In a departure from its usual tech offerings, Best Buy is now selling products like grills and luggage in order to appeal to Americans heading outside again as the economy reopens.
The tech retailer is adding outdoor living products and travel gear to its lineup ahead of the summer, when many Americans will head outside, whether it’s just to their backyards or on vacation.
“During the pandemic, many of us turned our focus to our homes, whether that meant moving, renovating or simply redecorating – and that trend isn’t slowing down,” said a press release issued by the company on Tuesday.
Best Buy’s new product offerings will be available online and in select stores. Its website now features items like grills, outdoor heaters and backyard décor from brands like Weber, Trager and Ooni. The company says it plans to offer an expanded variety of fire tables, outdoor furniture and more in the near future. To encourage buyers, Best Buy is also offering free delivery and assembly for some grills when customers spend $100 or more on grilling accessories.
The company also is selling new business gear ahead of many Americans’ likely return to the office later this year. This includes nearly 75 TUMI products, such as backpacks, laptop bags and luggage.
Best Buy’s attempt to attract outdoors-bound customers comes after a year in which the company successfully wooed those stuck indoors. The company’s sales surged in 2020 as Americans outfitted home offices for remote work and bought entertainment gear to keep themselves occupied as they stayed home during the pandemic.
The new additions represent Best Buy’s latest effort to branch out into new territory. The company previously added home exercise equipment to its inventory, and earlier this year the retailer began a pilot for a new membership program, Best Buy Beta, that takes aim at Amazon Prime.
As the world starts to reopen, return-to-office plans are slowly coming into effect.
Companies, such as Apple, have announced a plan that expects employees to come back to the office three days a week from September. Other companies have not yet posted what their back-to-office plans are.
But for many, a return to office life isn’t a simple transition after so long. In fact, 55% of employees said they would prefer to remain remote at least three days a week, according to a January 2021 study from PWC that surveyed 1,200 office workers throughout November and December 2020.
Most recently, Apple employees revolted against CEO Tim Cook over the company’s new work policy in a letter signaling their frustration toward a three-day office schedule. The letter also addressed a growing concern that the new policy has already forced some of the staff to quit over its inflexibility.
So, how can leaders build flexible work environments and implement return-to-work strategies that retain workers and avoid employee resignations?
Rose Gailey, a return-to-work and organizational culture expert, and partner at Heidrick & Struggles, a management consulting firm focused on leadership and shaping corporate culture, discussed the subject with Insider and shared strategies leaders should adopt to retain their workers in their return-to-office plans.
An empathetic approach
“Employees will not leave a company solely because of the tangibles like pay or return to work – those may be factors, but they are likely to leave if they don’t feel valued, understood, and supported,” Gailey said in reference to a seemingly growing divide between employees and their leaders in some companies.
The leaders that handle this pivotal moment most successfully will be C-suite leaders that lean into their humanity and empathy, she said. “One clear lesson from the pandemic: new models have emerged and companies need to embrace greater levels of flexibility.”
One of the biggest mistakes leaders are susceptible to in their post-pandemic work plans is believing we can return to old models, Gailey said. “Companies should guard against assuming that an arbitrary return date will mean 100% normalcy.”
To address growing concerns around mass resignations as a result of companies’ return-to-office plans, Gailey expanded on the strategies she thinks company leaders should adopt to prevent employee walkouts.
Plan your approach
“Leaders need to approach returning to the office with the same level of planning and importance as the acquisition of a new company or the launch of a new product – clearly focused on executing a strategy through a foundation of a thriving culture,” she said.
Communicate with employees
Communication between employees and company leaders is critical, according to Gailey.
“Recent data suggests up to 47% of workers say their firm has not communicated with them about the return to office plans.” Companies, therefore, must rely on “sensitive, two-way communication, gather feedback [and] reflect it to employees.”
The mantra should then become “iterate, test and learn,” as companies continue ongoing dialogue with employees, she added.
‘Draft a vision for how to live your values’
For Gailey, any return-to-office roadmaps must be future-focused, rooted in culture and performance. “It can’t be about just getting people back into the office.”
She continued: “Draft a vision for how to live your values and challenge leaders to model inclusive behaviors by announcing policies and work structures with both clarity and agility,”
Building a flexible company culture
Authenticity and agility are key to building a company culture that enables flexible-working environments and fosters employee productivity and wellbeing, according to Gailey.
