Category: Blog Posts
Comments: 0

I’ve been working with all sorts of companies for the past decade, gathering data, dissecting processes, and unlocking opportunities they would never have imagined. The one pattern I discovered is not even how unprepared companies are in general, but how many of them lack a proper long-term vision and purpose. The first step to becoming resilient is your purpose as an individual and your vision as an organization.

In an unprecedented situation in modern history, businesses all around the world are forced to rethink their way of working because of tiny, microscopic life form -a virus- called Covid-19. There will be a before and an after Coronavirus. This Kafkaesque episode will teach us a few things, as individuals and companies, such as becoming more resilient and agile. It might also very much shape or accelerate the future of work.

How can a company ensure business continuity without having to change all of its current processes? What kind of tool does human resources, operations, or office management need to enable a seamless digital and physical workplace experience? What solution should a company use to develop its vision and become super resilient?

1. Ensuring Transmission

Companies see higher turnover than ever before: employees stay shorter amounts of time in one company, so how do you ensure transmission of information, processes and culture? What would you do if one or several key people in your organization decide to leave at once? Can you run the business without them for several months? Finding new talent for key hires is no easy task. It requires time and energy, and above all a tremendous amount of peace of mind. Digitizing your operations can bring you some of this peace of mind. Technology can help you record every interaction and get access to the full history of your workplace’s operations, so anyone else in the company can take over for the interim.

2. Making a Contingency Plan

Natural disaster, political unrest, health hazard… Whatever the reason, your office can become unavailable at any time. If your organization is big enough, and is present in different locations, it produces redundancies and can help fill the gaps. In the case of a single office, like the majority of us, running your operations online is a good first step, but you need to think of a contingency plan. Think of the immediate steps you can take: what is the closest coworking space in your area? Do you keep all of your teams and assets on the cloud or just some of it? If you have inventory, how can you limit the damage and quickly reorganize?

3. Embracing Flexible Work Schedules

The future of work is becoming more and more versatile. Employees’ hours and work conditions are more flexible. Remote work is a growing trend and you need to put processes in place to allow for a seamless workday and continuous operations. Allowing your team to work remotely on a regular basis is one of the best ways to prepare and avoid downtime in the case of an unpredictable event.

4. Testing, Testing, Testing

Test different scenarios with your team. Ask the office manager or human resources to work remotely for an entire week. Bring them back, then ask the C-level positions to do the same. Then, ask the entire office to work remotely for an entire week. You will learn more about your team and company in those few weeks than in several years of operations. 

5. Creating Redundancies

A key factor for business continuity is redundancy. We usually think of redundancy in terms of servers, software, hardware, etc. But you can and should enable redundancy within people. Don’t get me wrong: you are not going to hire 2 or 3 times the amount of employees you need. Instead, create some overlap amongst different key roles. A Chief Operations Officer should be able to take over the office management and vice-versa. A Chief Technology Officer should be able to jump into any of the engineers stack and vice-versa. A Marketing Manager should be able to help coordinate the Sales department if needed. You get the idea. 

6. Using Technology 

You should use a system that empowers employees and staff, and includes both operations and communications in one single interface. A system that is flexible and customizable enough to allow for employee engagement via both SMS and Web, in case some network crashes. A system that allows for remote operations management and notifications, so all of the operations, human resources and office staff are always on the same page, including in time of an emergency. A system that does not impede regular operations, but contributes to your company culture and vision on a day-to-day basis.

Resilience in business is less about productivity than continuity. Any challenge such as the one we are currently living on a global scale is a way to test how strong our vision is and how motivated our teams are. If you are currently confused, don’t really know how to become agile, or simply realized how unprepared you were, hit me up. I can help.

I met Robert Beal about five years ago in New York through a friend in common. I was finishing my second Master’s degree at Columbia University, and he was just retiring from his family enterprise, one of the most successful real estate companies in Boston: the Beal Companies, more recently renamed Related Beal after the 2013 partnership with Related. Robert passed away a week ago. He and I were 45 years apart, yet he is one of the most inspiring friends I’ve ever had. Our favorite topics included modern art, architecture, politics, Europe, and the world. There is no generation gap when you talk about timeless topics. His legacy lives forever.

