The design challenge of hybrid work

June 21, 2021, 10:11 AM UTC

Good morning.

I know it’s become commonplace to say this, but sending everyone home from the office was so much easier than bringing everyone back. Then, there was a clear goal—the rules were imposed by the virus, and by health authorities. Now, there are no rules. Polls show the majority of knowledge workers want “hybrid,” and the majority of companies plan to give it to them. But figuring out what hybrid means remains a massive design challenge. (I certainly haven’t figured it out—I spent an entire day at the office last week doing nothing but nonstop Zoom calls.)

That’s why Fortune is fortunate this year to have teamed up with Salesforce and IBM to host Brainstorm Design. The main event will be an in-person gathering in Brooklyn on September 20-21. In the lead-up, we’ve been gathering top executives and thinkers virtually to explore how human-centered design can build a better world of work.

At last week’s meeting, SYPartners CEO Jessica Orkin nicely defined both the challenge and the opportunity. “2020 was a year of the future crashing into all of us,” she said. “Suddenly, from having a small handful of transformational CEOs, every leader had to become a transformational CEO.” One way or another, every leader also will have to become skilled in design, which Orkin said “is the method of envisioning the future, and then rearranging every element to make it a powerful reality.”

Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian said at the center of that process is empathy—truly understanding both whom you are designing for, and who is doing the designing. At Hyatt, he says, the process “really begins with our colleagues, because if our colleagues are not cared for, then they can’t care for our guests.” Walker Brands CEO Tristan Walker underscored how far we are from an answer: “We are on page one of chapter one of book one of this journey.”

At Fortune, we plan to stay on top of the rapidly evolving thinking about the post-pandemic workplace. If you are interested, I’d suggest subscribing to CEO Daily’s sister newsletter, Worksheet, here, and also visit our Smarter Working hub here. If you want more information about Brainstorm Design, sign up here. And as always, I welcome your thoughts; just reply directly to this email.

More news below.

Alan Murray


Universal deal

Special acquisition company Pershing Square Tontine Holdings will pay $4 billion for a 10% stake in Universal Music Group. It's a first-of-its-kind transaction for a SPAC. Bill Ackman's vehicle will continue to exist after the deal. Financial Times

Xinjiang criticism

VF Corp, the maker of North Face jackets and Vans sneakers, reinstated criticism of alleged forced labor in China's Xinjiang province after removing it earlier this year. The removal and reinstatement both took place after H&M was virtually erased in China over its stance on the issue. Wall Street Journal

Bitcoin slump

China's intensifying cryptocurrency crackdown has given Bitcoin a further knock—it dipped below $33,000 this morning. The ongoing slide also comes in the context of a broader retreat in assets. Fortune

Destroying stock

An ITV News investigation in the U.K. has shown Amazon to be destroying millions of items of unsold stock—largely new and unused—every year. This is a recurring story (here's a German version from a few years ago) and Amazon has previously said it is committed to minimizing product waste. Is it, though? ITV News


WTO survival

The World Trade Organization's future hinges on the debate over a COVID-19 vaccine patent waiver, claim waiver advocates such as South African Ambassador Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter and Lori Wallach, the founder of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. Big pharma and at least one trade expert disagree. Fortune

Digital currency

Asia has "pulled ahead in the global race to develop digital currencies that are backed by central banks," writes Fortune's Yvonne Lau, citing recent announcements in Hong Kong and South Korea. Fortune

Oil price

Some traders think it's possible the oil price could spike to $100/barrel. However, the rising price of oil could be brought back down to earth by faltering reopenings. Fortune

Laschet interview

Armin Laschet is the frontrunner to succeed Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor, so it's worth paying attention to his thoughts. Which include: "Yes, China is a competitor and a systemic rival, it has a different model of society, but it’s also a partner, particularly in things like fighting climate change" and "Ignoring Russia has served neither our nor the U.S.’ interests." Financial Times

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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