CHAPTER 1What We Learned from the Pandemic: Our Research Shows Remote Work Is Here to Stay

During normal times, Starbucks opens a new store in China every 15 hours. But in late January 2020, as executives at its regional headquarters in Shanghai began hearing reports of a highly contagious new virus spreading in Wuhan and beyond, the team had to make an uncharacteristic decision: to close all its 4,300 stores in China to prevent the spread of the illness, and to send all 58,000 employees home.

Schematic illustration of a closed room, in which it has written closed and open on it.

Like other multinationals with a strong presence in China, Starbucks’ operations there gave it an early warning of how seriously COVID-19 might affect its locations and communities around the globe. But when COVID-19 began forcing U.S. companies to close their doors and shift to remote work in mid-March, Starbucks was still, in some ways, ill prepared. “Because we're a relationship-driven company, we've never done a great job supporting people who've wanted to work remotely,” said Lucy Helms in an interview. (Before retiring at the end of 2020, Lucy was Starbucks’ chief human resources officer.) For instance, the company had more than 50 software systems that supported remote work, but partly because there were so many options, few employees knew how to use them effectively. Quickly, Starbucks’ tech group, led by Chief Technology Officer Gerri Martin-Flickinger, created crash courses ...

Get Leading at a Distance now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience books, live events, courses curated by job role, and more from O’Reilly and nearly 200 top publishers.