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When it comes to hybrid work, Goldman Sachs is an outlier

March 14, 2022, 10:30 AM UTC

Good morning.

Post-pandemic life is beginning to come into focus, but post-pandemic work⁠—particularly the sort that used to be done in offices⁠—remains a blur. Fortune’s Geoff Colvin wrote last week about Goldman Sachs’ effort to get employees back to the office five days a week. “The secret sauce to our organization,” CEO David Solomon told him, “is [that] we attract thousands of really extraordinary young people who come to Goldman Sachs to learn to work, to create a network of other extraordinary people, and work very hard to serve our clients.” But Goldman is an outlier. Just a few steps down the street, American Express CEO Stephen Squeri laid out for me a radically different vision, saying that 40% of his employees will continue to work remotely, and the remainder will be required to work at the office only two days a week. “Hybrid” is the byword adopted by most companies—a catchall term that is defined only by its lack of definition.

I have spent a lot of time on this subject over the past year and a half, reading research, talking to CEOs, and talking with Fortune’s own employees. Generalizations are difficult, since every person’s and every organization’s situation and needs are different. But some things can be said with a high degree of confidence:

  • Productivity did not decline during the pandemic. Indeed, in most cases it went up. Increased flexibility and decreased commuting time made it possible for people to get more work done. Even Goldman Sachs acknowledges that—the past two years were the firm’s best ever.
  • Organizational culture, in most cases, did fray. There is little doubt that the so-called Great Resignation is driven in part by employees who feel less bound to their current employer, and therefore are more willing to jump at opportunities that offer marginally better pay, career advancement, or alignment with their values.
  • That said, pre-pandemic office cultures were often less than ideal. Research shows that while the sense of “belonging” at work declined for most employees, it actually increased, on average, for members of underrepresented groups. Office culture created feelings of exclusion.
  • “Strong ties,” on average, have stayed strong. Teams of people who work together frequently have done a good job using digital tools to keep their members connected during the pandemic. And in many cases, their efforts have become more inclusive. Every box is an equal size on Zoom.
  • “Weak ties,” however, have weakened. The serendipitous office interactions that helped lubricate cooperation between teams have evaporated, decreasing trust and making cross-silo cooperation more difficult. I’ve seen that at Fortune, and other CEOs confirm the same.

So where does that leave us? Struggling to create a future of office work that combines the best of the old with the best of the new, and better serves the needs of both employees and organizations. That turns out easier to say than do. For instance, many companies embracing hybrid are leaving it to individual teams to decide which days to come into the office. But team leaders often struggle to balance conflicting demands of team members. And a team approach does little to address the fraying of “weak ties”—since different teams may gather at different times. Meanwhile, fully remote workers worry they’ll become second-class citizens as office culture returns.

There’s still a lot to sort out on this subject. Much of my knowledge comes from the excellent quantitative and qualitative research done by Brian Elliott, Sheela Subramanian, Helen Kupp, and their team at the Future Forum, which was set up by Slack early in the pandemic to explore such questions. (Fortune is a partner of the forum.) They’ve written a book, out May 17, that provides a useful road map for organizations trying to make their way to a better future. You can preorder here.

By the way, when I spoke with Squeri, he said his company’s data suggests business travel is coming back somewhat faster than expected. But that’s not because companies are sending more folks out on sales and customer visits. Rather, it’s because they are bringing people in for team meetings and other “culture building” exercises. He expects business travel to be back to pre-pandemic levels by the end of next year.

More news below.

Alan Murray
@alansmurray

alan.murray@fortune.com

TOP NEWS

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Tencent plunge

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Journalist death

The American journalist Brent Renaud was shot dead by Russian forces in Ukraine. He was on assignment for Time magazine, the leadership of which says it “is essential that journalists are able to safely cover this ongoing invasion and humanitarian crisis.” Renaud was the first foreign journalist to be killed in the war. Time

Russian default

The International Monetary Fund no longer sees a Russian sovereign default as an “improbable event.” The thing to watch for now is a scheduled payment of $117 million on two dollar-denominated bonds on Wednesday. Fortune

AROUND THE WATERCOOLER

Novavax demand

Remember when loads of people said they’d get vaccinated against COVID-19 but only when they could receive a conventional vaccine like Novavax? In Europe, it turns out, the demand isn’t so high in reality: Across the continent, Novavax uptake is off to a slow start. (Bonus read: Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla thinks a fourth dose is necessary.) Reuters

Chornobyl reconnected

The old Chornobyl (Ukrainian spelling of the Russian “Chernobyl”) nuclear plant is once again connected to its power supply line, after having been cut off following Russia’s takeover of the site. However, its staff still haven’t been rotated and, exhausted, are reportedly no longer repairing and maintaining safety-related equipment. CBS News

Russian jets

Bermuda has deregistered all Russia-tied aircraft, as sanctions have left its aviation authorities “unable to confidently approve these aircraft as being airworthy.” A lot of Russian airlines’ aircraft were registered in Bermuda, and the move will probably lead to the planes’ devaluation. Fortune

No “Death to Putin”

Meta seems to have changed its mind about letting people in certain Russia-neighboring countries call for Putin’s death on Facebook. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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