The Covid-19 pandemic uprooted more than 30% of the total American workforce, dispatching more fortunate employees to home offices and less fortunate ones to kitchen tables, where they have to wrestle with their remote-schooled kids for elbow room. A significant number of workers now have a favorite “boss embarrassing themselves on Zoom” story, and many have not seen their colleagues in person for the better part of a year.
A mental health and productivity disaster in the making? Maybe not. Many editors told PW they’re seeing an opportunity for and interest in changing the world of work for the better, and for the long term. George Witte, senior v-p and editor-in-chief at St. Martin’s Publishing Group, notes a spate of submissions that are looking forward with an eye toward innovation, not just making the best of a bad situation. “Some are real problem-solving books,” he says. “Do we really need all this office space? Do we need to fly as much to conferences and all over the world to meetings, or can we take care of this in a different way? Can people work remotely effectively, rather than commuting or living in expensive cities?”
In this feature, PW looks at books that champion new ways of working and living—changes that companies once considered too onerous to make, only to have their hands forced by the pandemic.
We can work it out
The option of remote work is now an expectation not a perk, editors say, and failing to meet that expectation is going to have an impact on companies’ bottom lines. “For a long time, organizations were skeptical of flexible work,” says Lucy Carter, senior commissioning editor at Kogan Page. “If you let people work from home, they thought, they just watch daytime TV and shop online.”
Flexible Working by Gemma Dale, which Kogan Page will release at the end of December, offers a counterargument. “Covid has showed organizations that they can do flexible working, and that they must,” Carter says. “If you don’t offer flexible working, you’re losing out on great candidates. A lot of people won’t even apply.”
Publishers are sizing up these sorts of shifts in order to create evergreen sellers, rather than drop-ins that will be gone with the next news cycle. “We’re nervous about doing too much that’s super Covid-focused,” says Neal Maillet, associate publisher and editorial director at Berrett-Koehler. Though the publisher’s January release The Long-Distance Teammate is topical—PW’s review noted that it “couldn’t have arrived at better time”—authors Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel, cofounders of the Remote Leadership Institute, aren’t designing a whole new teamwork model, Maillet says. “The book tries to figure out what has always made work work, and how do we adjust to doing it remotely? These are old topics in new bottles.”
Still, the pandemic has been a catalyst for organizations to make the policy shifts their employees have championed for years. “Companies that have had to make changes to their way of working realized, ‘Hey, we’re capable of this. Let’s learn from it,’ ” says Donya Dickerson, associate publisher for the business group at McGraw Hill. For Stronger Through Adversity (McGraw Hill Education, Dec.), organizational consultant Joseph A. Michelli interviewed 140 company leaders on their in-the-trenches strategies for shedding rigid and outdated policies and pivoting to a post-Covid world.
These new strategies, many experts say, need to be implemented for good. With more and more large companies such as Google, Twitter, and Uber promising long-term or indefinite remote work, managers can’t afford to fall back on short-term solutions, a point made in Tsedal Neeley’s Remote Work Revolution (see “Time to Do This Right,”) and other forthcoming titles.
“Teams are remote, and they’re not going back,” says Olivia Bartz, editorial associate at HMH. “The most likely scenario going forward is a hybrid remote/in-person office. I saw a gap in the market: there were Covid projects coming in aimed at employees—how to set up your home office, that kind of thing—but nothing for managers. We’ve been working with [leadership professor David] Burkus for a long time, so we reached out to him in May and told him he’d have two months to deliver. And he did.”
HMH will release Burkus’s Leading from Anywhere in January. Bartz calls the book “empowering, not fear-based; this is an optimistic how-to manual.”
Optimism is sorely needed among the many who’ve lost their jobs in the economic downturn. “We’re seeing millions out of work, and who knows what the economy will look like when the book comes out?” says Denise Silvestro, executive editor at Citadel, of the June release Next Job, Best Job by Rob Barnett, a headhunter. “You have to give them something empowering. Barnett helps readers frame their work history in a way that shows what their talent really is, and what they can offer.”
Job seekers who lack deep or varied résumés will need to take a broader view of possible career paths. Lindsey Pollak, author of 2014’s Becoming the Boss and other guides for young people in the workplace, wrote the March Harper Business release Recalculating based on a conversation with her agent about how to keep working after she’d lost a lot of speaking gigs; she wanted to find a new way to use her skills. “People are now reevaluating their careers, either because they want to or because they have to,” says Wendy Wong, assistant editor at Harper Business. “Anyone who wanted to go into an industry that’s now suffering because of Covid, such as restaurants or the movie industry, needs a new plan.”
