Miss Your Office? Some Companies Are Building Virtual Replicas

https://www.wsj.com/articles/miss-your-office-some-companies-are-building-virtual-replicas-11590573600

Stay-home orders and the shuttering of workplaces have given corporate employees some respite from getting dragged into time-wasting water-cooler conversations.


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But some companies and their employees don’t want to leave everything about the office behind, it turns out, and are replicating their offices in “SimCity”-like simulations online.

File-transfer service WeTransfer BV opened its virtual space on May 1, almost seven weeks after closing its physical offices in New York, Los Angeles and Amsterdam as part of the global effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Graphics reminiscent of early “Tomb Raider” videogames depict a version of the company’s Dutch headquarters, adapted to include pool tables, techno music and in-jokes such as a “memorial” library named for the very- much-alive chief creative officer. Staff roam around in the form of avatars such as robots and panda bears.

Gordon Willoughby, the chief executive of WeTransfer, said the platform helps provide the social experience of office life in the way that Zoom calls and Slack have replaced business meetings and desk-side chats. That is particularly valuable for recent hires, he said.

“Those of us who have been working at WeTransfer for a while are able to live off the social capital we built up from all those serendipitous meetings and chats before,” Mr. Willoughby said. “For new people, that’s much harder. The 3-D office is a really good way of maintaining that unplanned connectivity.”

WeTransfer employees tend to use the virtual world for daily stand-up meetings and happy hours; business planning is kept to tools such as Google Hangouts. Julia Shapiro, senior director of marketing in the company’s Los Angeles office, said the simulated office offers a welcome change of scenery from her kitchen table, where she has been working during the lockdown.

“It adds a little excitement to what would just be eight hours of video calls in a day,” she said.

Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc., Coinbase Inc. and Shopify Inc. recently said many of their employees will work remotely in the future, even after the pandemic recedes. But some employers worry about losing positive elements of a shared workplace, such as the serendipity of in-person interactions.

A crop of technology companies stand ready to help.

Sine Wave Entertainment Ltd. last month introduced Breakroom, a virtual-world product for remote workforces. It can accommodate all-hands meetings, secure one-on-ones and document sharing. Clients of the product include Virgin Group Ltd. and Torque Esports Corp.

Many customers initially assume they will recreate their offices, then realize they can make tweaks that would be impossible in the real world, said Sine Wave CEO Rohan Freeman.

“We spend our lives wishing we were working in open, sunny campuses with butterflies outside,” Mr. Freeman said. “Here you can realize that dream.”

Although clients can use Breakroom to create their office utopia, the platform also enables real-world elements such additional privileges for senior staff. In Sine Wave’s own virtual world, senior members can lock the boardroom, which is located on top of a hill overlooking the rest of the office.

Some virtual office spaces predate the pandemic.

Italian energy company Enel SpA has been working with Spatial Systems Inc. over the past year to assemble workers as avatars in a meeting room combining augmented reality and virtual reality.

Marina Lombardi, head of new technologies and innovation-network technology and innovation at Enel, said the service has proven to be particularly valuable during emergencies, “when the need for colleagues to be connected in the fastest and most effective way becomes vital.”

“The tool is going to be even more important in the situation of prolonged remote work generated by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Ms. Lombardi said.

Unlike real estate, there is no standard formula to calculate the price of a virtual office. Enel wouldn’t divulge how much it spends on Spatial. Breakroom costs $500 a month for up to 50 employees. WeTransfer hired agencies Achtung mcgarrybowen and Isobar to create a proprietary virtual office and doesn’t have to pay a monthly license to use the space.

Educators are exploring the concept as well.

The School of Communication Arts in London is on its second simulation since it closed its physical doors on March 16. Marc Lewis, the college’s dean, has committed to spending £10,000 on testing virtual office products to host lectures and keep connected to students.

Students now use a platform called Walkabout to traverse their own digital offices—a perk they don’t receive in the real world—as well as hangouts such as a bar and a smoking area. Avatars don’t drink or smoke there, but the décor is designed to encourage more casual, spontaneous conversation. The hangout areas also act as de facto meeting spaces if other rooms are occupied.

WeTransfer plans to keep the virtual office once its physical equivalents reopen. Mr. Willoughby wants to see more remote working even after the coronavirus pandemic abates, and said the platform will help in that transition.

