Getting Back to Work

In the latest 21 Hats podcast episode, the owners compare notes on masks, vaccinations, pay, going hybrid, and filling positions.

Good morning!

Today’s highlights: The right way to go hybrid. A high-tech mini-golf startup. And another way for  employees to criticize employers. 

THE 21 HATS PODCAST

Episode 61: I Think People Are Ready to Get Back to Work: Is your office open? Is everyone coming back? Or are you going hybrid? Is everyone getting vaccinated? Are you offering them incentives to get vaccinated? When do the masks come off? Are you having a problem filling jobs? Have you had to increase what you pay? Paul Downs tells us, “The people who really seem to want the job and are enthusiastic about it don't have the skill-set. And the people with the skill-set don't seem to actually care about completing the process. So we did hire one guy who started a week ago Monday, and he quit three hours later.” This week, Paul, Stephanie Stuckey, and William Vanderbloemen compare notes on what they’re experiencing as we all search for that new normal.

HUMAN RESOURCES

An app called Blind gives employees another way to criticize employers: “Blind has carved out a unique niche in the social-networking world. It’s an app of verified, pseudonymous employees talking to each other about what’s going on at their employers, trading notes on everything from layoffs, to promotions, to policies. Part LinkedIn, part Reddit, part Slack — it’s become widely popular among tech workers at Silicon Valley companies, and even outside the tech industry, with 5 million verified users. Workplaces have changed dramatically post-COVID-19, with remote work becoming more of a norm, and that has made Blind indispensable for many workers who feel increasingly alienated from their companies and their colleagues.”

  • “As remote work has taken hold, particularly at tech companies, internal messaging channels have become less valuable as sources for clear information from executive leadership.”

  • “Blind believes it has a better pulse on how employees are feeling about policies and their employers, and is building tools around, for example, pulse surveys to give HR teams better insight than they might get from other services.”

  • “People are just more honest on our platform versus these company-sponsored channels,” [co-founder and general manager Kyum] Kim said.”  READ MORE

Going with a hybrid office plan? Don’t let employees choose which days they work from home: “There are two problems with the choice thing. One is what's called mixed mode. Anytime you have a meeting with some people on Zoom and some in person, now that's a real pain and doesn't work. Then firms say, 'Aha, we've solved it! We're going to have everyone connected from a laptop!' But that still has its problems. As soon as the laptop goes down, everyone at work stands up and wanders to get a coffee together and chat. So mixed mode is very hard to fix. There's an in-group and an out-group. The other problem that's much more pernicious is what I would call the diversity issue.”

  • Fact one is if you look at who is choosing to work from home five days a week, it's not random. If you look at college graduates with kids under the age of 12, which is almost half the workforce actually, then women have almost 50 percent higher preference to work from home five days a week than men.”

  • “Fact two is if you look at our CTrip example, people that were randomized to work from home after 21 months had almost half the promotion rate of people that are in the office.” READ MORE

Chipotle is raising its average wage to $15 an hour: “The fast-food chain, which is looking to hire 20,000 employees for its peak season and to staff the more than 200 restaurants it plans to open this year, said the wage increase would result in hourly workers making between $11 and $18 an hour. Chipotle is the latest restaurant chain to raise wages or offer incentives as it struggles to staff its restaurants. As coronavirus vaccinations have increased and government restrictions eased, the restaurant industry, which laid off or furloughed millions of employees during the pandemic, suddenly went on a hiring spree, as did several other service-related industries.” READ MORE

THE ECONOMY

The cyberattack on the top U.S. pipeline is likely to affect supplies and exacerbate the increases in gas prices: “Colonial Pipeline Co. said Monday it hoped to substantially restore service on the pipeline, which it shut Friday, by the end of this week. The Colonial Pipeline transports about 45 percent of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, according to the company’s website. The Alpharetta, Ga.-based company said that restoring its network, in coordination with the Energy Department and other federal agencies, will take time, and that it was bringing segments back online in stages.”

  • “Gasoline prices have been surging, pushing up the national average price of a gallon of regular, unleaded gas to $2.96 a gallon, according to the AAA.”