Journalist and motivational speaker Fawn Germer’s Coming Back, a January release from St. Martin’s, addresses readers in the second halves of their careers: people who’ve ascended to high-level roles and then found themselves laid off or needing to step out of the workforce to provide child- or eldercare. “This is a big, big group that’s suffered a lot of job loss,” says George Witte at St. Martin’s. “They have mortgages, they may not have kept up with technologies. [Germer] is helping people reeducate into a related field, and figure out the practicalities of coming back into the workforce.”
Those lucky enough to still be employed—even if they’re doing their jobs from a corner of their bedroom—can find advice about managing the day to day in Work-from-Home Hacks by content strategist Aja Frost, due out from Adams Media in January. Frost’s editor, Julia Jacques, found her work online and approached her about writing a book that would help workers make their home setups feel less like home and more like work. “This is a troubleshooting guide,” says Brendan O’Neill, editor-in-chief at Adams Media. “You pop in and out to find the solution to a specific problem. It’s trying to help people continue their lives as normally as possible.”
Taking the DIY out of DEI
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a disaster for workplace gender equity. Women have disproportionately dropped out of the workforce; many were the lower wage earner in their household and therefore the de facto childcare provider when schools and daycares closed.
Working to alleviate this discrepancy is good for equity and for business—a point Kelly Watson and Jodi Ecker Detjen make in The Next Smart Step, which Imagine, the adult nonfiction imprint of Charlesbridge Publishing, will release in February. In it, the authors contend that companies must shift to flexible work policies and make efforts toward salary parity if they want to stay competitive. “This is a 21st-century leadership skill, and a 21st-century imperative; it’s about success as much as it is about fairness,” says Kevin Stevens, editorial director at Imagine. “Women have been dealing with work/life balance and managing child- and eldercare for generations, and the pandemic has made these issues that can’t be ignored.”
Several authors are putting the responsibility for ramping up DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) efforts squarely in leadership’s lap. “You might have thought that questions about equitable workplaces would have gotten lost during a pandemic, but the opposite has occurred,” says Tim Bartlett, executive editor at St. Martin’s. “There’s a new insistence that we get this right.”
By way of example, Bartlett cites Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, a 2017 St. Martin’s title that PW called “necessary reading for anyone who’s having trouble coming to terms with an underperforming workforce.” It has sold more than 313,000 print copies, according to BookScan, and was “popular with everyone, but worked best for white men,” Bartlett says. With the forthcoming Just Work, due out in March, “Scott recognized her own privilege. She availed herself of experts and did sensitivity reads. This book will help readers along the path to becoming part of the solution.”
The narrative has moved past convincing readers that a change needs to be made, editors say. Instead of focusing on the “what,” new books are exploring the “how.”
“A lot of companies and organizations aren’t just paying lip service to DEI efforts—this is a change that’s going to stick,” says Crown executive editor Paul Whitlatch of the findings in Robert Livingston’s The Conversation, which the Currency imprint will release in February. “We signed up the book two months before George Floyd’s murder, and we couldn’t have anticipated that the national conversation would turn so directly to racism in the workforce.” Following in the wake of books including White Fragility and How to Be an Antiracist, he says, “we’re now going to see the second generation of books that fit a more specific need, one that reaches HR and DEI leaders.”
Along similar lines, husband-and-wife team Raphael and Opeyemi Sofoluke offer advice to employees of color on managing workplace relationships in Twice as Hard, a June release from DK. Stephanie Milner, senior acquisitions editor at DK Life, notes the importance of reaching the next generation of businesspeople. The authors, who are entrepreneurs in the U.K., “come from corporate backgrounds and can speak that language,” she says. “They want to give advice to young Black professionals in the workplace for the first time. We’re publishing in June to try and reach graduating students who need to know what to do next.”
Liz Scheier is a writer, editor, and product developer in Washington, D.C.
Below, more on business books.
Time to Do This Right: PW Talks with Tsedal Neeley
Harvard Business School professor Neeley, author of ‘Remote Work Revolution,’ discusses Zoom fatigue, productivity myths, and the future of globally dispersed work.
Working Moms—and Dads: Business & Personal Finance Books 2020–20201
A new series from Harvard Business Review Press fills an urgent need for working parents.
Your Money and Your Life: Business & Personal Finance Books 2020–20201
Personal finance writers take a sober look at how readers can protect their families’ financial security in crisis times.