Meta expansion, work arrangements
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Business Record innovationIOWA Weekly | December 16, 2021
A case study in hybrid work arrangements
By Sarah Bogaards | Staff Writer
Pre-pandemic, many organizations only knew how to operate fully in person, but research from two management and entrepreneurship professors at the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business shows how one organization is testing out hybrid work arrangements.

Amy Colbert and Jennifer Nahrgang have been collecting data on two units within one organization in Iowa while it pilots flexible work arrangements.

The organization started its pilot period in August, and plans to continue it through June 2022. Employees gave input on their preferred work arrangement, but they were ultimately assigned to be hybrid, remote or in-person based on the structure of their role and the type of work they do.

Employees of the units have completed two in-depth surveys, in September and November, that asked about work arrangement satisfaction, whether they feel their work arrangement matches their job requirements, and their intent to stay with or leave the organization.

Colbert and Nahrgang shared key findings as well as their insights into how businesses can apply the findings to their own return-to-work transitions. The following are the combinations of working arrangements for each unit:

Unit 1 (more than 230 respondents)
  • 45% hybrid (21% primarily in-person; 24% primarily remote)
  • 33% remote
  • 22% in-person

Unit 2 (more than 80 respondents)
  • 62% hybrid (38% primarily in-person; 24% primarily remote)
  • 17% remote
  • 21% in-person

Overall, the survey results showed that compared with fully in-person employees, hybrid and fully remote workers are more satisfied with their current work arrangement, feel that their arrangement matches their job requirements and are less likely to consider leaving the organization. Both units also self-reported on their productivity, and no significant differences were found based on the type of work arrangement.

Results of the November survey did not differ significantly from those in September; there was also no difference between the units in either survey, which Colbert and Nahrgang said are positive signs that employees are settling in well with the new work arrangements.

Nahrgang said the organization aided that process by focusing on picking the arrangement that best fit each role and then effectively communicating with employees about their new arrangement and the transition.

Employees reported a low intent to leave the organization in surveys with several factors contributing. If employees felt the decision-making process was fair or that their arrangement fit their role, they thought less about leaving. Colbert said employers still figuring out what return to work looks like for their organizations should take into account these kinds of employee perceptions.

"There is a sense that if people don't get the work arrangement they want, they may leave. … It's not that employees will leave if they don't get the work arrangement that they want, necessarily, [but] the organization can influence that decision by doing a better or worse job of explaining the reasons and supporting the employees in this process," Colbert said.

Here are some other recommendations based on the research for leaders planning or adjusting their team’s return to work:

Take advantage of pilot periods. Nahrgang said there shouldn’t be a rush to complete the transition to new work arrangements, whatever they are. A pilot period gives workers time to try an arrangement and adjust it before it becomes permanent.

"What you don't know is that configuration of people working in different arrangements, [and] how that is going to impact coordination between people," Nahrgang said. "I do think the pilot periods allow you to get an understanding of how is work distributed. How are individuals working together with these different work arrangements? And then how can we best coordinate together to achieve success?"

Train managers in remote supervision. The changes to the workplace have also altered how managers lead and communicate with their employees, including how they share expectations and provide support. Colbert said employees feeling that they have effective leadership, whether people are remote or in-person, was a contributing factor in their intent to leave the organization. Beth Livingston, an assistant professor in the Tippie College of Business, is currently using a $1.2 million grant to develop training for managers supervising remote workers that could be implemented in small and large organizations across Iowa.

There is more data from the pilot period to study, particularly on the units themselves and how their combination of work arrangements affects their operations. But Nahrgang and Colbert are both confident that alternative work arrangements, especially hybrid, are the new norm.

Even though many businesses are already in the transition back to offices, Colbert said the evolving labor market and ongoing pandemic will make work arrangements a priority at least for the near future.

"Ultimately, every organization is a part of the larger labor market, so what other organizations are doing with regard to work arrangements are going to impact what any organization needs to decide in order to keep their employees," she said. "I think we're going to see the effects of this playing out for the next two or three years as organizations settle into what their new work arrangements will look like."

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Final expansion to make Altoona site Meta’s largest data center worldwide
By Business Record Staff
Architectural rendering of the Altoona Data Center campus after the final expansion. Photo courtesy Meta
Meta (formerly Facebook) announced Tuesday a seventh and final expansion at its Altoona Data Center that will make it the company’s largest operational data center in the world.

The expansion will add two new buildings to the data center campus, which upon completion will total more than 5 million square feet. Completion is expected in 2025.

Meta made the announcement at an event Tuesday where seven participants graduated from the Hardhat in Hand program. The initiative, launched in Iowa earlier this year, trains new workers for the skilled trades workforce. Local partners Des Moines Area Community College and Turner Construction, Meta’s general contractor, provide the classroom and on-the-job training over the course of an eight-week program.

Construction began on the data center in 2013, and more than 400 people work at the site. The data center will continue to be supported by 100% renewable wind energy.

Related: Facebook, local partners join effort to address need for skilled trade workers

What is one thing you would like to see happen in Iowa to strengthen the state's defense against cyberattacks?

