Empty desks in an office
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Who’s afraid of omicron?

Protocol Workplace

Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter where we share the latest tips, tools and insights to help you stay informed about the modern tech office. Today: What the omicron variant means for the return to the office, DoorDash is hiring full-time workers, and the tech hiring challenge.

—Amber Burton, reporter (email | twitter)

Does ‘reopening’ even make sense anymore?

The long-postponed “return to the office” is starting to feel like a myth.

With flexible work now the industry norm and offices remaining largely empty, it’s hard to imagine the “full reopenings” planned for the coming months. Add in concerns about the new COVID-19 variant, omicron, and you’ve got a murky-looking 2022.

“There used to be a date, and then the date was getting pushed back and pushed back,” said Arnaud Ferreri, a senior director of engineering at Instacart. “The concept of ‘return back to office date’ doesn’t make sense anymore.”

Sitting on a plaza near Instacart’s San Francisco headquarters on Friday, Ferreri told me he’d been going into the office once or twice a week, but estimated that around 85% of desks go unused on any given day.

More than 70% of full-time roles at Instacart will accommodate permanent remote work, and a number of Ferreri’s colleagues in San Francisco have taken advantage by moving farther from the office, either within the Bay Area or to other parts of the country.

“I don’t see a world in which we go back to a hard rule of ‘everyone has butts in seats here,’” Ferreri said. (Instacart told me it doesn’t yet have any “official return-to-office timelines to share.”)

Flexible work means that the return to the office is a gradual one, particularly at companies that don’t require employees to spend half their time at the office.

Google, Microsoft, Uber, DoorDash and Twilio have all postponed their return dates indefinitely, and SAP has pushed its January return date back to next summer. Both Salesforce and Amazon have said they’d allow for remote work until January, but are leaving it up to teams how often they’ll work in the office in the new year.

For now, tech workers are still remote — mostly. Last week, Google touted that almost 40% of its workforce had been to the office at some point in the last few weeks, and encouraged others to “start regaining the muscle memory of being in the office more regularly.” The company didn’t say whether it was postponing its reopening date because of the omicron variant.

Apple and Facebook parent company Meta are still planning to start their hybrid models in January and February. At Meta’s San Francisco office, most employees are still working at home.

Svapnil Ankolkar, a software engineer at Meta, told me he started going into the office “when the free food started” a few weeks ago. But even free lunches haven’t been enough to lure most of his colleagues back: Ankolkar estimated that 15% or fewer were coming in, and he said some of his coworkers seemed nervous about omicron.

He’s noticed that more experienced employees, and those with kids at home, are staying home more.

“The people that already kind of like working at home — I think [the variant] is a good reason to stay at home longer,” said Ankolkar. “I imagine as you get more senior in your role at Facebook, you have more confidence in your ability to effectively work at home.”

As an early-career engineer, Ankolkar has already been coming in two or three days a week to set better boundaries between home and work. He’s a little more productive at the office, he said.

“I’m kind of more worried about the variant because I like being in the office,” Ankolkar said. “It’s nice to feel like you’re back to normal life again.”

— Allison Levitsky, reporter (email | twitter)

Gig workers are going full-time

For the first time, DoorDash is hiring full-time workers instead of gig workers to compete for faster delivery in Manhattan. The 15-minute delivery window has become the new time to beat in the industry. Hiring full-time instead of gig workers ensures DoorDash employees are available for quick deliveries at all times, rather than selecting when and where they’re willing to deliver. For regular gig workers, ever-increasing delivery-time pressure has become a source of danger, causing accidents and injuries, wrote my colleague Anna Kramer. The change in the employee model and locating the new jobs in centralized hubs is meant to improve the safety of workers as the expected speed of delivery increases. DoorDash will also supply and pay for delivery equipment and e-bikes for its full-time workers.

Read the full story here.

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See you in the inbox.


In order for an enterprise upskilling initiative to succeed, it’s important to create a culture where learning and innovation are celebrated and encouraged. What can you do to set your organization up for learning success?

Learn more

A year in enterprise tech

We spent the year looking for enterprise tech to save us from our new hybrid work lives. Join Protocol for a panel discussion with enterprise executives about the biggest developments in the technology and what trends are expected to follow in 2022. Editor Tom Krazit will be joined by Sheila Gulati, managing director at Tola Capital; Corey Quinn, chief cloud economist at The Duckbill Group; and Liz Fong-Jones, principal developer advocate at Honeycomb.io on Dec. 8 at 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET.

Register here.

Today's tips & tools

Prioritizing tasks might be the hardest part of your day: It’s definitely the case for me. You might find yourself trying to accomplish everything at once, and instead you end up doing nothing at all. Luckily, productivity experts have plenty of tips to help turn a pile of work into accomplishable projects.

  • Eat that frog. In other words, complete your hardest task of the day first thing in the morning. This tip comes from motivational speaker Brian Tracy’s 2001 bestseller.
  • Or, get the small tasks out of the way first. Completing a low-effort task might give you the boost you need to keep going. Blogger Gretchen Rubin suggests the one-minute rule: If something will take a minute or less, do it right away.
  • Focus on one task at a time. Multitasking means giving less energy to more tasks. Once you set your mind on one task, don’t let email or Slack messages or Twitter get in the way.

— Lizzy Lawrence, reporter (email | twitter)


In order for an enterprise upskilling initiative to succeed, it’s important to create a culture where learning and innovation are celebrated and encouraged. What can you do to set your organization up for learning success?

Learn more

Are you hiring?

It’s been a wild year for securing top tech talent, and some senior-level leaders say they’ve made compromises in the process in order to get people in the door. Beamery, a London-based talent management platform, recently released its “Talent Trap Report,” surveying over 500 senior executives about their thoughts on talent and hiring. No surprise, talent was one of their top challenges, even beating out concerns about tech. A whopping 81% of the execs surveyed said talent was their current priority when it came to business objectives. Here’s what else they had to say:

  • Skills gaps and compromises in recruitment have led some leaders to believe their business has stalled in some way. Around 30% of those surveyed in the U.S. said they feel anywhere from a quarter to one-half of their employees are “holding their organization back due a lack of skills or appropriate mindset.”
  • Even with talent being a top business objective for leaders, survey respondents said they felt their company’s talent planning was disconnected from other business goals.
  • Perhaps because of this, 83% of those surveyed still fear talent loss within their organizations.
  • More specifically, 57% of the respondents said they primarily fear the potential of losing their middle managers.

Around the internet

A roundup of workplace news from the farthest corners of the internet.

If you feel like your newfound work-life balance is being taken away with the return to the office, you’re not alone.

Should you give your boss a gift this holiday? Maybe don’t run to the store just yet.

People are becoming big fans of PDR… public displays of resignation.

And if you are returning to the office, here’s a guide for making the transition just a little bit easier on both employers and employees.

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to workplace@protocol.com. Have a great week, see you Thursday!

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