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Everybody’s burned out

Head exploding

Good morning! This Thursday, we're not really going to talk about Trump's second impeachment. But that's happening. Instead, a concerning look at the state of work, reactions to Apple's new racial-justice programs and an interesting open role at Twitter.

Also, join us today for our CES event! I'll be chatting with Protocol's Mike Murphy, Janko Roettgers and Emily Birnbaum about the biggest news, developments and trends from the show. It starts at 1 p.m. ET: sign up here.

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The Big Story

Everybody's burned out

Asana ran a study that puts numbers to what a lot of people are feeling: Everybody's working too much, everybody's burned out and everybody feels like they're not keeping up.

  • "I think the work got harder," Asana CEO Dustin Moskovitz told me. "The coordination got harder, but also, life got harder." He said that what Asana found didn't surprise him, but the degree of the problem did.

Turns out 87% of knowledge workers are working late now that they're working from home, according to Asana. 76% of people are having trouble disconnecting from work, and a full 70% of people have experienced burnout in the last year.

  • 62% of respondents also said they're experiencing imposter syndrome. In a remote world, Asana head of DEI Sonja Gittens Ottley said, "they don't feel heard enough. They're not speaking up. It's exacerbated if you're a parent or caregiver, or if you're a new hire. How are you knowing what you need to know?"

People are doing a lot of "work about work" according to Moskovitz: Asana found that workers spend 60% of their time doing status checks, looking for information and in pointless meetings. (Obviously, Asana has a specific point of view in trying to name and solve this particular problem.)

  • Spending time on the whats and whys of a project is usually time well spent, he said; time spent litigating issues such as process, time and details is usually wasted.
  • That has changed how Asana does meetings — it now optimizes for social interaction and big-picture thinking rather than constant status checks — and even how it onboards new employees.

Many employees are also feeling technically inadequate, as they're being forced to be their own IT managers and Zoom producers. "And then they don't feel confident, because it's all new. And it's a bunch of new things at once," said Moskovitz.

The takeaway from the Anatomy of Work study seems to be this: Use Asana. Wait, no, that's not it. It's this: There are big upsides to remote work, but they require a mindset shift both from employers and employees. (Moskovitz said he's been forcing his team members to take more vacations, even just closing the company for random days.) And companies have to make those shifts quickly, because the way we're all working now won't work for long.

Social

Tech's next hot job title?

Anna Kramer writes: As it continues to grapple with complicated cultural issues both inside and outside the company, Twitter seems to be betting on one solution: an ombuds program. It's one of the first companies to use the approach for dealing with internal worker complaints, with a system that will be shaped by an as-yet-unnamed new hire. The skeptics see the plan as an effort to quell potential unionization; the optimists think it has the potential for actual culture change.

What's an ombudsperson, you ask? Typically, they lead an independent organization that conducts investigations into employee complaints about issues such as harassment, racial and gender discrimination or code of conduct violations. Sometimes, they're empowered to provide anonymous support to employees and ensure that workers know their rights under the company's rules and the law.

  • There's no legal difference between HR, an "ombudsperson" or an investigations team. Plenty of companies have people who investigate employee complaints, and a fancy name might not resolve the fact that workers believe HR exists to protect the company.
  • The only other big-name tech company to publicly begin planning an ombuds team is Pinterest, which was required to launch one as part of the recommendations it adopted to address its cultural problems.

The reason ombuds teams usually exist is so that employee problems can "be dealt with without having it posted on social media, or without having an employee go to an external agency like the EEOC or the SEC," said Juliette Gust, the co-founder of Ethics Suite, a group that offers third-party, independent investigative services.

  • So far, Gust is mostly afraid that the ombuds team at Twitter won't be independent enough for skeptical workers because the company is building it internally, rather than seeking an external third-party to run the process.

Twitter wouldn't answer any questions about the plan, aside from confirming that it is in the process of hiring someone to lead and design the new team.

Apple

Weighing Apple's racial justice promise

Apple's new $100 million Racial Equity and Justice Initiative is a good step, though smaller than it could be, according to several DEI experts I spoke to after the announcement was made.

  • Quick summary of the plan, in case you missed it: Apple's spending all that money on a new innovation center in Atlanta for students at HBCUs, a coding bootcamp in Detroit and $35 million of it will go to two funds that invest in minority-owned businesses.
  • A full 25% of the spending will be going toward a new building (the innovation center in Atlanta), making some wonder how much of this is just good short-term PR for Apple, rather than a long-term commitment that will build over time.
  • Some skeptics would like to see Apple commit to internal changes as well, if the company wants its pledges to affect its own culture and products (Apple hasn't released a demographics report since 2018). "I hope this small first step is the first of many," said Lisa Calhoun, the founding general partner of Valor Ventures, an early-stage Atlanta-based firm.

Two things are true here, experts told me: These investments should help create the opportunities that everyone wants to see, and Apple still could have done more.

  • Investing in HBCUs creates long-term change for generations, according to Joey Womack, the founder of Goodie Nation, a nonprofit that supports minority-owned startups in Atlanta. Strong relationships between students, teachers and the tech community are essential to transforming the tech pipeline, Womack said.
  • Apple isn't the first to catch on to this idea: IBM, Michael Bloomberg and MacKenzie Scott are some of many others in the tech world who made major pledges to HBCUs this year.