"We need help from the legislation within Iowa. Although federal guidelines exist, there are too many to follow, and most differ depending on several factors. We need something specific to Iowa, built by Iowans, to ensure it has the state’s best interest in mind. I’d encourage the federal guidelines to be used, as it’s a great starting point, but deviation from standards and new rules will make it more challenging to adopt as both state and federal requirements will need to be followed. Keep it simple and leverage the basics; the guidelines and conditions need to be simple yet effective for mass adoption," said Brandon Potter, chief technology officer at ProCircular.
-- Sarah Bogaards, staff writer

Virginia’s Legislature is first to suffer ransomware attack

The information technology agency serving the Virginia Legislature was hit by a ransomware attack Friday that has caused significant damage, the Associated Press reports. The malware damaged "all of the agency’s internal servers, including those for bill drafting, the budget system and the General Assembly voicemail system," according to an email from the executive director of the agency, Dave Burhop. A ransom note was left, but it did not specify an amount or a deadline for sending the ransom. Virginia is the 74th state or local government to suffer a ransomware attack this year, but this is the first one on a state legislature. Virginia's executive branch agencies, law enforcement agencies including the FBI, and cybersecurity firm Mandiant are all assisting with the investigation.

Two outreach organizations receive $50,000, career certificates from Google
Google announced Tuesday during a workforce roundtable with Gov. Kim Reynolds that it will give Des Moines-based Genesis Youth Foundation and Hampton-based La Luz Centro Cultural $50,000 in funding and 75 Google Career Certificates each to further their initiatives advancing digital skills. Google Career Certificates equip learners to enter into in-demand jobs in the growing technology fields of data analytics, IT support, project management, and user experience design. At Genesis Youth Foundation, the funding will support their Ubuntu Technology program. La Luz supports access to the workforce for Iowa’s Latino community with services like English as a second language classes and interpretation.

"The Google Career Certificates will make a big impact in our community. Many people want to pursue higher education or a well-paying career, but lack the opportunities to do so," Claudia Rivera, executive director of La Luz said in a release. "With Google's career certificate program, we can find those individuals who want to succeed and provide learning needed to advance to better-paying jobs. The financial support will also help us jumpstart construction on our building to build classrooms, youth area, food pantry, and offices." Google’s largest data center worldwide is located in Council Bluffs.
Pictured in the photo from left are Claudia Rivera, executive director of La Luz Centro Cultural; Ryan Ackels, site lead at Google’s data center in Council Bluffs; Gov. Kim Reynolds; Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg; and Sam Gabriel, co-founder and executive director of Genesis Youth Foundation.


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The conglomerate paradox

NPR: In this 10-minute podcast from Planet Money, hosts Greg Rosalsky and Stacey Vanek Smith ponder the recent breakup of traditional conglomerates like GE and Johnson & Johnson and how tech companies are seemingly right behind, ready to replace them. Amazon, for example, owns Whole Foods and MGM Studios. Historically, investors weren’t interested in conglomerates because the same result could be achieved with individual companies, and despite these "techglomerates" following the same model, they continue to be highly profitable. One theory is that the core business of Big Tech companies is making up for conglomerate acquisitions do not perform as well. Going forward, tech companies face the test of trying to improve upon their predecessors and figuring out how to manage a diverse portfolio of businesses and their synergies successfully.

IN OTHER NEWS: Three millennials started a digital bank to help the LGBTQ+ community meet its financial needs (WIRED). A residential solar company is seeking to change the view that home solar panels are only a luxury for wealthy people (REUTERS). Sian Proctor on her long-awaited space journey and the future of private missions (WALL STREET JOURNAL).
Can blockchain make surety bonds simpler?
By Joe Gardyasz | Senior Staff Writer

Not long after Zach Mefferd and Ryan Swalve launched Coverage Direct in 2016, they quickly discovered a big challenge while running the West Des Moines-based independent insurance agency: how to harness technology to make it simpler and easier for customers to obtain a niche insurance product — surety bonds.

On Jan. 1, they launched ZipBonds, an insurance technology company focused on building an online platform aimed at improving and simplifying the process of obtaining surety bonds.

"We still believe the independent agency channel is the best way to buy insurance, but unfortunately, it has not kept up as well as others in the technology space," Mefferd said.

ZipBonds recently joined a group of 27 national corporations in the surety industry, among them Merchants Bonding Co. of West Des Moines, in a project aimed at streamlining the process of securing power of attorney authorizations for surety bonds. Organized by the Institutes RiskStream Collaborative — the insurance industry’s largest enterprise-level blockchain consortium — the Surety Bonds Power of Attorney Lab is pulling together representatives of sureties, brokers and agents, as well as solutions providers. Continue reading

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Jan. 11: Legislative Forecast

What will the 2022 Iowa legislative session mean for business? We will sit down with business leaders to learn what issues they are focusing on when the Legislature convenes on Jan. 10. We will discuss how the continuing coronavirus pandemic may affect legislation and the effects that may have on decisions made by the state’s business community. We will focus on key issues business leaders need to be aware of heading into the 2022 session, what lawmakers need to do to offset the labor shortage and supply chain disruptions, and what issues business leaders may be closely watching that could influence those decisions. We’ll also discuss how what happened in 2021 could influence further work by lawmakers on issues, such as broadband expansion and child care.

WHEN: 12-1 p.m.
WHERE: Virtual event
Learn more and register

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