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Rising COVID cases crash more return-to-work plans

Empty desks in an office

Good morning! Welcome back to our weekly workplace newsletter where we share the latest tips, tools and insights to help you stay informed about the modern workplace. This week: It looks like your home office will be in use for a while yet, why Labor Day is a tech day now, and the route to a four-day work week.

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—Amber Burton, Reporter (twitter | email)

The Big Picture

Back to the home office

We've made it to September, the month that many executives proclaimed their employees would return to the office. And are you settling back into your commute? Probably not: Many tech companies have pushed back their return-to-the-office dates again to account for the national rise in COVID-19 cases, demonstrating once more that CEOs are no match for a global health crisis.

Rising COVID case numbers have upended plans. This Labor Day weekend saw more than double the amount of COVID-19 related hospitalizations as the same time last year, according to CDC data, and as of last week the country averaged 100,000 daily hospitalizations. That continued spread of the more contagious Delta variant has caused some of the biggest tech players to push back their mandatory return-to-the-office and hybrid plans.

  • Last week, Google pushed its return-to-the-office date back to January 2022. Amazon, Uber and Apple have also pushed back their return dates to next year. Lyft, Facebook, Salesforce, SAP and Asana were among those that had already pushed the dates back.
  • Others, like Intel, have now started to take a less definite approach, and aren't naming specific dates any longer. "How much certainty are you really giving people by throwing an arbitrary date out there?" Todd Brady, Intel's director of global public affairs, said to The New York Times.
  • However you look at it, the hope for a confident return to the office in September has rolled away.

But how realistic is a January return? There's no shortage of people questioning that date on Twitter, citing the fact that respiratory illness will be at a peak during the winter months, just as many companies plan to get workers back in the office.

  • Uncertainty still remains high. The CDC's latest forecast predicts that there could be anywhere from 430,000 to 1,520,000 new cases by the first week of October. The center said even this prediction should be taken with caution, because "more reported cases have fallen outside of the forecasted prediction intervals than expected." In other words, we're still not clear about what we're in for as it relates to the continued spread of the Delta variant.
  • While some remain optimistic, other experts say their hesitation in declaring when things will get better stems from the return of students to schools, the persisting population of the unvaccinated and the expected behavior of more people gathering indoors when the weather gets colder.

How you handle this really matters. Many workers wish to continue working from home for a ton of reasons, and poor communication of expectations could easily cause them to look for work elsewhere.

  • A recent report by Medallia showed that fewer than 1/5 of respondents who currently work from home said they wanted to return to the office. Remote work flexibility has become one of the top priorities in the midst of the pandemic, according to the customer experience company.
  • Employees have more of a propensity to leave companies that have policies they don't agree with. Intelligence company Morning Consult found in its monthly U.S. Economic Outlook report that about 32% of workers were open to switching roles as of late July.
  • So before you send out that company-wide message, remember that setting arbitrary goals that you can't follow through on could leave swaths of your workforce unhappy.



Check out Protocol's full Return to Work Calendar for the latest updates about which companies are back in the office when.

Work Spot

Labor Day is a tech day now

Labor Day may now seem a distant memory (what a difference two days at work makes), but we can't get over the thought that this holiday means something more for the tech industry these days. The federal holiday came into existence 100 years before anyone had heard of a smartphone, created by the efforts of American unions to celebrate the power of workers and collective action. And though tech companies have had little success in unionizing so far, my colleague Anna Kramer writes that tech companies can't ignore Labor Day anymore.

The biggest and most pivotal fights over worker rights and the future of unionization are happening right now. And when almost every job is becoming at least tangentially a tech job, the issue of labor in the tech workplace cannot be ignored. The fight for worker rights and labor laws has been brought to the door of tech companies, and this weekend was a reminder that there's no escaping the issue.

Read the full story here.

A MESSAGE FROM PROEDGE, A PWC PRODUCT

To truly transform your workforce, you need to deliver engaging, relevant learning options that help your workforce acquire skills that align both to their roles — and to your goals. Check out the Eight signs you need to overhaul your approach to workforce transformation.

Learn more

Today's Tips & Tool

How to hit the TSA line with just your phone

As business travel slowly returns, so do the annoyances of schlepping from airport to airport. But a small bit of bright news for the more forgetful when flying across the country for work: People will soon be able to use the digital versions of their driver's licenses or state IDs in Apple Wallet in the sunny states of Georgia and Arizona and the TSA airport security line. So here's how to do it:

  • Why you would do this: If you live in one of the two states that have approved IDs via Apple Wallet, uploading your ID helps to eliminate the sheer panic that hits you in the TSA security line upon realizing you forgot your license in the front pocket of the jeans you left on your bedroom floor.
  • How it works: If you're in an approved state, open the Apple Wallet app and add your ID card information as you would if adding a debit or credit card. Simply tap the plus sign in the top of the app and scan your ID card. You'll then be prompted to upload a photo of yourself for verification and complete a facial scan much like you do when setting up facial recognition.
  • Best use case: For achieving the ultimate millennial minimalism and walking through the airport security line with nothing but your phone and a prideful smile.

Get Stuff Done

Creating a hybrid work culture

Should you schedule a Zoom talent show or start planning your next corporate offsite? These are the questions leadership and management are asking as they strive to create a stronger corporate culture in the time of hybrid work. Protocol's panel of experts will gather on Sept. 15 to discuss how to best manage the transition to a more hybrid workforce and keep employees engaged. Panelists will discuss everything from tech tools and how to avoid proximity bias to approaching DEI issues in a hybrid workplace. Join us for the conversation. RSVP here.

Making Moves

  • Lauren Gordon will join ConcertAI as its chief people officer. She will be the first to hold the role at the company. Gordon was formerly the chief people officer at Tmunity Therapeutics.
  • Janeen Speer will join Benevity as its chief people officer. Speer was previously the VP of talent at Shopify.

By The Numbers

Longing for a 4-day work week

  • A recent study by the software company Bizagi found that people believe the four-day work week is achievable: 49% of people said that they believe their role could be done in four days rather than five.
  • To achieve a four-day work week, 45% of people said it would take eliminating unnecessary tasks. 44% said that some of their tasks would need to be automated.
  • According to Morning Consult, fewer workers want to take on the traditional hours of a full-time job. Last month, just 46% of workers working under 35 hours — what would be considered a part-time job — said they wanted to be working more. That's a decrease from April 2020, when 60% of workers said they wanted to work more hours.

A MESSAGE FROM PROEDGE, A PWC PRODUCT

To truly transform your workforce, you need to deliver engaging, relevant learning options that help your workforce acquire skills that align both to their roles — and to your goals. Check out the Eight signs you need to overhaul your approach to workforce transformation.

Learn more

Around The Internet

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

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

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