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CEOs’ workplace revival plans don’t rely on governments

April 22, 2020, 9:48 AM UTC

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Good morning.

Members of the Fortune CEO Initiative met virtually yesterday to discuss plans and protocols for getting employees back to the workplace. The meeting was held under the Chatham House rule, so I can’t quote CEOs by name. But what surprised me was their general determination to make their own decisions about the health and safety of workers, and not be driven by governments. As one said: “We aren’t going to return just because the government says it’s okay.”

The CEO of one global company, with tens of thousands of employees around the world, said he expects most of his workforce to continue to work from home “until Christmas.” Another CEO said her company, with hundreds of thousands of workers, would move gradually, starting with around 20% of workers in the first phase. She called the Christmas prediction “pretty accurate.” One West Coast CEO said it will be the second half of 2021 before a return to “true normalcy”. Another said: “I don’t think we will ever get back to normal.”

All seemed to have given great thought to phasing the return to work and creating new protocols at the office, such as social distancing, intensive cleaning, personal protective equipment, A/B teams, temperature checks, and, in some cases, in-office testing. But one CEO said what was still needed was “interoperability agreements”—protocols for sales and service people whose jobs depend on paying visits to clients and customers in other companies.

The participating CEOs mostly discussed the challenges of professional workers—many of whom have successfully adjusted to work from home. Largely undiscussed were the greater challenges facing workers who have no choice but to leave home to do their jobs—factory workers, maintenance workers, restaurant and retail staff, transportation workers, and so on. For them, the discussion of when to return to the work reflects a high-class problem.

For more on “Business in the Coronavirus Economy”, check out Fortune’s special report, which you can find online this morning here. Other news below.

Alan Murray


Stimulus package

The Senate yesterday approved a $484 billion bill containing aid for small businesses and hospitals; House approval is expected tomorrow. President Trump supports the legislation, which includes funding for increased coronavirus testing but not for state and local budgets—better luck next time. Fortune

Oil price

Oil futures continue to tumble, with Brent futures for June delivery down 12% to just $17 at one point this morning—that's a level not previously seen this century—and WTI futures little north of $11 a barrel. The markets fear the glut that caused Monday's historic minus $40.32 price for WTI is not going away. OPEC+ ministers held an unscheduled conference call yesterday, but don't seem to have agreed on any new policy measures to combat the problem. Bloomberg

Facebook investment

Facebook has invested $5.7 billion in Jio Platforms, controlled by India's richest man, Mukesh Ambani. The deal will plug together Facebook's WhatsApp and the ecommerce venture JioMart, so customers can connect with businesses. Netting Facebook a 10% stake in Jio Platforms, it's the social network's biggest purchase since that of WhatsApp some six years ago. Fortune

Facebook censorship

Vietnamese authorities reportedly strong-armed Facebook into boosting its censorship of "anti-state" posts by getting telecoms firms to strangle Facebook's local traffic. According to Reuters, the tactic saw Facebook's local servers knocked offline for seven weeks or so, making its website occasionally unusable. Facebook says it reluctantly complied with the government's restriction requests. Reuters


U.K. deaths

The Financial Times has crunched numbers from the U.K.'s Office for National Statistics and estimates COVID-19 has killed up to 41,000 people in the country—that's more than double the official death toll of 17,337 that ministers released Tuesday (a figure that only counts those who died in hospitals after testing positive for coronavirus infection). FT

Beijing gyms

Beijing's gyms, which were only allowed to reopen in recent weeks, have been forced to close again. The move on the weekend was sparked by official concerns over a new case of COVID-19 in the Chinese capital—a Chinese man who had just returned from studies in Florida. According to analysis from business information firm Qichacha, almost 7,000 Chinese fitness businesses went under or suspended operations in Q1. Now the survivors face another closure. CNBC

Military thinking

"Why do we have stockpile upon stockpile of arms and matériel for combat against human foes, but only a paltry supply of weapons against pathogenic enemies that could potentially claim millions more casualties?" ask epidemiologist Michael T. Osterholm and documentarian Mark Olshaker in a Fortune essay. "It comes down to this: We have failed to prepare for a war against microbes with the same urgency and resolve as we do a conventional war. And the difference shows in the business models we bring to each fight." Fortune

Earth Day

Yale's Jeff Sonnenfeld and Dan Esty write for Fortune about how America's leadership has largely shifted its thinking about the environment, on this 50th anniversary of what became known as Earth Day. They describe a virtual summit—it would have had a greater carbon footprint if not for COVID-19—in which a series of CEOs "explained how a sharpened environmental focus helped their businesses to cut costs, reduce risks, expand sales, and add value to their bottom line." Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.