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Free food at the office used to make a stressful day better.

But with so many employees still working remotely, how can bosses show their appreciation?

I asked companies what they are doing to keep the office culture alive in a virtual world.

E-commerce checkout company Fast said it’s sending gift cards to employees for a weekly team meal, along with a weekly snack box.

Another company, UKG, which offered its working parents a virtual summer camp for their kids, is now offering after-school help this fall. It’s a win-win situation: kids are entertained, while parents get a break so they can be more productive at work.

And San Francisco-based Splunk is offering an extra 30 “pandemic days,” to give workers extra time to care for themselves and their family.

Click here to read about more creative perks companies are offering.

Dropbox is going remote …. kinda

Dropbox says it’s becoming a “virtual first” company.

So what does that mean?

Employees will work remotely the majority of the time to focus on their individual work, but they’ll go into the office for more collaborative events, like strategy sessions, team building and training.

To do that, the company is going to revamp its current office space: no more individual desks. Instead there will be more collaborative and meeting spaces.

Teams will agree on dates for when they will be in the office together.

I asked Melanie Collins, vice president of people, why the company isn’t taking a hybrid approach where workers choose when – or if – they come into the office. She explained that the hybrid model could create an unlevel playing field that favors in-person workers.

“We had reservations on this model because it perpetuates two very different employee experiences that could result in issues with things like inclusion or inequity with respect to performance or career trajectory and this really was a non-starter for us.”

Read more about Dropbox’s “virtual first” workplace plans here.

WFH tip: Make meetings more productive

Let’s be honest: Meetings can sometimes be a huge waste of time. And who really has time to waste these days?

According to Aye Moah, co-founder of productivity software company Boomerang, it takes an average of eight emails to make a meeting happen. So what can you do? Here’s her advice:

To avoid scheduling headaches, block off pre-determined slots each week that will only be for meetings and calls. It lets you better schedule your productivity, and also cuts down scheduling to one email without errors, so [you] can focus on making the meeting itself great. 

All remote? Not so fast….

Yes, a lot of companies are talking about going all-remote all the time, but don’t sound the death knell for the office just yet.

The president and chief operating officer of Xerox said that, despite advances in technology that better enable us to work wherever we want, there are still drawbacks to an all-remote workforce.

The key to the future of work is flexibility: allowing employees to work in the office and also remotely, wrote Steve Bandrowczak for CNN Business’ Perspectives.

While it’s not a totally surprising take from a provider of office equipment and services, Bandrowczak stressed the advantages of having people in the office.

In particular, he notes that in-person connections are important drivers for collaboration and driving change.

It’s happening…

An alarming number of women have dropped out of the workforce.

Nearly eight times more women than men dropped out of the labor force in the US last month, reports my colleague Anneken Tappe.

Here are the numbers: About 617,000 women left the workforce in September, compared with only 78,000 men.

What’s going on? Women are disproportionately represented in industries that have been hit hard by the pandemic, including retail and accommodation and food services.

And women tend to take on more of the childcare and housework compared to men. Read more about the problem here.

Coffee break

Even Santa Claus has to rethink how he works during the pandemic.

Santas will still be making appearances for photo ops at some malls this holiday season, but it will be a “touchless experience,” reports CNN Business’ Parija Kavilanz.

That means socially distanced visits, with no hugging or lap sitting. For those who don’t want to head to the mall to visit Santa, you can schedule a Zoom call with him.

Well, at least this year we can blame the pandemic for all those awkward Santa pics.