“But I’m not sure we’re going to allow people to create their perfect office,” he said. “I don’t want to raise expectations of the physical space too much.”

Write to Katie Deighton at katie.deighton@wsj.com

Whataburger Is Giving Out Free Burgers Through Memorial Day

Memorial Day isn’t going to involve a giant crowd of friends fishing beers out of a sweaty cooler or jostling with parkgoers over who had the public grill first. But you’re making a mistake if you don’t think it can still involve grilling, beer, and burgers. 

Though, if you’re feeling lazy or just want to get your pre-Memorial Day burger fix ASAP, Whataburger is going to get the wheels greased. From May 18-25, you can get a free Whataburger when you purchase one online. You’ll only be able to do it online, though, either through the Whataburger site or the Whataburger app. 

That’s double the Fasties-nominated entrée for the same price as a single burger. Clearly, the southern burger slingers don’t have pressing concerns about the beef shortages that have impacted Wendy’s.

Additionally, if you’re unfamiliar with the chain’s app, you’ll find other freebies there. Its reward program gives you a reward for five Whataburger visits, letting you choose between a Whataburger Jr., a Taquito with Cheese, Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit, and other items. Get your BOGO burgers and you’re one-fifth of the way to another free burger. 

https://www.thrillist.com/news/nation/whataburger-buy-one-get-one-deal-memorial-day

The Social Distancing Consultant Will See You Now

The Cafe Rothe recently reopened after Germany lifted coronavirus lockdown measures.

Sometime last month, architects and interior designers everywhere traded in their old job titles for a shiny new one: Social distancing consultant.

After a binge-read of the CDC’s reopening guidelines, they’ve started shopping out their skills to restaurants, airlines, and malls — businesses that need to reinvent themselves for a 6-feet-apart world.

Pandemic planners are in high demand: Companies only have so much space to play around with.

Without statistical models to guide them, you can imagine restaurant employees crawling across the floor with rulers in hand on their first day back to work.

Your consultant friend can finally explain what they do 

Marker found several firms that have leaned into the rebrand:

  • The design giant Gensler launched a $600+/month service called ReRun, which helps companies sort through the employees that most need to return to work and rejiggers office space to fit them.
  • When WeWork needed to redo its office, it rang Arup, an architecture and engineering firm, to produce a 16-page reopening booklet.
  • The MASS Design Group is deploying its Covid-19 Response Team to help hospitals clean their workspaces. One idea: Kill germs with an army of ultraviolet lights.
  • Even SimpliFlying, a company that once specialized in offering social media strategy to airlines, now gets much of its income from shelling out social distancing tips.

The consultants recommend buying a raft of social distancing tools — like giant stickers that remind people to stay apart, and a whole lot of thermal scanners. Other jobs could soon take off — like in-flight janitors.

But the new consulting frontier is still a mixed bag  

Other players are pivoting in the opposite direction: B2B companies are leapfrogging CEOs and pitching straight to employees who work from home. They’re offering virtual fitness classes, mental health services, and — of course — refillable snack supplies.

If you’re thinking of hiring a consultant, keep in mind: Hardware like buzzing wristbands may be nice, but you can still find low-tech social distancing solutions on the cheap.

To keep its customers apart, a German cafe is handing out hats equipped with foam pool noodles.

May 15th, 2020 The Hustle (thehustle.co)

How Do You Measure Your Efficiency?

Ben Mulholland explains this nicely over at Process Street. Productivity “measures output over time, whereas efficiency measures input versus output. Together they can tell you how quickly something is completed, the resources it takes to get there, and (through analysis) whether the whole thing is worth your investment.”

Or, as Jessica Greene from Zapier, explains, “Productivity measures how much you do or produce within a given timeframe. Efficiency, on the other hand, is about being productive with less effort.”

“So if you answered 50 more customer support tickets this week because you worked through them as fast as possible, you were more productive,” writes Jessica. “But if you answered 50 more tickets because you used a text expansion app to respond to commonly asked questions, you were more productive and more efficient.”

In other words, “to be more productive in a way that won’t burn you out in the long run, you have to figure out how to be more efficient.”

Hopefully, this clears the difference between productivity and efficiency. But, more importantly, I hope that you understand why it’s essential to measure your efficiency. And, here’s how you can do just that.

Performance metrics.

If you have employees, you probably use performance metrics to see how, well, they’re performing. Typically, they fall into one of the following four categories.

