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Protocol | Workplace
Your guide to the new world of work, every Wednesday.
Photo: Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

Video meetings are draining. Try something more casual.

Two workers video chat with colleagues

Hello, and welcome to the second issue of Protocol | Workplace. For those of you only just joining us, this weekly newsletter is dedicated to every aspect of the future of work — from diversity issues to Slack hacks, management theories to unionization plans and ERGs to KPIs. We hope you find it useful, and want all your feedback: workplace@protocol.com.

This week: why you shouldn't hold on to your ideas about the future of work too tightly, another DEI lead bites the dust, and try quitting video meetings for something more casual.

(Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get Workplace every Wednesday.)

The Workforce

The four-day workweek

It might sound like a fantasy — and maybe ultimately it is! — but momentum for the four-day workweek is starting to gain just a teensy bit of steam. The national campaign for a #4DayWeek is asking companies to sign up to launch a pilot program in 2022, and Kickstarter has just announced it is the first company on board. (Kickstarter is a pretty progressive workplace, by the way, and was one of the first tech companies to unionize).

  • The pilot program, run by 4 Day Week Global, is open for sign-ups from companies from June to September. The program includes support for planning the pilot from October to December, followed by the actual pilot running for all the signed-up companies from January to June next year.

Companies can be just as productive (and afford to keep salaries the same) while reducing the working week to 32 hours, the campaign argues. Because workers experience less stress and burnout, better mental health and more family time on a four-day week, it says, they become more productive and engaged.

  • There haven't been a ton of four-day week trials, though, so even if your company doesn't sign up it may be worth paying attention to the results next year.


— Anna Kramer (twitter | email)

Office Politics

Unions, unions everywhere

The Teamsters Union is the latest to take on Amazon in the growing union war. Organizing the company has proven to be the Everest of tech unionization: Every major effort there in the last decade has failed spectacularly, and the latest union election in Bessemer, Alabama went in favor of Amazon by more than a 2:1 ratio.

  • But the Teamsters clearly think they can succeed where others have failed. A vote within the Teamsters Union on making unionization of Amazon workers a national priority won by 99% of the vote. The victory will lead to the creation of a special unit just for organizing Amazon workers, along with additional funding and more attention on the effort at the national union level.
  • The idea was so popular with the Teamsters because the union's leadership sees Amazon as its greatest threat. Teamsters is one of the largest unions in the U.S., and Amazon is the country's second-largest employer. Amazon employs more than 100,000 drivers through its contractor partners, and so the union feels that it needs to represent those workers if it wants to maintain its power in setting standards in the industry.

In other tech union news in the last week, the workers at tech-darling health care provider One Medical are unionizing, too.

—AK

Get Stuff Done

Huddles > meetings

You're having too many meetings. That's the best, most consistent piece of advice remote-first companies will give you. They're too formal, too draining, just too much in general.

There's a better way to meet, and it's called the huddle. That's what Slack calls it, anyway. It's launching a new feature that lets you create a live audio space in any channel, as if you've just hopped into a conference room, and folks can come and go as they please.

  • Discord really pioneered this format, with its Voice and Video Channels. It's a way of bringing people together that feels less scheduled and intense, and it really does work.
  • Slack is leaning hard into audio-first communication, too. "I personally have moved all of my one-on-ones to audio-only huddles," said Tamar Yehoshua, Slack's chief product officer, "as I find it's less tiring and more collaborative, and it feels more natural."
  • Video's better suited to asynchronous chat, Slack thinks, which is why it's also adding Loom-style video and screen-recording to the app as well.

The huddle can work in lots of ways: Rally turns calls into sort of a virtual cafeteria, where you can sit down at any table and chat with whoever's there; Rume adds games to make the whole thing feel a little more casual. This is about making video chat less like a meeting and more like, well, a chat. That goes a long way toward mitigating — though not solving — the fatigue that comes from a day of back-to-back Zooms. And seriously: Turn off the camera more often.