  • “That national average could soon pierce $2.99 and hit a 6.5-year high. Gasoline prices could rise 3 cents to 7 cents a gallon this week in affected areas such as Mississippi, Tennessee and East Coast states from Georgia to Delaware.” READ MORE

REGULATION

The Biden administration will make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to build businesses in the U.S.: “The International Entrepreneur rule, proposed by President Obama’s administration three days before he left office in 2017, allows foreign entrepreneurs to work in the country for up to five years, so long as their startups attract at least $250,000 in U.S. venture capital, hire 10 employees or meet other benchmarks. The Trump administration opposed the program because it relies on an authority known as parole, which allows the U.S. to let in foreigners without visas so long as there is a ‘significant public benefit.’ It published a notice saying it intended to terminate the program, though it ultimately never did. The program withered anyway because startup founders and venture-capital firms interpreted the notice as a sign the Trump administration wouldn’t approve applications.”

  • “The Biden administration plans to market the program as part of its efforts to revive it. Those moves respond to requests from venture-capital firms, which want the administration to put resources behind a program that could allow thousands of foreign startup founders to move to or remain in the U.S. to grow their businesses.”

  • “The U.S. currently has no visa available for startup founders, though the idea enjoys broad bipartisan support.” READ MORE

FOOD & BEVERAGE

Upscale restaurants are following New Yorkers to Florida: “During the past year, dozens of upscale restaurants in Manhattan or Brooklyn have opened or announced plans to open outposts in South Florida’s trendiest neighborhoods. The new eateries include the Italian red-sauce joint Carbone and Korean steakhouse Cote. Red Rooster Overtown, a Miami version of chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Harlem restaurant, recently opened with high-end comfort food like yassa rib-eye steak.”

  • “The warmer temperatures and fewer pandemic restrictions allowed restaurants to continue serving, often with extensive outdoor seating, at times when New York City restaurants were under lockdown or at reduced capacity.”

  • “The waiting list at Carbone, which opened in January and features a large patio with lush greenery, can stretch to 3,000 people for one night, said Jeff Zalaznick, managing partner at Major Food Group, the restaurant’s operator. It can take months to get a table.”

  • “Can the good times last? What if most New Yorkers eventually go home? A big test comes in the summer low season, said restaurateur Stephen Starr, who has opened several restaurants in South Florida and launched Pastis with Keith McNally.” READ MORE

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STARTUPS

Pypestream is out to kill the call center: “Companies like Asapp, Avaya and Genesys insist they see their role as using tech like artificial intelligence to augment, not replace, the work of customer service agents. But increasingly, tech can handle more and more of their daily responsibilities, prompting questions over how long the traditional call center will remain. While some industry leaders say it will be at least a decade, if not longer, to completely roboticize the customer service center, Pypestream CEO Richard Smullen is banking on that future arriving much more quickly.”

  • “‘Our whole vision was built on this belief that call centers are going to go the way of the fax machine,’ he told Protocol. ‘If our product delivers on the promise of automation … then you don't need agents anymore.’”

  • “Sling, for example, a Pypestream customer, reduced its customer service department from 1,200 agents down to 60, per Smullen.” 

  • “Smullen says a human picking up the phone costs companies an average of $6 per call.”READ MORE

A miniature golf company from the founders of Topgolf has raised $60 million and is gearing up for expansion: “Puttshack has redesigned the mini golf experience, bringing a more modern approach to a game that's been around for more than a century. Puttshack uses its patented technology, called Trackaball, to keep score for you as you play, allowing you to ditch the pencil and paper scorecard. Courses also feature interactive leaderboards and a digital prize wheel. Its courses are designed with unique, custom-themed holes, like a beer pong table and a skee-ball machine. Puttshack venues also offer food and a full bar.”

  • “The company is planning to open a location in suburban [Chicago] this fall, along with new courses in Miami, Nashville and other U.S. cities.”

  • “It's an experience not unlike Topgolf, which brought food, drinks and a high-tech approach to the driving range. Topgolf was acquired by Callaway this year for $2.6 billion.” READ MORE

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If you see a story that business owners should know about, hit reply and send me the link. If you got something out of this email, you can click the heart symbol, you can click the comment icon below, and you can share it with a friend. Thanks for reading, everyone. — Loren