As far as Micah Remley is concerned, the future of the office is finally here.
Ever since COVID-19 hit in 2020, executives have wondered what kind of long-term work patterns would emerge from the pandemic.
Remley’s software firm, Robin, has some answers. On Tuesday, the Boston firm, which makes software that helps companies manage desk and room booking, plans to release the results of its latest nationwide survey of business managers and owners. The bottom line: Attendance mandates are rising, even while office footprints are shrinking.
For example, 88 percent of employers in 2023 expect workers in the office for a certain number of days each week. That’s up from 69 percent a year ago. Meanwhile, 80 percent of employers have shrunk their office space since the pandemic began, compared with 60 percent in 2022. And 75 percent expect space reductions in the upcoming year, up from 46 percent in 2022.
“It looks like an opposing trend but it’s really not,” said Remley, Robin’s chief executive. “Over the past year, we’re finally seeing companies have a vision of what they want to accomplish in their office space and they’re putting those plans into action. . . . Three-plus years into it, they’re saying now we know what the future is: . . . a flexible office space deeply focused on collaboration.”
One factor that isn’t readily visible in poll results: Many companies, Remley said, aren’t fully enforcing the mandatory office days yet. He expects enforcement efforts — such as through performance and bonus reviews — to be stepped up considerably in the coming year as the labor market weakens.
“Employees are saying, ‘I’m just as productive being at home,’” Remley said. “You have bosses saying, ‘Wait a second, we’re not hitting our numbers.’”
The venture-backed startup was founded in 2014 by Zach Dunn and Sam Dunn — it’s named after their mother — to help companies manage their workplaces. (Brian Muse, Robin’s chief technology officer, is also a cofounder.) Remley arrived nearly two years ago from payments firm MineralTree, at a time when Robin’s services were in growing demand. Robin, he said, commissions these surveys to better advise its clients and to position itself as a thought leader.
He sees Robin’s main mission as removing as many headaches of office life as possible. But it can’t address all of them.
“I can’t fix the T,” Remley said. “I wish I knew what the answer to that problem was.”
Singh steps up to his next big idea
Don’t call it retiring. Nav Singh prefers “resetting at zero.”
After a long career with General Electric and then with consulting firm McKinsey & Co., Singh left his consulting job and its steady paycheck behind last week to set out on his own. Singh is dreaming up a concept that involves designing a support structure for one startup at a time. Singh’s platform would provide fund-raising and strategy, along with legal and HR services, for example, while the people running the startup could focus on the core operations. One idea he’s kicking around is a way to broaden investor participation in private markets such as venture capital and real estate.
His plans are still in the formative stages. But at 55, he couldn’t help but wonder, if not now, then when?
Singh is best known around Boston for leading the local McKinsey office, from 2012 to 2021, and for chairing the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce from 2015 to 2018. He stepped into the chairman role to take over for Suffolk Construction owner John Fish, who wanted to focus at the time on Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Singh was an unusual pick for chamber chair, having just moved to the Boston area from New York a few years previously.
“I was cautioned that this was a place that is not welcoming of outsiders, which I heard but I didn’t accept,” Singh said.
Among his many tactics for getting to know Boston-area business leaders and innovators was holding summits — dubbed “Imagine Get-Togethers” — on particular topics at his Weston home. He stopped holding those events when COVID-19 hit, but he’s looking forward to reviving them.
“I want to be professionally active,” Singh adds, “if my health holds, for a long time.”
For Wu, Harvard’s Allston project is personal
Brokering a deal between Harvard University and its neighbors in Allston was a personal mission for Boston Mayor Michelle Wu.
How personal? Wu rattled off the ways during an event last week to mark the start of the first phase of Harvard’s next project, known as the Enterprise Research Campus.
Wu got her bachelor’s in economics from Harvard in 2007, and then graduated from Harvard Law School in 2012.
When she was elected mayor in 2021, she was thrust into tough negotiations between Harvard and the neighborhood over the university’s development plans there. Eventually, Harvard and development partner Tishman Speyer agreed to set aside 25 percent of the 345 apartments to be built in this 9-acre first phase at income-restricted prices, among other concessions. At Wednesday’s groundbreaking, Wu thanked her “dear friend,” Representative Mike Moran, as well as others involved such as Representative Kevin Honan, city Councilor Liz Breadon, Allston Civic Association president Tony D’Isidoro, and Harvard Allston Task Force chair Cindy Marchando.
“It was right across the river, where I was first dropped off by my family in tears in Harvard Square, missing them already as they drove away in the minivan back to Chicago, and where I started to find comfort and home coming across the river to volunteer as an undergrad in Chinatown,” Wu told the crowd. “It was as a student in the economics department studying under professor [Edward] Glaeser, who brought his Diet Coke and made sure that we got all of the knowledge that we needed.”
As a law student, she also worked in then-mayor Thomas M. Menino’s administration, alongside Meredith Weenick, who was then Menino’s chief financial officer and is now Harvard’s executive vice president.
And now she is working yet again with Glaeser and Weenick, in her capacity as mayor: Glaeser is advising city officials on tax incentives to spur construction of stalled housing projects, while Weenick is helping lead one of the region’s best-known institutions.
Kriesberg hopes to grow CommonWealth
Say goodbye to CommonWealth Magazine. Say hello to CommonWealth Beacon.
MassINC, the nonpartisan think tank that owns the digital political magazine, unveiled the name change last week. It’s more than a branding exercise. New MassINC chief executive Joe Kriesberg is shining a light on the importance and potential of nonprofit news. This marks one of the biggest changes at MassINC since Kriesberg came on board a year ago. And it has significant implications for a publication that’s considered a must-read for Beacon Hill movers and shakers.
MassINC added two journalists this year, Gintautas Dumcius and Bhaamati Borkhetaria. They joined editor Bruce Mohl, executive editor Michael Jonas, and reporter Jennifer Smith. Kriesberg said he hopes to grow the staff further, if he can raise enough money, in 2024. Also new: CommonWealth’s first full-time director of audience engagement, Yael Mazor-Garfinkle.
CommonWealth still has no plans to charge for its news. In the past, CommonWealth’s budget was largely covered by donations to MassINC. Now, Kriesberg and his team are trying to help CommonWealth stand on its own. They are hitting up the magazine’s 10,000-plus daily email subscribers for donations. They have more than tripled advertising revenue this year. And they’re launching a membership program, like those used by public radio stations, that give some modest benefits to CommonWealth’s biggest fans, such as early event registration and meetings with journalists. And they’ll hit up foundations to underwrite specific coverage areas.
“We’re going to build a more sustainable business model through growth rather than through cuts,” Kriesberg said. “People like what we do, so we want to do more of it, and we want to do it in a ‘business smart’ way that is sustainable.”