— David Pierce (twitter | email)

A MESSAGE FROM ZOOM

A survey of 12,000 employees by Boston Consulting Group found 60% of respondents want flexibility as far as where and when they work. As the world plans to safely reopen businesses, educational institutions, health care facilities and government entities, we are focused on innovating across our platform to support their needs.

Learn more

Job Descriptions

'Give grace and give space'

That phrase has become a mantra at Gusto as the company endeavors to figure out what the future of work looks like for its own staff and customers. "It's very clear that one-size-fits-all isn't going to cut it," Danielle Brown, Gusto's chief people officer, said on this week's Protocol | Workplace virtual event, Redesigning the 9-5. But building a system that works for everyone is tough, and her role requires patience and flexibility, said Brown.

It's important not to hold on to ideas too tightly, Brown said. Gusto's leadership has lots of thoughts about how things are supposed to work in the future, but it's planning to be flexible.

  • "Give grace and give space" means "be willing to listen, be willing to learn, not be too rigid," Brown said. "We've got all these ideas about how [the future of work is] going to work, we might get back and realize a lot of it doesn't work, and you've got to be willing to throw it out of the window, really adjust and learn, and listen to people."

Long-term plans are hard to make right now. Brown said she's trying to figure out what remote and hybrid work look like, both for her team and for Gusto's customers, especially once the pandemic is over.

  • In particular, she's trying to figure out how to continue fostering the kind of in-person interactions that create what she called "the specialness, the community, the culture, the connectedness, how it feels to be part of our workplace." That, she said, is just as hard as making sure the work gets done.

Her sweet spot for hybrid work, by the way? Two days a week at the office, three at home. Everyone in our event agreed that felt like the right number. But who knows? Maybe it's wrong! "I'm going to follow my own mantra," Brown said. "Give grace and give space."

— DP

At The Office

Empty chairs at empty tables

Offices are reopening, but employees aren't exactly flooding back so far. Only a couple hundred VMware employees have been showing up to the company's newly reopened Palo Alto HQ — which had a capacity of around 6,500 before the pandemic.

Many companies are reimagining office space, and VMware is no exception: It's revamping its HQ to be 50% to 70% collaboration space by getting rid of most individual desks.

  • All told, the software giant said its main office could accommodate as many as 8,000 employees once it's done renovating. But given that VMware is allowing most employees to work from anywhere long term, it remains to be seen how much use its big offices will actually get.

But are companies just clinging on to the past? GitLab's head of remote, Darren Murph, told me this week that he sees remaining in offices — even when they're repurposed as collaboration hubs — as "a nostalgic thing where you're trying to hang on to the past."

  • "I do not envision 8,000 people coming back for meetings," Murph said. "I just question the utility of repurposing that office to do something that you're actively teaching people to do without an office."

— Allison Levitsky (twitter | email)

DEI

Another DEI lead bites the dust

There's a narrative that the head of diversity role sees a lot of turnover. We haven't crunched the numbers (yet), but the impending departure of Pinterest's Tyi McCray supports that characterization. Earlier this week, Protocol's Issie Lapowsky reported McCray will be leaving the company this month after less than one year on the job.

  • McCray joined Pinterest around the same time the company was under fire for its treatment of two Black employees, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks.
  • In May, Pinterest's diversity report revealed it's still largely a white company.
  • Pinterest isn't the only company to lose a diversity lead so quickly. In 2017, Apple's then-VP of diversity and inclusion, Denise Young Smith, left the company after about six months on the job.

— Megan Rose Dickey (twitter | email)

A MESSAGE FROM ZOOM

A survey of 12,000 employees by Boston Consulting Group found 60% of respondents want flexibility as far as where and when they work. As the world plans to safely reopen businesses, educational institutions, health care facilities and government entities, we are focused on innovating across our platform to support their needs.

Learn more

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to workplace@protocol.com. Have a great week, see you next Wednesday.

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