Bosses Push Back on WFH Die-Hards: ‘They Will Need to Show Up’
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Bosses Push Back on WFH Die-Hards: ‘They Will Need to Show Up’

Managers say team productivity has taken a hit as employees stay remote

By GRETCHEN TARRANT
Wed, Jul 12, 2023 8:30amGrey Clock 3 min

Office attendance is slumping again and bosses have a warning: We are a worse company when you stay home.

In buildings across 10 major U.S. cities, office occupancy has fallen back below 50% for the past three weeks, according to Kastle Systems, which tracks security swipes into offices. The drop comes despite new return-to-office mandates that affect more than 600,000 workers and counting.

Hundreds of Wall Street Journal readers—many of them bosses and team leaders—responded to our story on the workers who say “it’s not my responsibility” to save the office economy. These bosses say employees who insist they are more productive while working from home are missing the larger picture: Team productivity is taking a hit.

The purpose of an office is to create a dynamic environment where people feed off one another’s energy, bond on a personal level and explore ideas in unstructured ways, many company leaders said. Remote work can’t provide those kinds of casual interactions that build culture and camaraderie, they say, which means it is worse for the organisation and, in many cases, individual careers, too.

“Team collaboration really is much better and more effective with actual face time. Career growth also,” said William McNamara, a hiring manager who lives in Bellevue, Wash. “Sure, zealots will claim you can do it all remotely, but you can’t do it all as effectively for everyone, remotely.”

Still, work-life balance is a vital piece of company culture—one that workers say is helped by the option to work from home, at least part of the time. That leaves bosses to strike a difficult balance, something they are more keenly aware of than their employees might realise.

“We are stuck. Remote work means remote engagement. In-office means less flexibility,” said John Hayes, founder of Blackney Hayes Architects, a Philadelphia-based firm.

Eavesdropping as education

Bosses say that developing young workers and new hires is a priority, and that it’s tougher and slower to accomplish it when people aren’t gathered together in offices. Structured training sessions can often be conducted via Zoom, but the daily rhythms of mentoring and learning on the job require a less-structured exchange of questions and answers that happen organically.

“Eavesdropping is a huge form of education,” Hayes said. “Hearing what other people are saying, how they’re dealing with problems.”

Blackney Hayes asks employees to do their jobs from the office at least two days a week, but doesn’t mandate the face time because so many workers have said they prize flexibility.

“If leadership and all the energy radiate from the office, then people will understand that if they want to be part of the team they will need to show up,” Hayes said.

Jenny von Podewils, co-chief executive of Leapsome, an HR productivity and engagement platform, has taken a similar approach in the hopes of boosting young workers’ professionalism, such as appropriate conversations with colleagues and how to present in client meetings. Without office time, newer staff members take longer to get up to speed—if they catch up at all.

“Learning doesn’t happen on Zoom calls. It happens during meetings, together, through body language, listening to how people approach certain situations,” she said.

Breakthrough problem-solving

Ad-hoc interactions are important for seasoned employees, too, said Kevin Kowalczuk, a technology product manager based in Franklin, Tenn., who retired in April.

“We could literally make progress on a task while waiting for our coffee cup to fill up or while we heated lunch in the microwave,” he said of his return to the office.

Kowalczuk resolved one of his tougher challenges while chatting with colleagues in the company kitchen last spring. After discussing the housing market, their conversation turned to a new application that was only loading for some users despite being released to hundreds. The group quickly determined the problem stemmed from incorrect group permissions being granted to the users.

“That saved us days of time,” Kowalczuk said.

Team productivity vs. individual output

Individual contributors with task-oriented roles and a clear to-do list can perform satisfactorily in a remote setting in a way that doesn’t work for more strategic roles, said Edward Boggs, an information-technology team lead who lives in Durham, N.C., and goes in five days a week.

“If the tasks they are receiving are of the ‘figure it out’ variety, they often don’t do a very good job, or it takes them much longer than it should,” he said. The critical thinking required for those jobs usually requires a team working through issues in real time, Boggs added.

Working from home introduces other performance-related issues, even for conscientious employees with the best intentions, said Kim McClung, a former vice president of clinic operations for a large medical group, who’s now retired.