Work quality metrics

“Work quality metrics say something about the quality of the employee’s performance,” explains Erik van Vulpen over at HR Analytics. “The best-known metric is a subjective appraisal by the direct manager.”

Examples include:

  • Management by objectives. The management objectives are goals that an employee works towards and receives points if he reaches them.
  • Subjective appraisal by the manager. Usually, a nine-box grid holds the stats for assessing performance and potential done by the manager.
  • Product defects. Product defects are usually involved in an industry that manufactures products. You could determine performance by the number of defects the employee was responsible for.
  • The number of errors. Similar to the above, the “number of errors” can be applied to programming.
  • Net promoter score. “NPS is a number (usually between 1 and 10) which represents the willingness of a client to recommend a company’s service to other potential clients,” explains Erik van Vulpen.
  • 360-degree feedback. 360-feedback is when peers, subordinates, customers, and managers are asked to asses the individual’s performance.
  • 180-degree feedback. 180-degree feedback is a simpler alternative to the above where only direct colleagues and managers are involved.
  • Forced ranking. Forced ranking is when a manager ranks their team from best to worst.

Work quantity metrics

“As quantity is often easier to measure than quality, there are multiple ways to measure this employee performance metric,” notes Erik van Vulpen.

  • The number of sales. Applicable if this is you or your employee’s responsibility. You may also want to look at the number of (potential) client contacts one has, the number of phone calls one makes — the number of company visits and the number of active leads.
  • The number of units produced. Besides traditional manufacturing, this metric can be used in areas like content creation. For example, you could use the number of keys someone can hit per minute on their keyboard.
  • Handling time, first-call resolution, contact quality, etc. Mainly, each of these metrics is relevant if involved in customer service. But, as you can see, most measurable usages in one area can be figured for application in another area of production.

Work efficiency metrics

Work efficiency is finding the balance between quantity and quality. To achieve the resulting number, “metric considers the resources (e.g., time and money: quantity) needed to produce a specific output (that’s quality).

Organizational performance metrics

Finally, Erik says that “Organizations can also use employee performance metrics to assess their own competitiveness,” such as:

  • Revenue per employee. Calculate the income per FTE (Full-time equivalent).
  • Profit per FTE. Similar to above, but focuses on profit instead.
  • Human Capital ROI. Here you would asses the value of human capital, such as knowledge and personal attributes.
  • Absenteeism Rate. Absenteeism is usually a self-explanatory metric. If you want to dig deeper — I’d suggest finding out the “why’s.” The why may have to do with the work or people at work. Check your environmental factors.
  • Overtime per Employee. “Employees who are willing to put in the extra effort are generally more motivated and produce more (in terms of work quantity),” writes Erik van Vulpen.

Can you use these metrics also to help you identify your efficiency? Sure. But, there are more natural ways to find your metrics.

Achieving goals.

Weren’t goals a part of management by objectives? Yes. But, as Choncé Maddox writes in another Calendar article, “Goals, in general, can be challenging as they often prompt you to change your life in a major or minor way.”

What’s more, it’s not always easy to tell if you’re even close to reaching your goal, let alone achieving them. And, to muddle things up, even more, goals are constantly changing depending on what your priorities are at the moment.

One way to get out of this predicament is to use a strategy like the SMART goal formula.

“SMART goal is an acronym to describe goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound,” explains Choncé. “For example, setting a vague goal such as ‘I want to lose weight this year’ probably won’t give you the best results.”

What if you said that you wanted to “lose 40 pounds in 10 months by getting on a low-carb diet and exercising four days per week?” According to Choncé, “That’s a much better goal that follows the SMART formula. You’re specific by saying how much weight you want to lose, giving yourself a deadline, so you know when to expect results, and specifying how you’ll reach your goal and measure your results over time.”

Work quality.

Yes. Work quality was another performance metric you can use to measure your team’s efficiency. But, I think when it comes to yourself, we can simplify this.

Are you meeting deadlines? Did you also meet the requirements of the task or project?. For example, were you able to crank out an 1200 work article or cover all of the meeting agenda points in the time allotted? If so, then I’d say that you’re pretty darn efficient

Punctuality.

What does this have to do with efficiency? In my opinion, quite a bit. It shows that you’re able to manage your time correctly. For instance, if you’re running late to a meeting, maybe it’s because you underestimated how long the previous task took to complete. Or, perhaps you’re so disorganized that it totally slipped your mind until the last minute.

