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Why IBM is opting for ‘intentionally flexible’ working

October 12, 2021, 10:16 AM UTC

Good morning.

Here’s a thought from day one of the Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington: it may be time to drop the term “hybrid.”

“I think the word hybrid is super loaded,” said Colleen McCreary, whose job is chief people, places and publicity officer for Credit Karma. “It locks you into certain ways of working. Flexible work is what we are talking about. We are freeing up the conversation to think about things we never thought about before.”

“We don’t call it hybrid. We don’t call it flexible. We call it being intentionally flexible,” said Nickle LaMoreaux, chief human resource officer at IBM. “It’s about people coming together as a team and intentionally deciding what flexibility works for them and their team.”

The two were speaking at a session on “The Great Hybrid Experiment,” which was at the start of Fortune’s first in-person event since the pandemic hit. There are more than 300 prominent female executives attending. All have been vaccinated. All have been tested within the last 72 hours. All are wearing masks except when speaking onstage or eating. And all seem truly excited to be together in person—many for the first time in 18 months.

A few more takeaways from the session:

“We don’t want to come to the office and sit in front of our laptops or a video screen to talk to people who aren’t there. We will be reconfiguring our space to be someplace where collaboration and team building happens. It’s really about the experiences we want to happen.”
Francine Katsoudas, chief people, policy and purpose officer at Cisco

“Job seekers are demanding you do good in the world. They are demanding you have an inclusive environment. And they are demanding you have a flexible schedule.”
—LaFawn Davis, group vice president, ESG, at Indeed

“You are missing a huge opportunity if you just focus on where, and don’t focus on when and what…Not since the industrial revolution have people really had the opportunity to dissect work.”

“Even if you have a very distributed workforce, you have to find the opportunity to bring people together, to take the time for events, offsites, conferences, to build the glue, and be intentional about what those experiences are.”

“No one has figured this out. No one is ahead on this.”

In my attempt to figure it out, I read this weekend a review copy of a book coming out later this month called The Workplace You Need Now, by Sanjay Rishi, who runs JLL’s corporate solutions business, and two of his colleagues. It struck me that office designers now face the same challenge that retailers have faced for two decades. With the rise of digital, it’s no longer good enough for spaces to be functional. They need to be “experiential”—to make people want to be there for experiences they can’t get elsewhere.

By the way, the highlight of day one of the MPW Summit for me was a lively debate at my dinner table between the CEO of a New York investment bank who argued workers need to get back to the office full time and the CFO of a California tech company who insisted remote work is here to stay. That one was off the record, so I can’t report it here. But the clash of business cultures between the coasts remains strong.

You can follow more from the summit here. I’ll have more to report tomorrow. Other news below.

Alan Murray


Georgieva cleared

The International Monetary Fund has cleared its managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, of playing "an improper role" in the handling of China's ranking by her previous employer, the World Bank. It has been alleged that World Bank staff were pressured to boost China in business-climate rankings. The U.S. Treasury said there were "legitimate issues and concerns" but "absent further direct evidence with regard to the role of the managing director there is not a basis for a change in IMF leadership." Fortune

Vaccine spat

Russia has strenuously denied sending agents to steal the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine "blueprint" and make it the basis for the Sputnik V jab. A British tabloid had claimed that, according to U.K. intelligence, the data had been stolen in person. Crying "fake news," the Russian vaccine's backers point out that Sputnik V and AstraZeneca's vaccine may use the same core technology, but there are significant differences. Fortune

Evergrande payments

Evergrande's failure to make interest payments on offshore bonds continues: It was supposed to pay a total of $148 million today, but apparently failed to do so. The stricken Chinese property giant has now skipped at least five interest payments. Official default looms. Financial Times

Samsung chair

Samsung chairman Lee Jae-yong, also known as Jay Y. Lee, has admitted in court to unlawfully using a controlled sedative. Lee apparently used propofol 41 times between 2015 and 2020, and claims to have initially done so for treatment. He was only paroled in August after being jailed for bribery and embezzlement. Reuters


U.K. pandemic

The British government's initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic last year was "one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced," according to a report from lawmakers. Mistakes included an apparent but unofficial "herd immunity" policy, and general dithering by Boris Johnson's administration. CNBC

More inequality

We've seen it before with the COVID-19 vaccines, and now we might be seeing it again: rich countries have been buying up supplies of Merck's promising COVID antiviral pill before it is even approved, raising concerns that poorer countries will be left in the lurch. Merck, it should be noted, is licensing molnupiravir to generic-drug manufacturers, so as to increase access. Fortune

Rate cuts

Mortgage-crisis soothsayer Nouriel Roubini reckons the Federal Reserve will "wimp out" when considering whether to tighten policy if growth slows and markets sell off. The Roubini Macro Associates chief sees stagflation persisting "for several quarters." Fortune

Worthless Bitcoin

Jamie Dimon has again reiterated his belief that "Bitcoin is worthless," this time at a meeting of the Institute of International Finance. He added: "Our clients are adults, they disagree, that’s what makes markets, so if they want to have access to buy yourself Bitcoin, we can’t custody it but we can give them legitimate, as-clean-as-possible access." Bitcoin's value has increased by around 15% over the last week, and its ascent remained unbroken by Dimon's thoughts. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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