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Rating:WNBA's Chief and a Remote Work Expert Talk to Fundsters Not Rated 5.0 Email Routing List Email & Route  Print Print
Friday, May 7, 2021

WNBA's Chief and a Remote Work Expert Talk to Fundsters

Reported by Andrew Lusk

Yesterday a major sports chief and a remote work expert were featured guest speakers for day one of the 2021 virtual ICI GMM. (Day two will be next Thursday, and day three will be the Thursday after that.)
Catherine "Cathy" Engelbert
Women's National Basketball Association
First, George Gatch chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based Investment Company Institute (ICI) and CEO of J.P. Morgan Asset Management, interviewed WNBA commissioner and former Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert on her new pro sports career, and how it compares with her old one in the financial industry.

"It's all about listening to your stakeholders," Engelbert says of negotiating with owners and players during the 2020 collective bargaining process. "[I spent] literally every day, every night, on the phone, building relationships and making sure the players could trust that we were going to do right by them."

Gatch notes, "And you wrapped up that collective bargaining agreement just in time for the global pandemic."

"Here's where my years at Deloitte prepared me well," Engelbert says. "A crisis tends to accelerate and deepen issues that existed before the crisis, but it's also an opportunity to fix problems."

"It wasn't an easy process, but we held the first virtual draft right here from [my] room ... This was last April, May, before we had any idea what the virus really was or how long it would last. Right after that draft, we started scenario-planning."

She continues, "That was a great skill acquired during my Deloitte days, and we put together five main scenarios, from 'no season' to 'full season,' to a few in between. At that point, we didn't even know if we would have fans."

"The first time I talked to [the players] about this, they said, 'We don't want to play.' Health and safety of the players and staff had to be first, but a competitive season was important, too. For a league of our size and scale to be out of the sports landscape for twenty months, that would have been pretty existential."

"Then," Engelbert adds, "the George Floyd murder occurred ... The WNBA is a league of 80 percent women of color, so they were deeply impacted and emotional about the murder. We launched, with them, a social justice council."

Regarding the mid-COVID season, she says, "We spent 92 days in a bubble in Florida and a lot of people thought we couldn't do it, but we ended up without a single COVID case."

Later yesterday afternoon, Lisa Jones, CEO of Amundi U.S., spoke with Chris Herd, founder and CEO of Firstbase, on what the post-pandemic world may bring to the business landscape.

Towards the beginning of the talk, Jones says, "As we look to a brighter future ahead, all of us are wrestling with the questions, 'How do we return to the office? Do we return to the office? If so, what does that look like?'"

As companies weigh whether or not to bring all employees back into the office, and whether or not remote work will become a regular part of business life, Jones says, "Coming back to the office five days a week, full-time, is probably not in our future."

"Regardless of which path we pursue, it will be an evolution. We won't have all of the answers from the beginning, so we'll go through phases and take different steps."

Herd, who runs a company centered around providing remote work equipment to companies, says before COVID, between 3 and 5 percent of all American jobs were remote, which was already a significant chunk of the population.

"The difference, now, is that because companies have been exposed to remote work ... companies are the ones driving [the transition to more remote work]."

But it isn't all rosy, Herd says. Some parts of transitioning to remote work have generated friction between traditional office models and the new at-home status quo.

"Now that we've seen that people are great at doing their work even in the most difficult possible circumstances," he continues, "companies make the mistake, time and time again, of trying to replicate the office environment remotely, instead of letting people take the time to do focused work without distraction."

"What happens is that you end up with people sitting in back-to-back Zoom calls all day because it feels familiar, but nobody actually gets any work done because it's super, super disruptive." 

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