Behavioral traits.

Efficient people avoid bad habits. I’m talking about failing to plan ahead, not having a routine, multitasking, procrastinating, or being easily distracted. They also try to everything on their own when there should be tasks they’re delegating so that more of their time and energy on what’s important.

Feedback from others.

Now we’re circling back to feedback. And, there’s a good reason for that. We have a tendency to be biassed towards our own self-assessments and performance. You may think that you’re killing at work until someone brings it to your attention that you actually haven’t been delivering your best work as of late.

Hearing feedback from others can also be challenging. But, instead of avoiding peer or management feedback, solicit it from people you trust. Try asking a peer, business partner, or family member.

To become more efficient, expect more of yourself.

Hopefully, you know how to measure your efficiency. But, there’s one last step you should take. Raise your expectations.

Let’s say that met you have a met or requirement, instead of being complacent. Push yourself to go above and beyond. It’s great that you can write a 1200 word article in under three hours. But, can you produce the same number of words in under two? How about upping the word count?

You don’t know what your true limits are — because you can always up-your-count on almost anything. Try it. Pushing your limits, keeps you engaged, and forces you to embrace better habits so that you can become more effective and efficient.

by John Rampton

Airlines are desperate to jettison their excess snacks

Airlines have a simple message for Americans: You don’t have to take our flights, but please, please, at least take our snacks.

Across the US, delivery companies are shuttling surplus airline snacks into people’s homes.

There’s a lot to go around: Delta, for instance, hands out 80m+ of its famed Biscoff cookies every year. With air travel taking a nosedive, it donated 500k pounds of snacks to food banks and frontline workers.

Meanwhile, United is heaping stroopwafels on anyone who will take them. JetBlue partnered with the surplus food company Imperfect Foods to offer assorted cheeses, cherries, and crackers for $2.99 a pack.

The future of the corporate snack game could be nuts

Some of the largest companies in Silicon Valley are luring employees with promises of snacks as far as the eye can see.

One catering company estimated that offices can spend as much as ~$200k on snacks for 100 people. The most popular “guilty” snack, according to ZeroCater: animal crackers.

But with few tech workers going in for work these days, a lot of startups are rethinking their snack offerings altogether.

The tech-snack reformation

Marker noted that a few companies are sending their employees “home office kits” that feature the regular assortment of office munchies.

Others are dialing back on snacks: Googlers were recently hit with the news that they can’t expense food and other perks while in quarantine. Also a no-no: spending unused travel or event budgets on snack boxes or gifts.

If we do see a snack-perk renaissance later in the year, it isn’t going to look as appetizing as before. Instead of tables sprawling with free-flowing bags of popcorn and M&Ms, workers might have to settle for individually wrapped packages of almonds.

Michael Water, The Hustle

When Will National Parks Reopen?

BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK, TX – The National Park Service (NPS) announced today that effective 8:30 a.m., April 3, Big Bend National Park and Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River will be closed to all visitors until further notice in response to letters from the Brewster County and Texas State Health Services departments. No entry will be allowed into the park, except to employees, residents, and other authorized persons. Through traffic will be prohibited, as will travel on Terlingua Ranch Road within park boundaries.

The health and safety of employees, residents, volunteers, and partners, as well as park visitors, at Big Bend National Park is the Service’s number one priority. The NPS is working servicewide with federal, state, and local authorities to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The National Park Service listened to the concerns from our local partners and, based on current health guidance, temporarily closed the parks,” said Big Bend National Park Superintendent Bob Krumenaker. “We are committed to continued close coordination with our state and local partners as we progress through this closure period and are prepared when the timing is right to reopen as quickly and safely as possible.”  

The NPS encourages people to take advantage of the many digital tools already available to explore Big Bend National Park and Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River including: www.nps.gov/bibewww.nps.gov/rigrpark photogallerieswebcamBravo Y Grande Film, and Facebook.

Updates about the NPS response to coronavirus will be posted at www.nps.gov/coronavirus. Please visit www.nps.gov/bibe for specific details and regular updates on Big Bend National Park operations. The NPS will notify the public when full operations resume via the park website and social media channels.

https://www.nps.gov/bibe/learn/news/big-bend-national-park-closed.htm

Digital Transformation Is About Talent, Not Technology

As The Economist recently noted, one of the most obvious consequences of the current Covid-19 pandemic will be “the infusion of data-enabled services into ever more aspects of life.” We except digital transformation to be an even bigger imperative for organizations in the short-term future.