Managers who reported to McClung struggled to step back from work. They answered emails and took calls after hours, a habit she said she tried to discourage because it leads to burnout.

“If you’re in the car driving or trying to watch your kid’s recital while you’re answering emails, you’re not giving your best to anyone,” she said. “I don’t want your attention under those circumstances.”

McClung would rather her team work shorter hours together in the office, 100% focused on work, then go home and have true downtime.

When people are “on 24/7, the quality of work is going to suffer,” she said.



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Why Prices of the World’s Most Expensive Handbags Keep Rising

Designers are charging more for their most recognisable bags to maintain the appearance of exclusivity as the industry balloons

By CAROL RYAN
Tue, Mar 5, 2024 3 min

The price of a basic Hermès Birkin handbag has jumped $1,000. This first-world problem for fashionistas is a sign that luxury brands are playing harder to get with their most sought-after products.

Hermès recently raised the cost of a basic Birkin 25-centimeter handbag in its U.S. stores by 10% to $11,400 before sales tax, according to data from luxury handbag forum PurseBop. Rarer Birkins made with exotic skins such as crocodile have jumped more than 20%. The Paris brand says it only increases prices to offset higher manufacturing costs, but this year’s increase is its largest in at least a decade.

The brand may feel under pressure to defend its reputation as the maker of the world’s most expensive handbags. The “Birkin premium”—the price difference between the Hermès bag and its closest competitor , the Chanel Classic Flap in medium—shrank from 70% in 2019 to 2% last year, according to PurseBop founder Monika Arora. Privately owned Chanel has jacked up the price of its most popular handbag by 75% since before the pandemic.

Eye-watering price increases on luxury brands’ benchmark products are a wider trend. Prada ’s Galleria bag will set shoppers back a cool $4,600—85% more than in 2019, according to the Wayback Machine internet archive. Christian Dior ’s Lady Dior bag and the Louis Vuitton Neverfull are both 45% more expensive, PurseBop data show.

With the U.S. consumer-price index up a fifth since 2019, luxury brands do need to offset higher wage and materials costs. But the inflation-beating increases are also a way to manage the challenge presented by their own success: how to maintain an aura of exclusivity at the same time as strong sales.

Luxury brands have grown enormously in recent years, helped by the Covid-19 lockdowns, when consumers had fewer outlets for spending. LVMH ’s fashion and leather goods division alone has almost doubled in size since 2019, with €42.2 billion in sales last year, equivalent to $45.8 billion at current exchange rates. Gucci, Chanel and Hermès all make more than $10 billion in sales a year. One way to avoid overexposure is to sell fewer items at much higher prices.

Many aspirational shoppers can no longer afford the handbags, but luxury brands can’t risk alienating them altogether. This may explain why labels such as Hermès and Prada have launched makeup lines and Gucci’s owner Kering is pushing deeper into eyewear. These cheaper categories can be a kind of consolation prize. They can also be sold in the tens of millions without saturating the market.

“Cosmetics are invisible—unless you catch someone applying lipstick and see the logo, you can’t tell the brand,” says Luca Solca, luxury analyst at Bernstein.

Most of the luxury industry’s growth in 2024 will come from price increases. Sales are expected to rise by 7% this year, according to Bernstein estimates, even as brands only sell 1% to 2% more stuff.

Limiting volume growth this way only works if a brand is so popular that shoppers won’t balk at climbing prices and defect to another label. Some companies may have pushed prices beyond what consumers think they are worth. Sales of Prada’s handbags rose a meagre 1% in its last quarter and the group’s cheaper sister label Miu Miu is growing faster.

Ramping up prices can invite unflattering comparisons. At more than $2,000, Burberry ’s small Lola bag is around 40% more expensive today than it was a few years ago. Luxury shoppers may decide that tried and tested styles such as Louis Vuitton’s Neverfull bag, which is now a little cheaper than the Burberry bag, are a better buy—especially as Louis Vuitton bags hold their value better in the resale market.

Aggressive price increases can also drive shoppers to secondhand websites. If a barely used Prada Galleria bag in excellent condition can be picked up for $1,500 on luxury resale website The Real Real, it is less appealing to pay three times that amount for the bag brand new.

The strategy won’t help everyone, but for the best luxury brands, stretching the price spectrum can keep the risks of growth in check.

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