“Leaders have to embrace authenticity, double down on agility, and truly commit to the hard work of building a great culture.”
The past 15 months have accelerated long overdue changes for the American worker, Gailey said, “and have highlighted the idea that culture is not about the place you work – it’s about the spirit of an organization.”
Commercial real estate firm WeWork is going the extra mile with its hybrid work model as it plans to bring staff back to the office.
From June 21, WeWork staff in the UK will work three days in the main company headquarters, one day from a WeWork location, and one day from home, Mathieu Proust, the company’s UK general manager told Insider.
“Working at home is really efficient when you have a specific task to do,” he said. “Working in the office is more about having impromptu conversations and meeting one another.”
Proust said that a company-wide survey showed that WeWork staff who have returned the office have seen a 54% jump in morale. “They’re happier to see colleagues,” he said, adding that “it’s good for morale.”
WeWork, which plans to go public via a SPAC, have introduced a “hub-and-spoke” model for their employees, where there’s one main “hub” office and smaller ‘spokes’ throughout London.
WeWork’s main hub in the UK is located in Waterloo, central London, and the company has a further 50 spokes spread across the city which employees and members can access whenever they like.
One day a week, WeWork staff will be working in one of the spokes which are closer to their home. Within these office buildings, there are separate workspaces for WeWork employees.
WeWork offices remained open during lockdown as essential businesses, such as law firms, used its facilities, Proust said. Small to medium businesses then returned to its offices in between the lockdowns.
Proust said the company has seen a need for flexibility in its workforce, which has led to an improvement in wellbeing. During the pandemic, WeWork organised meditation, yoga, and other activities online – it’s now going to carry these on face-to-face as “we’ve seen how important they were,” he said.
Payments firm Klarna, which has recently chosen a WeWork location for a new office hub in London, is also opting for a more hybrid working culture whereby employees work two days in the office and choose where they want to work for the rest of the week.
“The notion of hybrid working is a notion of flexibility,” said Proust, adding that the hybrid model trend is accelerating. “That’s what the future is about.”
Are you a WeWork employee? What do you think of this new hybrid working model? Get in touch with this reporter via Twitter or email email@example.com.
“Leadership should consider each worker’s situation and circumstances in as nuanced a way as possible rather than try to generate a uniform or blanket policy,” she said. “Similarly, the motivation and rationale for bringing workers back to the office should also be carefully considered and discussed with your workforce.”
Aven’s recommendation for companies includes a “collective dialogue” to generate solutions.
“In general, I would first aim to get individual feelings in a manner that will allow as many people to share their concerns and situations – for example, a survey or one-on-ones,” Aven said. An online forum or discussion board are other options.
This is one path forward in what consultant Paula Rizzo, author of two books on organization, labels as “an opportunity to not go back to the way things were.”
“None of us are the same. Now people have this new sort of freedom from working remotely, and now everything is changing again,” she told Insider. How companies handle this change, Rizzo added, will determine how successful they are at retaining their employees.
“We’ve got a challenge where when we come back into the world of mixing virtual and physical interaction again, companies really need to think about how they make it the best of both of those experiences,” Rich Hutchinson, managing director and senior partner and social impact practice leader at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), said. “I really believe that people thrive on engagement and seeing other people, but the flip side is that there are huge benefits in being more productive in what you’re doing, but also spending more time with your family or being more flexible with where you are.”
Hutchinson was one of the authors of a recent BCG report envisioning the future of the workplace entitled “The Bionic Company.” In it, the consulting group envisions a workplace where technology combines with the “flexibility, adaptability, and comprehensive experience of humans” to create a “superhuman enterprise.”
This breaks down into several actionable steps that all businesses should keep in mind.
Make technology a priority
First, companies must work to integrate the technology they’ve leveraged during the pandemic into their regular workflow, and evaluate how those processes can be further deployed as workers return to the workplace.
“How will the core processes of the business evolve?” and “How will humans and technology create a more efficient process?” are the key questions leaders should be asking, Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson gave an example of outcomes he’s seen these questions produce in action at a leading retailer. The company “built an algorithm to choose fashions for the next season. The algorithm improved on human choices alone,” he said. “But the best results were achieved when human recommendations were both inputs to an improved algorithm and also experts audited the outcomes. It’s an example of leveraging the power of humans and technology together.”
