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The great reopening is canceled

Empty office

Good morning! This Monday, office reopenings are a mess, Windows 365 is out today, and Amazon was slapped with an epic fine in the EU.

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The Big Story

So … what now?

Things were finally looking up. After more than a year of uncertainty, it looked like offices were going to reopen, kids would go back to school and most people would return to some kind of normalcy. A lot of people had the week after Labor Day circled on their calendars.

Now? With cases rising all over thanks to the delta variant, everything suddenly feels up in the air again.

  • Some companies are closing offices they just reopened. "It's very much the same reason that we sent everybody home in February 2020," Twitter's Jennifer Christie told Protocol's Allison Levitsky. "We'll reopen when it's right, but right now the world is changing too much."
  • Others are delaying their reopenings. Google's new plan is to open Oct. 18; Facebook and Apple both pushed back to around the same time. And nobody seems confident about hitting those dates. I'd bet a lot of companies that had marked September on the calendar are now going to start talking about January.
  • Vaccine requirements are becoming the norm. Many companies initially tried to find ways to make things work for everyone, but Facebook, Google, Uber and others are now saying no vaccine, no office. Period. Amazon, Apple and many others still don't have mandates, but they're an increasingly uncontroversial move.
  • And masks are back. After the CDC recommended that even vaccinated people start wearing masks indoors again, Apple was one of the companies to quickly make that corporate policy.

But with more uncertainty comes more flexibility. So many companies in tech were already leaning into hybrid or remote-first models, and now that a return to normal seems even further away, it's easier to embrace something new.

  • LinkedIn, for instance, had originally planned to bring everyone back to the office at least half the time, but said last week that each team inside the company can decide its own hybrid strategy.
  • Asana pushed back its reopening until at least February, and said that once things are open, employees will still be able to work from home on Wednesdays and Fridays. (Originally Asana was only planning on WFH Wednesdays.)
  • Emphasizing remote work has a secondary value, too: It makes it much easier for companies to mandate vaccines for anyone who wants to go to the office. No vaccine? No problem, they can say now. Just work from home.
  • The longer this goes, though, the harder it'll be for any company to make plans that involve bringing everybody back. And every false start makes life harder for employees.

It feels like March 2020 all over again. Nobody's sure how bad it's going to get, or when it'll be over, but everyone's starting to prepare for some kind of lockdown. (Raise your hand if you've had the "Do we need to stockpile toilet paper again?" conversation in the last few days.) The post-pandemic world felt so tantalizingly close, and now it seems to be slipping away.

This is going to be one of the main conversations in every meeting and Slack instance this week, and we'd love to hear what you're thinking about it. What are you and your team doing in response to the rise in cases and the delta variant? How do you feel about going back to the office, whenever that happens? Email sourcecode@protocol.com, or just hit reply on this message.

— David Pierce (email | twitter)

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It's been 25 years since comprehensive internet regulations passed. See why we support updated regulations on key issues, including:

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Join Protocol's Biz Carson for a conversation with Atomic's Swathy Prithivi, Accel's Rich Wong and Asana's Oliver Jay during our upcoming event: Going Global: How Tech Companies Can Expand Internationally August 10 at 9 a.m. PT / 12 p.m. ET Learn More

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People Are Talking

On Protocol | Policy: Lina Khan doesn't want to lose touch with the biggest issues in tech:

  • "My approach generally is really to make sure at a first order level we're understanding fully what's going on."

Elon Musk took a side on the Apple-Epic saga:

  • "Apple app store fees are a de facto global tax on the Internet. Epic is right."

On Protocol | China: A tech company's patriotism will either help it or hurt it, researcher Guobin Yang says:

  • "Patriotism sells. It is a product of popular culture and commerce and is not unique to China. Think about the patriotism in Hollywood movies."

Coming this week

A lot more companies report earnings this week, including Activision Blizzard, Nintendo, Cloudflare, Dropbox, Square, NXP Semiconductors, Match Group, Take-Two Interactive Software, Alibaba, Uber, Sony, Roku, DraftKings, IAC, Lyft, Booking Holdings and Electronic Arts.

Windows 365 launches today. It lets you stream your Microsoft cloud to any Windows device you own.

Fleets will be gone forever starting tomorrow. Spaces will replace Fleets at the top of your timeline.

Def Con begins Thursday. The hacker convention will play out over four days in Las Vegas.

Fortnite's Rift Tour concert series starts Friday. Ariana Grande is expected to headline the three-day event.

In Other News

  • Square is buying Afterpay for $29 billion. The "buy now, pay later" company is Square's latest attempt at becoming a one-stop fintech shop. Square is on a new-business tear the last few months, getting into crypto, music and now the BNPL world.
  • Jeff Bezos won't get the moon lander deal. NASA decided to keep its sole contract with SpaceX to fly astronauts to the moon, citing budget constraints, but Blue Origin said it'll continue to press for two contracts anyway.
  • Amazon got slapped with a record fine by a European Union privacy regulator for an advertising-related violation. The company was fined $887 million, and Amazon said it would appeal the decision.
  • Facebook's Kustomer acquisition is under investigation. The U.K.'s Competition and Markets Authority opened an inquiry into whether the deal would reduce competition.
  • On Protocol: Subscriptions are becoming a big part of gaming, whether the industry is ready for it or not. The era of the $60 one-time purchase might be over.
  • The SolarWinds cyberattack hit nearly 30 U.S. attorneys' offices. The hackers likely gained access to emails and other information from May to December 2020 on Microsoft 365 accounts, according to Bloomberg.
  • Binance was ordered to shut down in Malaysia for illegally running an online asset exchange, one of the latest hits on the crypto company. Binance is also closing down operations in Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.
  • Amazon drivers said managers are telling them to skirt around inspections in order to keep up with Amazon's demanding delivery quotas. But not properly inspecting the vehicles also violates Amazon's safety policies, putting drivers and the delivery van companies in a tight spot.

One More Thing

A new look at the Tesla story

Here's your reading project for this week: "Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk and the Bet of the Century," by Tim Higgins. It comes out tomorrow (the WSJ has an early excerpt), and is billed as a deep look at all the chaos and brilliance that helped Tesla became the most valuable carmaker on the planet. Elon Musk gets all the shine, but there are plenty of other names in the book you'll want to remember.

Oh, and there's already drama. One of the book's spicier anecdotes ends in Musk telling Tim Cook he wanted to be CEO of Apple, and Cook telling him to shove it. Musk forcefully denied that ever happening. Nobody does tech industry drama like Musk, so you're going to want to get your hands on this book to keep up.

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