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As CEOs push return to office, everyone’s wrong on remote-work future

Bosses and employees are in a tug-of-war over where work will be done. CEOs eager for a return to the office suggest full-blown remote work is coming to an end. Employees insist it’s here to stay despite pandemic fears fading.

Both sides are right. Data released this month suggests the long-predicted return to office (RTO) is indeed starting to happen, after several false starts. But just how far it goes remains to be seen, and few expect a return to pre-pandemic normalcy anytime soon.

“September feels more like the real return to the office that has been touted for two and a half years now,” Peter Greenspan, WeWork’s global head of real estate, told Bloomberg this week.  “You’ve heard, ‘Return to the office, return to the office, now it’s after this holiday, now it’s after this summer.’ But new data from his firm, he said, suggests a “stronger return to the office than the previous ones.”

In the week after Labor Day, bookings at WeWork’s 700 office locations worldwide rose 20% compared to the weekly average, while keycard swipes internationally rose 70% compared to the same year-ago period.

Offices in New York City, meanwhile, were nearly half full this week, compared to 38% the week before and 34.5% two weeks earlier. That’s according to Kastle Systems, a security firm that tracks keycard swipes in offices across the U.S. It also reports that office occupancy nationwide has remained steady at around 40% of pre-pandemic levels since the spring. That’s hardly back to normal, but the firm is confident those levels will “rise in the months to come,” according to its website. 

Return-to-office demands 

CEOs, meanwhile, increasingly diss remote work, suggest its days are numbered, and insist workers get back to the office. 

Earlier this month, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink said his firm would “be taking a harder line as to how we bring our employees back.” Workers were told they needed to come into the office three days a week, with exceptions being rare and needing “formal approval.” Remote work, Fink argued, was one reason for falling labor productivity in the U.S.—and RTO would help bring down the nation’s record inflation. 

Tesla CEO Elon Musk now receives detailed weekly reports on absenteeism, according to CNBC, after saying in May that “remote work is no longer acceptable.” Workers unhappy with the change, he added at the time, should “pretend to work somewhere else.” 

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, meanwhile, continued his long-running criticism of remote work last month, saying it creates an environment that’s less honest and more prone to procrastination. In April his firm said that about half of employees must return to the office full time, and the remaining 40% can split their time, with three days of in-person work per week the general expectation.

Remote-work believers

Companies are trying to entice workers back to the office with various perks, but there’s little indication that workers will fill offices the way they did before the pandemic—or want to. 

This summer the Future Forum Pulse—a survey of over 10,000 knowledge workers across the U.S., Australia, France, Germany, Japan, and the U.K.—found that just 20% of them wanted to be in the office full-time, the lowest point in two years of surveying.

“Today’s workplace environment is centered around flexibility,” said Brian Elliott, executive leader of Future Forum, “Employees without it remain at a strong risk of attrition.” 

And despite Musk’s “pretend to work” dig, many employees insist they are more (or just as) productive working at home, away from distracting offices. According to a survey released this week by Partnership for New York City, that was the top reason employers gave for why their employees were negative on returning to the office.

A workforce “culture change”

Looming over the RTO battle of wills is the economy. A recession could change the power equation and force more workers back to the office. “Employees will recognize as we go into a recession, or as things get a little tighter, that you have to do what it takes to keep your job and to earn a living,” real estate developer Stephen Ross predicted  in June.

Whether that prediction holds true and where the economy goes remain to be seen. But the pandemic might have changed things so profoundly that even a recession might not restore the previous order.

“You have a global event that has fundamentally changed the workforce,” author and futurist Brian David Johnson told Fortune this month. “What we’re grappling with is a culture change.” 

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Bank of America breaks down brutal reality of European energy crisis, warns against ‘false sense of security’

Seven months after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, an energy crisis continues to roil Europe. Things might only get worse from here.

In a global research note by Bank of America released Friday, analysts warned that higher storage levels of gas in Europe still might not be enough to hold the continent over in the cold months ahead. 

“One winter’s storage is not a long-term solution,” the bank’s analysts wrote.

European gas inventories are above seasonal averages at 88% full, they noted. Storage levels could rise above 90% in October—which could put “pressure” on spot prices (current prices at which an asset could be bought or sold). 

“Yet we caution against a false sense of security,” the analysts said. 

Their reasoning? For one, full European gas inventories represent only two months of peak winter demand. Additionally, the high prices are directly responsible for higher levels of storage—so if prices decrease, storage could deteriorate. 