Becoming a “bionic company” isn’t just for large enterprises, either.
“The trick for small companies and entrepreneurs is to think about their processes in this bionic or digital mindset from the beginning, or adopt them in order of the ones where they think they’ll get the biggest bang for the buck,” Hutchinson said. “But because you’re small, I actually think you can build in a lot of the agile organizational mindset or the technology mindset pretty easily,” he added.
Buck the traditional leadership model and remain transparent
The next consideration is how leadership functions as you come back to work after the pandemic.
In the bionic workplace, it differs from the traditional top-down model, Hutchinson said. In traditional leadership, direction comes from the top and flows down to employees without much input or room for questioning, whereas in bionic leadership, it’s team-based, where the teams build products or drive outcomes and are charged with accomplishing their missions on their own.
“Leadership becomes much more about how I structure my teams, what are they working on, what’s the mission, do I have the right composition of talent on those teams, can I help remove roadblocks from them along the way, and if the project just isn’t working, do I shut it down and redeploy that talent onto other teams that have better uses?” Hutchinson said. “It’s basically how do you set up the teams, charge them with the mission, remove the roadblocks, and let them go, rather than managing a team and sort of orchestrating its activities in a very controlled manner.”
Keeping workers motivated throughout the changes that encompass a return to the workplace is another critical consideration, Hutchinson said. He said that taking the time to explain how the changes are going to be beneficial not just for the company, not just for the customer, but also for the workers, is key to their success. Having reached an unprecedented level of transparency during the pandemic, there’s no going backward.
For example, many companies that are digital natives use agile staffing processes to supplement their core employee base. Hutchinson said that handled properly, employees don’t see this as a threat.
“Employees are restaffed to other work that is now higher value. They see that making the company efficient through technology helps it win,” he said. “Growth creates opportunities for the employee. And agile staffing makes work more interesting rather than stagnant.”
That type of communication is common among companies that originated during the digital age, Hutchinson said.
“One of the things the digital natives have done really well is helping people understand that if we can grow and become more efficient and leverage these techniques into a more bionic operating model, that actually creates more opportunity for all of us, and our sincere goal is to help people find new roles and grow,” he said. “So I think there’s a large part of it that’s down to how the company executes it and helps people see the positives in their journey.”
Give employees an opportunity to structure their days
As business owners start pondering how to move forward, employees’ views will be central to considerations, Hutchinson said. He predicts that more autonomy in the workplace is almost unavoidable.
Employees “sharing what worked and what didn’t – and what they are looking for in a job moving forward – both will shape how employers structure jobs post-pandemic,” Hutchinson said. “For some, the pandemic has meant they needed to and could work in a more independent manner. Where this worked, I think employees will push hard for it to stick.”
Rizzo also believes that employees should get a head start on showing employers what they want and need by planning out what they’d like their work model to look like.
“We have an advantage because we know it’s coming,” she said. “We were all blindsided when remote work became full time, now you have some perspective – use it! Make a list of what you’re better suited to do at home and what works better in the office as you design your hybrid work model. It’s a good time to craft your days in a particular way that will make you more efficient, no matter where you are.”
Hutchinson identified less management, or the feeling of less management, as a benefit of the bionic workplace as well.
“They find that they’re operating more agile, which can be really energizing because it doesn’t feel as managed, it feels much more self-directed and they’re much more empowered,” he said.
As COVID-19 restrictions ease, companies across the world are starting to reopen their offices to welcome employees back to work and a number have decided to adopt a different working culture to what they had pre-pandemic. Some will give staff the flexibility to work in the office, from home, or another location, otherwise known as hybrid working.
Accounting and professional services firm KPMG is one of the many companies making this transition. The Big Four consultant plans to allow employees to split their time spent in the office, at home, and at client offices, Kevin Hogarth, chief people officer at KPMG UK told Insider.
“We’re clear that we’re not going back to working the way we did prior to the pandemic,” Hogarth said.
He explained that the majority of KPMG’s workforce were comfortable with continuing to work a proportion of their time at home as they had greater flexibility with organising themselves and didn’t have to commute. This gave them a better work-life balance, he said.
