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The new ‘battle for talent’: How to get staff back in the office

April 8, 2022, 9:13 AM UTC

Good morning.

This was a big week at Fortune’s Manhattan offices. We had more people on hand than at any time since March 12, 2020. (Pro tip: Free food and after-hours drinks definitely lubricate the return to office.) The atmosphere was electric. Human beings are social animals, and important things—as well as some not-so-important things—happen when all the senses are activated.

Turns out, most business leaders agree.

Microsoft research found that 50% of business leaders say their company requires, or plans to require, full-time in-person work sometime this year. And a separate GoodHire survey showed 77% of U.S. managers would be willing to implement “severe consequences”—including firing workers or cutting pay and benefits—for those who refuse to return. A survey of U.S. full-time workers by Workhuman found that half of them are already being required to show up at the office. And even techies are questioning whether technology can substitute for human contact. For younger people especially, says former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, the office is “when they learn. If you miss out [on that] because you are sitting at home on the sofa while you’re working, I don’t know how you build great management.”

In the desperate effort to attract and retain workers, however, many companies still feel they must thread the needle between their desire to bring employees back to the office and their employees’ desire for flexibility. 

“If there’s a battle for talent,” one observer said, “talent has won.” As a result, some companies are requiring three days a week at the office; others only two. But even this “hybrid” approach remains a muddle. I had my own taste of the challenge Tuesday, while speaking to a group that included 20 people assembled around a large conference table, and four people on a screen. If I stood at one end of the table, my back was to the camera. If I stood at the other, I was the size of a flea. And requiring 20 people to use their computers for the sake of four who weren’t there seemed silly. What to do? If anyone has the magic answer, please send my way.

Meanwhile, neither the pandemic nor age has stopped 86-year-old activist investor Carl Icahn from working his disruptive ways. He’s taking on Las Vegas utility Southwest Gas Holdings, in hopes of getting it to sell its energy construction company. Icahn laid out his attack strategy for Fortune’s Shawn Tully, which you can read this morning here

His general approach to the job he loves: “Some people get rich studying artificial intelligence. Me, I make money studying natural stupidity.”

More news below.

Alan Murray


Markets bounce back

Stocks in Asia and Europe are solidly in the green this morning. Further evidence of a risk-on mood: U.S. futures are rebounding, looking to end a rough week on a positive note. Investors are breathing a sigh of relief that oil prices continue to hover in a range around $100 (even if lockdowns in Shanghai are the big culprit). CNBC

Making history

Ketanji Brown Jackson made American jurisprudence history on Thursday, cinching confirmation as the first Black woman named Supreme Court justice. Following a 53–47 vote, she'll take her seat this summer, replacing the retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. Bonus read: Defense attorney, trial lawyer, and appellate advocate Andrey Spektor says watch how Justice Jackson handles cases involving white-collar crime. Fortune

Breaking news: unanimous agreement in the Senate 

By a 100-0 vote (you don't see that often), the U.S. Senate voted to formally suspend trade ties with Russia. The freeze-out vote had been building for weeks, since the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine. Here's what the vote means for trade relations. Fortune

U.N. gives Russia the boot

In a historic 93–24 vote (with 58 abstentions), the United Nations members on Thursday suspended Russia's seat on one of its most consequential deliberating forums: the Human Rights Council. Russia joins Libya as the only nation ever to be kicked off the council. Also yesterday, Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky says the situation in Borodyanka is even worse than what they found in Bucha. CNBC


Peak inflation?

Some good news/bad news on the inflation front. UBS economists believe next week's consumer price index figure will be one for the record books, hitting 8.5%. The better news: That will mostly likely be the high-water mark. More good news: We should see gas prices begin to decline in the coming weeks. Fortune

Stock-picking politicians

The Capitol Hill debate on whether elected officials should be permitted to actively trade stocks is back. This time, a group of congressional Democrats want to see a new law forbidding the practice for those in elected office, contending such a rule would go some way toward restoring the public trust in lawmakers. “We are elected to serve the people, not stock portfolios,” Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse said a news conference yesterday. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Bernhard Warner.

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