Protocol | Workplace
Your guide to the new world of work, every Wednesday.
Photo: Maskot/Getty Images

What tech workers want

Empty desks and chairs

Welcome to our fifth Workplace newsletter. If you've been with us since the beginning, thank you for joining us on this journey. If you've just subscribed, welcome. This is the newsletter where we break down everything you need to know about the ever-evolving tech workplace. Forward it to your co-worker, your cousin and, most especially, your boss.

This week we have something special for you. Protocol partnered with Morning Consult to dive deep into how tech employees feel about the world of work. Among the findings in the survey results, we learned that employees want the opportunity to work from home, they want snacks if they return, and they want to form unions and talk about politics at work.

Read more about the survey and download the full results.

Plus, this week: Apple told employees to return to the office in October instead of September, Expensify's CEO signaled his support for workers' unions at a Protocol event, and a digital whiteboard app says we should cancel all of our meetings and play games instead.

As always, I'm eager to hear your tips, story ideas, questions, comments or anything else about what we're covering. Reply to this newsletter (or any of our newsletters) to let us know what's on your mind. You can also find me on email or @meganmorrone on Twitter where I hang out far too often and pretend that it's for work.

— Meg Morrone

Senior Editor, Protocol | Workplace

(Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get Workplace every Wednesday.)

At the Office

Mask on, mask off

Rising COVID-19 case counts, which are mostly driven by the highly infectious Delta variant, are inspiring some tech companies to take a more cautious approach to reopening their offices.

Apple is delaying its reopening from September to October, Bloomberg reported Monday, and both Google and Intel have begun strongly encouraging even vaccinated employees to wear masks inside offices.

The new mask guidance comes after local officials in the Bay Area and Los Angeles started urging mask-wearing indoors, even by vaccinated people, who make up a tiny percentage of serious COVID-19 infections.

It's striking for a company as big and as office-oriented as Apple to show hesitation about reopening offices, but it's not the only one that won't reopen in September.

  • Facebook said last month that it expected to fully reopen its offices in October, and told Protocol on Tuesday that it was "monitoring the situation closely."
  • Several other large companies — including Salesforce, SAP and ServiceNow — have previously said they would let employees work from home until next year.
  • Google hasn't indicated any change to its plan to fully reopen in September, but told Protocol on Tuesday that it was watching the changing situation.

— Allison Levitsky (email | twitter)

Office Politics

Another bad week for Google

The hits to Google's workplace reputation just keep coming, and they aren't getting any less serious. Last Friday, the Alphabet Workers Union launched a petition calling for Google to change the way it handles allegations of sexual assault after young Googler Jessica (Ming) Tao wrote online that she had been pushed to take leave after being raped.

  • The petition calls for Google to change its policies so that workers are not pushed to take leave or enroll in employee assistance therapy, and so they can be immediately compensated for their leave when they do take it. Google said that it did not force Tao to take leave, and that she will be paid for leave.

Later that same day, ex-Googler Chelsey Glasson said that mediation with Google over her long-time allegations that the company discriminated against her while she was pregnant had failed. The discrimination case is now set to go to trial in early December.

Finally, on Monday, Googler Ashley Ray-Harris wrote in a public letter that she was leaving the company after experiencing "corporate racism." "At a certain point I realized that even if you find a team that makes you feel welcomed, we still work within a company that views Black women as lesser than even as we sacrifice our mental health and work/life balance for this company," Ray-Harris wrote in her resignation letter.

Anna Kramer (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM ZOOM

A survey of 12,000 employees by Boston Consulting Group found 60% of respondents want flexibility as far as where and when they work. As the world plans to safely reopen businesses, educational institutions, health care facilities and government entities, we are focused on innovating across our platform to support their needs.

Learn more

DEI

Expensify CEO gets behind anti-NDA bill

David Barrett, CEO of Expensify, has made a name for himself as a politically-active executive in the tech industry. Ahead of the presidential election, he urged the company's 10 million customers to vote for Joe Biden instead of Donald Trump. Now, he's getting on board with supporting anti-NDA legislation spearheaded by Ifeoma Ozoma, a former Pinterest employee who alleged discrimination and retaliation. He also signaled his support for unions at a recent Protocol event.