Despite this, Hogarth said KPMG staff missed connecting with colleagues so it was clear they wanted to spend some time in the office, but not as much as they did before the pandemic.
It comes as KPMG said that UK employees would get an extra two and a half hours off every week over the summer, plus an additional day off on June 21, when the last of England’s Covid restrictions will be lifted.
Jon Holt, KPMG UK chief executive said that the new way of working would enable staff to design their own working week while offices would be places to collaborate.
“The consequence of the pandemic means we have a whole cohort of people who have never been in the office and never been coached face-to-face - we need to get those connections back,” he added.
A hybrid company culture could spark litigation
Martyn Sakol, managing partner of Organisation Effectiveness Cambridge (OE Cam), a business psychologist firm, told Insider how hybrid working could lead to inequality in the workplace.
“Companies might be sleepwalking into discrimination by adopting a hybrid approach which appears to be more inclusive,” Sakol said.
Employees who work in the office five days a week are unfairly advantaged to connect, evolve, and adapt with each other, according to Sanok. This is because they have access to the boss, are better networked, have more interesting work to do, and could potentially receive an earlier promotion than those working from home more often, he said.
Whereas people at home may not have the same access to technology or working space or privacy compared to staff working in the office, Sanok said. In some cultures, women are more likely to work from home and this could resort to a 1970’s male culture in various offices, he added.
If business leaders aren’t careful, they could be in danger of legal litigation because of the “presence privilege and psychological bias” towards those employees who come into the office more, Sanok said.
Sandeep Mishra, professor at the Lang School of business and economics at the University of Guelph in Ontario, agreed with Sanok. Mishra told Insider that “folks working in the office will be more “present” in the minds of others in the organization,” meaning there won’t be “an even playing field” between those working in the office and remotely.
“That inequality in “face time” will likely inflame common cognitive biases,” he said. Everything from training and development, to collaboration, promotions, and task assignment – remote staff will “likely be disadvantaged without explicit policy to prevent otherwise,” Mishra said.
But Hogarth said KPMG had learnt a lot about its employees working remotely successfully.
“I don’t think hybrid working in itself necessarily increases the risk” of lack of inclusivity, he said.
The KPMG UK executive told Insider how the firm will support its staff through regular check-ins, a buddy scheme, and equipping managers with the right training to look after those working remotely.
“Now, we just need to be a bit more thoughtful about making sure that we’re proactively reaching out and checking in with our people,” Hogarth said.
Denise Rousseau, professor of organizational behavior and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, told Insider the danger with hybrid working is that managers might assume they can manage the new environment in an old pre-pandemic manner and become “locked into the past.”
Managers might forget about development, the need to build bonds between colleagues and enquiring about information which they wouldn’t usually pick up from someone working remotely, such as problems at home, Rousseau said. Hybrid working filters out those cues, she added.
Managers “should know that if [they] want to be supportive,” she said.
Online real estate company Zillow is also planning to get employees back into the office post-pandemic, but CEO Rich Barton said in February that a hybrid model could create a “two-class system” which negatively impacts remote workers.
“We must ensure a level playing field for all team members, regardless of their physical location,” Barton said.
Hybrid working offers flexibility
Insurance marketplace Lloyd’s of London is also switching to a more hybrid working approach, according to a spokeswoman.
“Flexibility will be key when choosing where and when to work based on the needs of the team – this won’t be a ‘one size fits all’ approach,” she said. Office space will be used for employees to work together, whilst those working alone will do so remotely, she added.
Other employers, such as Amazon and JPMorgan, are more focused on returning to an “office-centric culture” after the pandemic.
A JPMorgan spokesperson pointed Insider towards CEO Jamie Dimon’s annual shareholder letter, which said that most of the bank’s employees would eventually return to the office full time. Dimon said that only some employees would be working under a hybrid model, while 10% of the workforce will be based entirely from home.
In the letter, Dimon mentioned some of the drawbacks of working from home, including video calls slowing down decision-making and interns and new staff members being the most negatively affected.
But the hybrid working trend is happening across a variety of industries. In the tech sector, companies like Google and Microsoft are embracing a more flexible approach to work culture. While in banking, firms such as JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank are also making their return-to-work policies more hybrid.