A décor worthy of the Titanic, French and eclectic at the same time, fresh flowers, dimmed light, and mirrors all around to see and be seen, La Grenouille is the last traditional French restaurant in the middle of Manhattan. “Monsieur, des chouquettes?” (pronounce shuket) “Il y a de la viande dedans?” I asked, genuinely thinking the waiter spoke French. The waiter looked at me confused: “Hum, sorry sir?” I then translated: “Oh, I asked what was inside?”. Robert and I had our first conversation around French cuisine and a 12-piece silverware set. Coming from Lyon, this traditional set up somehow made me feel at home.

Even when the dining room was crowded, it was still pretty quiet. It became a fun place to go if you were with Robert and his friends. Robert was very social and spoke to others in the restaurant, waving to kids and greeting those around him. He sometimes would show his tie and make small talk and jokes to strangers. I’ve always admired the distance with which he lived his life, never taking himself too seriously.

Robert loved feeding the birds on the street. He often stopped on the sidewalk to feed pigeons right before entering Beal Co, in the former Grain Exchange Building of Boston. He was a philanthropist, funding many charitable and cultural organizations, and also a major contributor to many civic and Jewish organizations. He did not judge people on the cover and always tried to help on the individual level.

For his 75th birthday, Robert invited 400 people to a hotel ballroom in Boston, including many public figures such as the Governor of Massachusetts (R-Charlie Baker). Robert’s family and himself created tight relationships with the real estate and political world, Democrats and Republicans alike. Not one project, not one election, not one big decision could stay away from Robert’s advice. Some even gave him the nickname Mr. Boston. He was always calm and inspired respect. But he was also very popular. Whether you were a bird or the president of the United States, he would always behave the same way towards you. He would always treat everyone equally.

When going to Boston, I sometimes visited Robert at his place in the center. Entering Robert’s house was quite an experience. It was transcendental yet very homey, slowly climbing the tufted ovoidal staircase, surrounded by master paintings of modern and contemporary art. Robert’s mansion was like a mini MoMa at home. He had an anecdote for every painting he bought, having met with many of the artists, except maybe for Picasso, De Kooning or Léger. Robert remembered every detail of every moment, often referring to the Kennedys, Lyndon Johnson and other political figures. He was more than just a Renaissance man, he was resolutely a Modern.

As a painter myself, I cannot describe the feeling of being in front of Willem De Kooning or Picasso. It is unusual to experience a master painting at such an intimate level. I often asked Robert about the paintings. Their story meant a lot to me. Robert had the subtle ability to make you travel in time and his paintings were like a time machine. Robert passed away last week in his sleep. I imagine his soul traveling through the walls, his paintings guiding him one last time, enjoying Picasso, De Kooning and Léger, and meeting them.

We so-called Millennials always want to change the world, but what exactly do we want to change? We want to have a positive impact, but how exactly are we planning to do that? We dream of becoming millionaires, but do we even understand the responsibilities associated with such wealth? Robert was a figure of authority and one of the most respected men in his city. He drove his own car and was very humble. He was authentic and an example of absolute integrity and generosity. In the unstable and polarized world we live in today, Robert Beal was not a conformist. He was a futurist.

Wonderful,” as he always used to say.

The flight to Dubai was packed. I was nervous, and traveling by myself again. I’ve never been to the Emirates, let alone to far-East Asia. The Geneva-Dubai flight was only the first leg of a longer trip to South Korea and Japan. It was in the summer of 2013. I planned to visit Dubai and Abu Dhabi for 3 days before continuing to the far East.

Whenever we board a flight, we always hope it won’t be full so we can have more space. In my case, I pray for someone interesting to sit next to me. After take-off and routine announcements by the crew and captain, meal service began. I keep kosher, so I pre-ordered a kosher meal as I usually do on any flight I take, no matter what the destination or airline.

I always book the window seat. Looking at the clouds from above is happier than when we’re on the ground. “Sir, you ordered a kosher meal?”. The flight attendant said to me, with a plastified tray in her hands, still sealed with the certification proper to Jewish dietary laws. The Boeing 777 had a 3–4–3 seating configuration, so my seat neighbor had to hand me over the food. I simply answered “Thank you” and quickly placed the tray on my table, without opening it. It is always weird to start eating before everyone else: everybody looks at your tray, curious to see what you got, as if it was a lottery game.