This comes as leaks hit the Nord Stream pipelines in what both the European Union and U.S. President Joe Biden called deliberate acts. Although Russia had already cut its gas supply to Europe for some time now, reports of the leaks and the question of who’s to blame have escalated tensions. 

“Whatever the cause, it raises the possibility that gas may never flow via Nord Stream again— thereby locking in our ‘ugly’ supply disruption scenario of ~€200/MWh Europe gas prices,” the analysts wrote. “This is a picture that we see persisting for several years until tangible new LNG (liquefied natural gas) supply comes to the market from 2025/26.”

Before the war, the European Union relied on Russia for 40% of its natural gas supply. Since the supply was cut off, countries throughout Europe have been working to reduce their gas and electricity consumption by placing restrictions on both businesses and consumers—all while increasing their imports of liquefied natural gas. 

But the fear of what’s to come remains. 

If Russia’s gas imports cease, Europe’s total gas supply for 2023 will be 25% lower than 2019 levels, even if Europe makes maximum use of its existing capacities in LNG regasification and planned ones in floating storage regasification units.

The bank’s analysts also warned that more demand deconstruction—a sustained decline prompted by a prolonged period of high prices or constrained supply—is needed as European gas demand increases 60% across colder months.

“Demand destruction to date might be balancing markets, but we highlight that a 15% reduction in summer demand is very different from -15% during winter,” they wrote. “Peak demand months are as much as double summer lulls, hence nominal demand destruction may have to rise in step in order to balance flows.”

Additionally, the bank’s analysts suggested the effects of the gas crisis will spill over into coming years, in terms of sustained higher gas prices for Europeans.

“The bottom line is that a permanent alteration in daily flows has a much greater impact than starting storage levels, which can only be consumed once.”

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Megan Thee Stallion launches new mental health website

In early 2017, I was chastised by my manager for not smiling as much as I used to at work. She was concerned that my “attitude” was bringing down team morale. Meanwhile, I didn’t feel like there was much to smile about regarding current events, especially as the Muslim Ban took effect.

Damn, I thought to myself, are Black girls allowed to have bad days?

Fast forward to 2022 and mega rapper Megan Thee Stallion says yes.

Last weekend, Megan launched badbitcheshavebaddaystoo.com. The website, which is named after a line in her song, “Anxiety,” features a hub of mental health and wellness resources, including sites specifically for Black people and the LGBTQIA+ community such as Therapy for Black Girls, Therapy for Black Men and LGBTQ Psycotherapist of Color Directory

When I first started following Megan back in 2018, it was because of her sharp-shooting lyrics and yes, her body-ody-ody-ody. Here was a brilliant and beautiful Black woman unafraid to speak her mind and unapologetic about her curves and sexuality–my kind of woman.

But after learning more about her personal story–starting therapy after losing both of her parents; her promise to graduate college to make them proud; our shared love of fellow Houston native, Beyoncé–I fell even more in love with her. The rapper has also never shied away from being vulnerable and talking about her struggles, showing generations of Black women that you don’t always have to have everything together and it’s okay to have bad days.

In an interview last fall with actress Taraji P. Henson last fall for her Facebook Watch series, Peace of Mind with Taraji, the rapper talked about her mental health and maintaining a positive outlook despite hardships.

“I feel like right now mental health is more important to me, more than ever, because I have more pressure on me than I feel like I used to have… when I was Megan, and I wasn’t as criticized and under such a magnifying glass as I am now,” she says. 

Megan’s resilience in the face of constant adversity is admirable, and I wish Black women didn’t have to be so resilient all the time. Because heaven forbid if we have an off day and feel like lashing out at the world–no one likes angry Black women, even though we have a million reasons to be.

After all, her new album, Traumazine, a fictional chemical that is “released in the brain when it is forced to deal with painful emotions caused by traumatic events and experiences.” What Megan is doing by acknowledging she struggles with difficult times is making it safe for people from marginalized communities–communities where talk of mental health is still very much taboo–to do the same. 

Not only is she making mental health resources accessible, she’s ensuring they’re culturally relevant so they reach her fans (and hopefully countless others) where they are. And she’s vehemently discarding the strong Black woman trope so many of us have been raised to perpetuate. 

By simply being herself, Megan is demonstrating that Black women can be soft. Black women can be angry. Black women can have bad days, too. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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