Apple clearly understands the importance of geography; its investments in Atlanta and Detroit show that. Both are historically neglected cities flooded with Black engineers and talent seeking economic opportunity, meaning there's loads of room for growth. Among the companies that are serious about tapping into that energy, we can expect to see more of them emulate these investments.

A MESSAGE FROM MICRON

Micron

For Raj Hazra, who is senior vice president of corporate strategy and communications at Micron, there has never been a more thrilling time than this golden age of data. In this interview, Hazra describes how "we are now at the doorstep of taking things that we thought were science fiction and making them real, and it's only going to be exponentially faster going forward". Read more from Micron's Raj Hazra.

People Are Talking

On Protocol: Affirm had a huge IPO yesterday, and Max Levchin said success was largely due to the company's values:

  • "One big part of it is how much we attach ourselves to the idea of honest financial products, not just an opportunity for profit. It's really powerful, and that's resonated with millions of consumers and thousands and thousands merchants."

FCC commissioner Brendan Carr said Trump bears responsibility for the Capitol riots:

  • "This is something that should be called out and rejected clearly, forcefully, continuously, by everyone."

Jack Dorsey finally tried to explain Twitter's ban of @realDonaldTrump:

  • "I do not celebrate or feel pride in our having to ban @realDonaldTrump from Twitter, or how we got here ... Having to take these actions fragment the public conversation ... And sets a precedent I feel is dangerous."

Parler CEO John Matze said his service may not be coming back:

  • "It could be never. We don't know yet."

On Protocol: Twilio's Jeff Lawson explained why he cut Parler off:

  • "This is fringe, extremist stuff. And if this were some other religion we'd be having a very different conversation. I just think that because it is happening in America, and it's largely white, it's 'why are we shutting it down?'"

Making Moves

Dropbox laid off 315 people, about 11% of the company. COO Olivia Nottebohm is also leaving the company next month.

Bob Swan is stepping down as Intel CEO. He'll be replaced by VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger, which is a homecoming of sorts: He was Intel's first CTO. (Don't miss our story on what it'll take for VMware to replace him.)

Jeff Horowitz is BitGo's new chief compliance officer. He joins from the same role at Coinbase.

In Other News

  • Tech's starting to worry about inauguration violence. Airbnb canceled all reservations in Washington, D.C. for next week, Google paused political ads and Facebook said it was removing fliers promoting potentially violent events this weekend and next week. Meanwhile, Snapchat permanently banned Trump's account.
  • The NHTSA asked Tesla to recall 158,000 vehicles over concerns that their touchscreens can suddenly stop working. Tesla has until Jan. 27 to respond to the request.
  • On Protocol: Google called for immigration reform during the Biden era. It also said it would donate $250,000 to cover the DACA applications of over 500 "Dreamers."
  • Netflix released its first inclusion report. Women make up 47% of its workforce and 48% of its leadership positions, but only 35% of technical roles. Black workers make up 8% of its U.S. workforce, up from 3.8% in 2017.
  • Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu might be safe from an investment blacklist. Reuters reports that the Trump administration has shelved plans to ban U.S. investors from owning the companies' shares.
  • Connecticut is investigating Amazon for anticompetitive behavior. It's concerned about the terms of Amazon's e-book distribution agreements with publishers. Connecticut was previously involved in the Apple e-book lawsuit.
  • Qualcomm acquired Nuvia, a chip startup, for $1.4 billion. Nuvia, launched by former Apple execs in 2019, makes custom Arm-based CPU cores for servers, but Qualcomm said it would use the tech across a range of products.
  • On Protocol: Of the more than $7 million spent by tech PACs at Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Intel during the 2020 election cycle, Protocol found that around $700,000 of it went to members of Congress who voted to contest the results. As tech stops contributions, many of those recipients are now facing a big financial hit.
  • TikTok will set all under-16 accounts to private by default, and their videos can no longer be downloaded or remixed by other users.

One More Thing

The most powerful tweeter on Twitter?

We always knew Elon Musk could change Tesla's stock price with a tweet. (The SEC knows it, too.) Last week we learned he could send a messaging app up the App Store rankings and jack the price of an entirely unrelated stock by the same name when he tweeted about Signal. And now we know that just by tweeting a meme, as Musk did on Tuesday, he was able to drive up the stock price of game maker Bandai Namco. It's very possible that Elon Musk's Twitter feed is the single most powerful media space on the internet right now. Good thing he's using that power to tweet sexy memes about sea shanties.

A MESSAGE FROM MICRON

Micron A MESSAGE FROM MICRON

For Raj Hazra, who is senior vice president of corporate strategy and communications at Micron, there has never been a more thrilling time than this golden age of data. In this interview, Hazra describes how "we are now at the doorstep of taking things that we thought were science fiction and making them real, and it's only going to be exponentially faster going forward". Read more from Micron's Raj Hazra.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day; see you tomorrow.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Asana's name (appropriately, in the burnout section). This story was updated on Jan. 14, 2021.

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