Contrary to popular belief, digital transformation is less about technology and more about people. You can pretty much buy any technology, but your ability to adapt to an even more digital future depends on developing the next generation of skills, closing the gap between talent supply and demand, and future-proofing your own and others’ potential.

As it turns out, most of us end up in jobs and careers for serendipitous reasons, and stay in them for a long time, rarely pausing to rethink our potential: Am I in the right job? Is my career the best fit for by interests and abilities? Would I enjoy my life more if I had chosen something else? Furthermore, while every job requires learning, we are prewired for familiarity, routine, and simplicity, which is why most of us end up learning less on the job, the more time we actually spend on the job. This is good in the short run, because we can do our jobs on autopilot, freeing up mental resources; yet it’s counterproductive in the long run, because what we gain in experience, we miss in new learning opportunities. An even bigger loss is that we may go through our entire working lives without discovering, let alone unlocking, our true potential. As Winston Churchill once said, we should never waste a good crisis. Perhaps this is the biggest gift of the current pandemic, that it provides us with the opportunity to rethink our potential and ensure that we are positioning ourselves toward the future. To be sure, it is too soon for most people to realize this, yet in the long-term, a significant number of people will likely end up in better careers and look back on their less meaningful and less engaging past careers like someone who looks back without regret on the end of a less fulfilling personal relationship, even one where it wasn’t their choice to exit.

With this in mind, we wanted to provide a few suggestions: some based on science, and some based on our own experiences leading, coaching, and mentoring current and future leaders across a wide range of industries, helping them ready themselves for an even-more-digital future. Our main assumption here is straightforward: While the future is more ambivalent and uncertain than ever, we are confident that a pretty strong bet on the future is to focus on reskilling and upskilling people so that they are better equipped to adjust to change. Just as our past efforts have enabled us to adapt to our more digital and virtual present world (and a non-trivial fact is that we are writing this, and you are probably reading this, in physical isolation), there are few reasons to suggest that this trend will go away or be reversed anytime soon. If anything, an even bigger proportion of jobs, tasks, activities, and careers will find ingenious and novel ways to coexist in the digital world. Here’s how we can all prepare for that eventuality:

