, ‘cloud HQ’ means that employees can fit their work around their lives — instead of the other way around. We’re no longer asking our workforce to make personal compromises for their professional growth. We don’t think it’s coincidental that, according to our regular, internal surveys, employees are as productive and engaged as ever, and we’re seeing a record number of job applicants.

What are some of the biggest hurdles you face as your employees either return to the office or embrace a new type of working model?

The biggest challenge we anticipate is making sure everyone is on a level playing field, whether they are in one of our awesome offices, working remotely or in different time zones. Key to that is ensuring there is no advantage, subtle or overt, for those who are in person.

This has meant completely reimagining the purpose of the office and turning the 1950s notion of 9-to-5 on its head. We plan to use our offices for intentional in-person collaborative events, such as team gatherings and leadership development — not primarily for day-to-day desk work, except for employees who prefer working in an office and for roles that require them to be in the office for regulatory reasons. This is one way we will create equity for our location-flexible workforce.

It’s going to require a level of experimentation. Just like when you craft the beta version of a software program, we’re going to look for bugs and fix them fast. There will be policies and practices we initiate that work, and some that don’t, but we are committed to offering our employees the flexibility to show up to work as their best selves — in the cloud or in person.

What do you think the future of work will look like?

The workplace will look very different because historically, work and location have been inextricably tied together. Moving to the big city is no longer a requirement in pursuing economic opportunities for many, a revolutionary and long overdue unbinding that is changing where we live and how we work. Many are moving farther from the office and telling employers they prefer to come in less often.

The future of the workforce is also going to be more diverse, which is incredibly exciting. We learned a really important lesson during the pandemic when remote jobs were suddenly posted in large numbers: women and people of color are among those most likely to prefer those jobs.

For decades, companies have wanted to diversify their workforces. The pandemic-era shift to remote work highlighted that location, in a small number of big, coastal cities — and perhaps office work itself — was a roadblock. We drove a bulldozer through that barricade and we aren’t looking back. We’re now recruiting from everywhere, within a four-time-zone band. We see flexible work as a game changer that will help us attract and retain more diverse team members, from every corner of North America, who will bring new ideas and new energy to our company.


Photo: From Zillow

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Design and development by Tal Yellin

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