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Tech companies need to find better ways to prove their employees are vaccinated

Protocol Workplace

Welcome back to the Protocol Workplace newsletter. We're glad you're here.

This week Microsoft announced that starting in September, the company will require proof of vaccination for all employees who plan to visit any Microsoft campus. What the company did not say was exactly how verification would work. HR vendors like ADP and Workday are developing tools to help employers track and secure vaccine information, but there's still no standard as to what proof companies require other than a physical vaccine card or a photo of it.

As more and more tech companies begin to institute vaccine mandates, we hope they find something that works better than the NY Covid Safe app, which apparently can't tell the difference between a vaccine card and a menu for meat.

Protocol reporter Allison Levitsky has been covering the rapidly evolving return to office and says that many companies are taking employees at their word that they're vaccinated, although that might change with the continued rise in cases, especially among the unvaccinated.

As for me, last week I filled out the online form to get the digital record of my vaccination status (#TeamModerna). The form was easy enough to complete and I assumed that when I received a link to the online "card," via text, I'd be able to add it to my Apple Wallet for safekeeping and easy access. Yeah. No.

Having covered the technology industry for more than twenty years, I don't know why I continue to be Charlie Brown thinking this time I'll get to kick Lucy's football, this time technology will make important things easier. Instead, I took a screenshot of the QR code and saved it in a locked Apple Note, where it is sort of secure and maybe a little easier to access than keeping the screenshot in my camera roll, which is what the State of California website recommends for people with iPhones. Am I the only one who doesn't want to be scrolling through her camera roll to find that photo to show her employer?

If you have an Android Phone you can save your record to Google Pay and there are many third-party apps that will let you add your card to your wallet, but the security and data-collecting practices of these apps are less than ideal.

— Meg Morrone

Senior Editor, Protocol | Workplace

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Get Stuff Done

A more meaningful meeting

Is it better to schedule breaks in between a series of different meetings or should you knock them all out in a row to allow for more focused meetingless time before or after? Should meetings be once a week, bi-weekly, or how about never? These are among the constant questions we ask ourselves in our hybrid world where meetings must be planned and intentional lest someone scold us that our meeting could have been an email. Our panel of experts convenes this month to show us how to bring people together without wasting anyone's time. Clear your meeting schedule so you can attend. And then go ahead and clear your meeting schedule for the rest of the week.


Office Politics

Activision Blizzard fallout continues

The president of Activision Blizzard is officially out as of Tuesday, following a deluge of reports of sexual harassment, discrimination against women and a "frat bro" culture inside the company. President J. Allen Brack will be replaced by two executive VPs, Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra, who will co-lead the studio. The company's SVP of Human Resources, Jesse Meschuk, has also left.

  • Brack's resignation and Meschuk's departure followed a massive lawsuit filed by the state of California against Activision Blizzard. The suit alleged that after a two-year investigation, the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment found that the company created a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination against women. (For context, lawsuits like these from the DFEH are very rare.)
  • After Activision Blizzard responded to the suit with an angry denial, more women at the company came forward to share their own stories and corroborate the state's allegation. About 500 employees then staged a walkout late last week, demanding the company create a new set of processes for dealing with the harassment and discrimination reports.
  • Also this week, some workers sent another public letter to company leadership, demanding that the company end its partnership with Wilmer Hale, the law firm hired to investigate the allegations. WilmerHale has a history of representing companies fighting union efforts, and it also led the investigation at Pinterest after employees there alleged gender and race-based discrimination.

As part of Activision's Q2 earnings report Tuesday evening, the California lawsuit was added to the company's list of risk factors: "If we experience prolonged periods of adverse publicity, significantly reduced productivity or other negative consequences relating to this matter, our business likely would be adversely impacted."

Anna Kramer (email| twitter)

Job Descriptions

The eternal quest for ethical AI

Twitter calls it META. Google calls it "Ethical AI." Whatever the name, teams dedicated to making sure AI and ML tools are used ethically and responsibly are becoming a core part of lots of tech companies. They've come with plenty of controversy in the past — just ask Timnit Gebru — but Twitter's Rumman Chowdhury and Jutta Williams said they're dedicated to proving it's possible to get right.

  • But it has to start at the top. "You need leadership supporting what you're doing," Chowdhury said. "The teams doing this work need to be empowered to do this work."
  • It has to be integrated into the team. "META sits on our machine-learning infrastructure team," Chowdhury said. "Rather than putting us in a compliance organization or somebody outside of the model builders, we are in the middle of them." That's part of the reason she decided to go work for Twitter in the first place.
  • And you have to have measurements. Ethics and bias can feel qualitative and soft next to hard and fast numbers like speed and accuracy, but it's possible to have standards and benchmarks across the board. (This one's tricky, though, and Chowdhury said the standards are still a work in progress.)

It's easy for folks in security, compliance and teams like META to feel like the bummers in the room, telling everyone to slow down and be careful. But Williams framed it differently: "I used to say, why are there brakes on a car? It's so that you can drive fast."

  • When people don't have to worry about the implications of their work or the unknowns of what happens next, she said, they can innovate more quickly and more aggressively.

This balance between qualitative and quantitative data is a critical one to get right with your team, in everything from AI models to the new KPIs of hybrid work. (There's no magical rubric for balancing employee well-being vs. code commits.) And it's only possible if everyone buys in.

— David Pierce (email | twitter)


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Join Protocol's David Pierce for a conversation with Mural's CEO Mariano Suarez-Battan and Calendly's Annie Pearl during our upcoming event: A Better Meeting August 17 at 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET Learn More


The Workforce

The Amazon union election is back from the dead

The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that Amazon violated labor laws during the months-long mail-in union election at a Bessemer, Alabama facility, which means that a second election will likely be held soon, date to be determined. Amazon, of course, plans to appeal the decision.

Though the union organizers (represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union) lost the vote by more than a 2:1 ratio in April, Amazon's conduct "usurped" the NLRB's authority, according to a decision from hearing officer Kerstin Meyers released Tuesday morning.

— AK


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