  • Put people first: Technology is always about doing more with less, yet that combination is effective only if you pair technology with the right human skills. Just as technological disruption has generally led to automation and the elimination of outdated jobs, it has also always created new jobs. This is why innovation is commonly described as creative destruction. But the creative aspect of innovation is entirely dependent on people. If we can leverage human adaptability to reskill and upskill our workforce, then we can simultaneously augment humans and technology. It’s really quite simple: the most brilliant innovation is irrelevant if we are not skilled enough to use it, and even the most impressive human minds will become less useful if they don’t team up with tech. The main implication is that when leaders think about investing in technology, they should first think about investing in the people who can make that technology useful.
  • Focus on soft skills: Just as digital transformation is more about people rather than technology, the key technological skills are soft skills rather than hard skills. Sure, the recruitment market is hot for cybersecurity analysts, software engineers, and data scientists. But as we recently argued in our article, “Does Higher Education Still Prepare People for Jobs?”, there’s an even bigger need for people who can be trained in the next wave of IT skills. Paradoxically, higher education is always playing catch up, because where universities perceive employer demand, they follow up with relevant courses and learning programs, creating a future surplus of talent supply in those areas. In our view, the best way to make your organization more data-centric and digital is to selectively invest in those who are most adaptable, curious, and flexible in the first place. Since nobody knows what the key future hard skills will be, the best action is to bet on the people who are most likely to develop them. Our own talent development philosophy is to combine this dual focus on potential for soft skills, and knowledge for hard skills: we select people with high learnability (people with a hungry mind) and match their interests to in-demand skills, while understanding that those hard skills may soon become outdated — so the key is that their curiosity remains intact. Technical competence is temporary, but intellectual curiosity must be permanent.
  • Drive change from the top: The idea of bottom-up or grassroots change is both romantic and intuitive, but in reality, change is much more likely to happen if you drive it from the top down. This does not mean that you have to embrace an autocratic or hierarchical structure, or that you need a culture of fear. In fact, it’s a simple matter of leadership, whether transactional or transformational. In the context of digital transformations, the main implication is that you cannot expect big changes or upgrades to your organization unless you start by selecting and developing your top leaders in that vein to begin with. It has never been clearer that leadership — both good and bad — cascades down to impact every single aspect of the organization, with as much as 50% of the variability in group or unit performance being attributable to the individual leader. This is why when we are asked about the single most important factor in determining the effectiveness of an organization’s transformation, our answer is always the same: the CEO or head of the firm. Sure, industry, context, culture, people, legacy, and actual tech all matter, just as resources do. Yet most of these things tend to be rather similar among direct competitors, whereas the mindset, values, integrity, and above all, competence of the most senior leaders will stand out and be the main differentiator. Needless to say, everything in business can be copied except for talent, so if you are looking for impact, do invest in top talent, which is where you will get the most value. The distinguishing feature in the war for talent is always leadership: in-demand skills such as software engineering are what we talk about, yet the key is to find the people who can manage the software engineers and get them to work as a team to outperform other software engineers.
  • Make sure you’re acting on data insights: So much of the current discussion on data is focused on AI (artificial intelligence), or specific types of computer intelligence, such as machine learning, deep learning, or natural language processing. These powerful advances in AI are exciting, yet we don’t see them as the main differentiator for future-proofing your organization. A much bigger competitive advantage is to harness valuable data, having the necessary skills to translate that data into meaningful insights, and above all being able to act on those insights. In our view, data without insights are trivial, and insights without action are pointless. We cannot overemphasize the importance of this point, because too many business leaders operate under the false assumption that if they hire smart data scientists or buy fancy AI tools, their problems will go away, or they will somehow become more high-tech. The big difference between Google and the rest, between Amazon and the rest, between Facebook and the rest, is not the brain power of their data scientists, or the actual functionality of their technology (and, yes, we may see them as first-in-class), but their radical data-driven cultures. They have harnessed amazing data assets and have great algorithms to interpret (and monetize) that data, but their key strategic advantage and biggest asset is that they live, breathe, and act according to the data. Data truly is their oxygen, and that is something you cannot buy; you cultivate it, nurture it, and harness it with time — and above all, with leadership (back to point 3).
  • If you can’t fail fast, make sure you succeed slowly: The statements that speed is king, that action is key, that perfect is the enemy of good, and that you should be willing and eager to fail fast, have all become clichés in management thinking. But, the only way to adapt to a constantly changing and rapidly disrupted present is to speed up and operate at pace. Of course, there is always a trade-off between speed and quality, so if you cannot fail fast enough — meaning you don’t have a culture in place that tolerates quick experiments with the view that the lessons learned from those failed experiences will make you stronger and smarter, then you need to be sure that your long-term bets are working out. In other words, it’s okay to succeed slowly if you can’t fail fast. At the end of the day, failure is only a strategy for getting to success in the long run, so if you pick another strategy, that’s fine — just make sure you can actually get there. However, remember that few things breed stagnation and a false sense of security like an obsession with success. Indeed, we often hear leaders rationalize their failures with a self-congratulatory “we have learned from our mistakes,” yet it’s much harder to learn from your successes.

As the last several weeks have demonstrated, we are agile as a global community. This agility has been people-led and technology-supported. Human beings are the common denominator to the concept of future proofing, whether it’s as a compliment to the technology being unleashed for remote working, or whether it’s because we possess the soft skills and leadership needed to navigate a historic crisis, or because we have the insights needed to drive slow success or fast failure for a cure. It all starts with each and every one of us, and those we are responsible for developing. The key is to nurture curiosity, so we have options, even outside of a crisis.

Becky Frankiewicz is President of ManpowerGroup North America and a labor market expert. Before joining ManpowerGroup, she led one of PepsiCo’s largest subsidiaries, Quaker Foods North America, and was named by Fast Company as one of the most creative people in the industry. Find her on Twitter: @beckyfrankly.  

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is the Chief Talent Scientist at ManpowerGroup, a professor of business psychology at University College London and at Columbia University, and an associate at Harvard’s Entrepreneurial Finance Lab. He is the author of Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (and How to Fix It), upon which his TEDx talk was based. Find him on Twitter: @drtcp or at www.drtomas.com.  

The University of Illinois made a prophetic insurance bet in 2017

U.S. universities are reeling from the chaos resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, and one dean’s far-sighted business move might help save his school a lot of money.