My seat neighbor was around my age, in his late twenties. Right after I got my kosher meal, he started breathing heavily and rapidly. He seemed to get really nervous, kicking the seat in front of him and pushing his arms on the armrests. He got his own halal meal, conformed to his Muslim tradition. But he left the tray on his table, looking at it as if he was about to kill the food. I stayed calm and still, opened my own food and started eating. He kept being agitated more and more, shaking his head, kicking all the seats around him. I kept eating, watching a movie on my screen, trying to ignore him.

With at least 5 hours left in the flight, ignoring him was not an option. Was he upset because of my kosher meal? Was he annoyed to have a Jew sitting next to him on his way back to Dubai? He was clearly angry and trying to get my attention. I was ready to get to the bottom of this, I had no other choice anyways.

After the meal, flight attendants picked up the garbage. My upset neighbor did not touch his food and you could tell the crew sensed something was wrong. “Sir, is the food ok with you? Do you want something else maybe?” the attendant asked my neighbor. He did not answer, only shook his head and crossed his arms. I looked at the attendant and she looked back at me right in the eyes, confused and embarrassed.

Finally, my neighbor -we’ll call him Mohamed- turned to me and asked: “you probably wonder why I’m so nervous and annoying?”. I respectfully answered “you’re not annoying, but why are you so nervous?”. His eyes did not carry the hate anymore. He looked calm and tranquil all of a sudden.

Mohamed was not “going back to Dubai” as I initially thought. He was from Bangladesh, and lived in Switzerland like me. He was going to Dhaka via Dubai to see his family for a few weeks. But that trip was no vacation. He was on his way to bury his sister. He was upset because his sister got killed by a gang in Bangladesh. He told me how different Switzerland and Bangladesh were, and that he was not expecting any justice for what happened to his sister, let alone understand the exact circumstances of her tragic fate.

Mohamed told me he was a religious man, praying five times a day, and living with his wife in Switzerland. We spent the rest of the flight chatting. My kosher meal made him understand I was Jewish, and it triggered something in him: he knew he could trust me and talk to me, even if we never met before. Like him, I was not afraid of showing I believed in something more than just myself: “We are both believers and have the same values. Sorry if I bothered you, I am just very angry right now. Not at you, but at these murderers, at my country also, and at God.” Mohamed said. He did not touch his tray because he was fasting during the month of Ramadan.

“I’m tired of the whole political bullshit”, he continued. “I don’t understand who would want to kill my sister. I have no enemies. In Switzerland, people don’t kill each other like this”. He would not accept the death of his sister, not like that. He kept swinging between despair and hope. Despair because young Bangladeshis, his own kind, could act in such a barbaric way towards his sister; and hope because he was seated next to me, a Jew who could actually share the same values and show empathy. What I realized years later is how much easier it is for me to relate to religious people around the world, no matter the religion. We know the respective stories of our peoples, recognize ourselves in the grand scheme of things and, ultimately, share similar values. We think high level and deep at the same time, and are able to have real and authentic conversations.

Paradoxically, as tragic as the situation was for Mohamed, I could not have hoped for a better flight neighbor to begin my journey with. Everyone has their own struggles and challenges. The world is not binary and the people living in it are always more complex than they appear. Meeting with Mohamed at such a terrible moment, he taught me the most important lesson of all: “I have no enemy”. He stayed true to himself and did not question his views and values despite the difficult time ahead. Sitting together made him “feel a little better” and gave him “hope”, but I can tell you with certainty that this 6-hour flight had the biggest and long-lasting impact on me.

To this day, Mohamed and I remain friends. He still lives in Switzerland and keeps praying five times a day. I moved to the US and never stopped eating kosher. Whether you feel uncomfortable about someone or they purposely bother you, it does not mean they have something against you. You might very well be your own and only enemy. On a plane like at the office, don’t ignore people, especially when they sit right next to you. We can never assume what’s in one’s mind. Speak out, and you might actually make a friend.

Ever asked yourself why you get so tired every day at work? You already stopped the carbs, took your vitamins, and went for a run before going to work, but nothing seems to work. Have you ever considered lighting? Photons around us have the power to make us feel good or contribute to serious fatigue. Let’s review the most important (yet underrated) lighting factors to promote the best work environment at any company:

Window seat

Having your desk by a window is a must. Good natural light sufficient to work comfortably generally travels up to 20 feet (6 meters) into the building. Beyond this distance, you will need to supplement with artificial light all day long. Since natural light is the best type, the farther you sit from the windows, the more fatigue you are prone to develop.