  • Barrett agreed to adopt specific language in Expensify's employee agreements to allow workers to speak about any situations involving harassment or discrimination in the workplace. Within a few hours following the event, Barrett tweeted that he spoke with Expensify's corporate counsel and received the go-ahead to update the company's employee documents.
  • Barrett also said he would willingly recognize a union, but would wonder what he did to "make anyone feel like that was the correct solution."
  • In Barrett's mind, unionizing is "a really important solution to a problem. But it's also a recognition that there was a problem to be solved in the first place."
  • Ozoma responded, saying: "The purpose of a union is not to be in conflict with management, it's to ensure that workers have a seat at the table. It's to ensure that workers have their voices heard in a way that is not the same for everyone."

Megan Rose Dickey (email | twitter)

The Workforce

Who gets to work from home?

Some aren't waiting to find out. While most organizations are still ironing out the details of who gets to work from home, employees are taking matters into their own hands and moving to fully-remote companies. According to Protocol's recent survey, 39% of workers strongly agree it's important for their company to let them work remotely indefinitely.

Economist and futurist Rebecca Ryan said companies that are still having conversations about the right balance between home and office are missing out on the future of work. She shared her insight on the topic of who gets to work from home and why employees are leaving in a conversation with Protocol.

  • The outcry in response to some leaders working remotely while employees are being called back to the office is a result of increased transparency, said Ryan. For employees, the move can come off as "tone-deaf."
  • A number of organizations are touting new incentives and increased compensation to lure employees back to the office, but Ryan said this approach is a one-dimensional viewpoint of the employee experience. According to research from McKinsey, 40% of workers do not prefer a full return and some are even prepared to leave if that becomes the case.
  • Some employees view their organization's unclear remote work policies as a breach of trust. "That takes years to develop and minutes to destroy," Ryan told Protocol. "So I think there's just a little bit of chaos right now in the minds of business leaders because they haven't had to sit down and have a good think about the entire employee experience, and if they have broken trust with people, if they haven't given people a reason to be loyal to them, they're gonna have a harder time of it."

— Amber Burton (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM ZOOM

A survey of 12,000 employees by Boston Consulting Group found 60% of respondents want flexibility as far as where and when they work. As the world plans to safely reopen businesses, educational institutions, health care facilities and government entities, we are focused on innovating across our platform to support their needs.

Learn more

Get Stuff Done

Games, not meetings

Mariano Suarez-Battan, the CEO of digital whiteboard app Mural, has a solution for your terrible meetings: Don't have meetings. Play games instead. If you imagine every staff meeting and stand-up as basically a mini Dungeons & Dragons quest, you'll both get more done and have more fun.

  • Just bringing everyone into a room together isn't enough, he said, especially when it's a virtual room. What you need instead, he said, is "an online space combined with methodologies."
  • Having a good game-master is key, Suarez-Battan said. "Someone in the meeting has to have the job of making sure it's well-designed, well-run and well-wrapped up." Their job is not to dominate the meeting but to set what he calls "the rules of play," essentially creating the right space for everyone else to mess around inside.
  • You should also have templates for every type of meeting or brainstorm, which Suarez-Battan thinks of similarly to a Monopoly board: Every game played on it will be different, but the structure keeps things relatively together.
  • There are lots of resources out there for how to brainstorm effectively, or do good design reviews or all-hands meetings. The most successful companies, Suarez-Battan said, are the ones who use those to codify their own systems, so everyone has a shared understanding of the rules of the game. (And maybe a few house rules, too.)

Games in business are usually thought of as icebreakers, or ways to get people comfortable before getting down to Serious Work. Suarez-Battan thinks that misses the point. "Imagination and playful social connection are the things that we need to innovate," he said.

The best version of a meeting, he said, is one that exists mostly just to make time and space for people to be creative and imaginative. That requires just the right mix of rules and chaos. Just like any good game does.

David Pierce (email | twitter)

Thanks for reading! Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to workplace@protocol.com. Enjoy your day; see you next week.

If you or a loved one needs help:

Call RAINN's sexual assault hotline at 1-800-656-4673, 24 hours a day.

Recent Issues