In 2017, the Gies College of Business and the Grainger College of Engineering jointly took out a three-year contract with Lloyd’s of London to insure against a large drop in revenue from Chinese students resulting from specific events such as a trade war, a global pandemic, and visa restrictions.

The business school’s dean, Jeff Brown, created the policy with two other university professors, Tim Johnson and Morton Lane. Brown declined to discuss details of the policy when reached by
Yahoo Finance.

“The coverage placed was innovative and required us to design the product as nothing like it had been done before,” Andrew Martin, a broker at Besso, who syndicated the deal through Lloyd’s, told Yahoo Finance. “The foresight of Dean Jeff Brown and the structuring skills of Dr. Morton Lane was a fortuitous combination that resulted in what may prove to be a valuable hedge for the University of Illinois.”

The policy provides for up to $61 million in coverage to match revenue from Chinese students in the business school and the engineering school. The two colleges together have been paying $424,000 a year in premiums. The terms would be triggered if the two schools saw a combined revenue decline of at least 18.5% from a loss in Chinese students, according to Lane. (If there is a 50% decline in tuition revenue from Chinese students, the insurance payout would be about $30 million.)

Muslim students wearing hijab scarf on campus of the University of Illinois. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Muslim students wearing hijab scarf on campus of the University of Illinois. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The status of future international students is unclear’

The stipulated events have largely occurred: The Trump administration continues to tighten U.S. immigration policy, a global pandemic is underway, and a trade war has been going on since 2018.

Visa restrictions, in particular, “will have an unprecedented impact on both current international college students in the US and also incoming college students this fall,” Command Education CEO Christopher Rim told Yahoo Finance.

“The status of future international students is unclear, as non-critical visa appointments have been suspended since late March,” Rim added. “This will completely change the landscape of the student body on college campus over the next one to two years.”

International students make up 5.5% of the total student population in the U.S., according to a report by the Institute of International Education. Chinese students form the majority of students, followed by Indian, South Korean, and Saudi Arabian students. 

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Citing long waits, denials and visa cancellations that take away from teaching time and academic progress, presidents and chancellors from nearly 30 Illinois colleges and universities are pushing for lawmakers to do more to help international students and scholars who face new obstacles tied to immigration policy. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. (Photo: E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Business schools losing money

The higher education industry has been in flux even before the coronavirus pandemic, due factors such as reduction in state funding and enrollment declines. And according to one analysis by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, Illinois’ public universities have taken a 48% cut in funding since 2000.

And in 2019, the Gies business school shut down its residential MBA programs and pivoted online, responding to weaker demand. 

“If you were able to get every dean in the U.S. under a lie detector, outside of maybe the top 20 M.B.A. programs, every one of them would admit they were struggling to maintain enrollment and losing money on the program,” Brown told the Wall Street Journal in 2019.

Aarthi Swaminathan

Reporter Aarthi supports the Yahoo Finance editorial team with reporting, research, and audience development. She was previously with CNBC International in Singapore. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/university-of-illinois-insurance-bet-224016209.html

The Cult of Done

Bre Pettis
  1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
  2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
  3. There is no editing stage.
  4. Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
  5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
  6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
  7. Once you’re done you can throw it away.
  8. Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.
  9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
  10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
  11. Destruction is a variant of done.
  12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
  13. Done is the engine of more.

Pause or Fast Forward?

Well, it has been a few weeks. As we all reflect on how dramatically the world has changed in a few months and the overwhelmingly loss suffered by those at home and around the world, it is time for all of us to take a personal inventory.

There will be an end to this period, a time when we all move on. Decades from now people will talk about the pandemic in the same way we talk today about 9/11, when the Berlin wall came down, and my parents about the day we landed on the moon, and when JFK was shot. “Where were you?”, “How did it feel?”, and “What did people think?”

What I would like everyone to ask themselves is, “What did I accomplish during that time?” It’s part of that personal inventory. Did you pause everything? Or did you move it fast forward? Most of us are working form home which means more time with family, more time at home, less time running errands.

Time. It’s the one thing we complain most about not having. Take this time to invest in relationships. Relationships with family-near and far. The friend you follow on Facebook, but haven’t spoken with for 5 years, a neighbor, a co-worker.

The time spent during the pandemic can be your life paused or it can accelerate it forward. It is up to each of us.