Lighting Temperature

How to recognize cool light versus warm light? Cool light tends to be more blueish and warm light is yellowish. Warm light is softer and usually less intense, and makes you less tired. Office space traditionally uses cold fluorescent light. We recommend using either full length or warm light to provide a cozy yet bright work environment. 

Dark office versus dark mode

We spend a great amount of time in front of screens. When evening comes, make sure there is enough light around and behind your screen. When too dark, the work environment can make your eyes tired. If you can’t control the light, a good trick is to switch your screen to dark mode to give your eyes a break.

Too much reflection on screen

Have you ever tried to work outdoors with a laptop in bright summer? You probably got surprised by how dark your screen seems to be. Even indoors, too much sunlight can provoke uncomfortable reflections all over your screen and workspace. If you are constantly moving your head around to see what’s on it, consider switching desks or ask the office management to install better shades. 

Overhead lighting not aligned to desks

Overhead lighting can be a nightmare if devices and workspaces are misaligned. Look up at the ceiling and you will instantly understand the problem. Overhead lighting can generate bright and dark areas across the office, creating a pattern of light inequality at the company. Employees with a brighter desk tend to get less tired and stressed than people sitting in the darker zones. You can always get desk lamps for the office, or talk to the building owner or manager for a more appropriate long-term solution.

There might be one more thing worth sharing regarding light. Take a vacation. Yes, go away from the office, as far as possible from the gloomy fluorescent lights. A few minutes of sunlight on your arms can generate enough serotonin to make you feel calm and sharp every day. Serotonin is the “hormone of happiness”, so now you know why so many people go to sunny destinations in the winter. Keep the energy high!

Whether you work in an open space or a private office, noise can quickly become a problem. As an office manager, head of operations or CEO, your job is to ensure a productive work environment for all. As our ears get easily distracted, here are 5 easy tricks to avoid noise disruption for you and your team:

1. Noise canceling headphones

Buying a pair of noise canceling headphones for the whole office might seem like an expensive solution, but think about the long-term benefits. Noise is very much psychological, and who doesn't like gifts? If people complain about noise or you know the sound conditions of the space are not good, showing employees you care with a high tech gift can go a long way, improving workplace culture and developing trust with your employees.

2. Organize strict silent areas

If your office is constantly noisy with people talking on the phone and to each other, you might want to rethink your noise policy. Go with the flow, let people be loud in the main area, and get soundproof panels to set a silent area apart. If your office does not allow it, then simply label one or several meeting rooms as “silent room” where people will have to behave as if they were working in a library.

3. Forget the phone booth

Phone booths are particularly popular in open spaces. But what about working booths? Nowadays, seating in a booth or meeting room to work in a silent environment has become an increasing trend. Since the office can be noisy with people coming and going, or simply talking over the phone, why not introduce a working booth?

4. Enforce silent times

Did you notice patterns in the amount of decibels during the day? Enforcing strict silent times might be a great and easy solution for your office. If you run a design firm, you can organize strict silent times between 9am and 11am, when people are usually the most productive. If you run a startup or sales team, you can allow sales calls all day long until 3pm or 4pm. People are less productive after 4pm, so allowing employees to get silent time at the end of their work day can be an amazing way to unwind, gather their thoughts and strategize for what’s next.

5. Check your windows

Let’s not forget about noise coming from the street. If your office is located in a dense urban area, or nearby a police or firefighter’ station, that can quickly become a problem. Single-glazed windows are to avoid by all means. Double or triple-glazed layers include some vacuum space in between the panes of glass, providing temperature and noise insulation. Whether you are moving to a new office or renewing a lease, talk to your building owner or property manager and make sure all of your windows are double-glazed.

Noise is always a subjective yet passionate topic. Some of us have no problem working in noisy environments, whereas if you are like me, you need absolute silence to focus on certain tasks. No matter what type you are, reducing the decibels at the workplace will likely improve employee wellbeing and increase the overall productivity of the company. 

Page 1 of 5 12345
 NYC 2019 Cohort

NYC 2019 Cohort