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The tech industry is heading back to the office

Image: Matthew T Rader / Protocol

Open door

Open door

Good morning! This Monday, the big boat is free and now I need a new hobby. Also, tech companies are finally starting to reopen their offices, Reggie Watts has an app to save the music industry, Elon Musk gets away with another tweet and SNL takes on NFTs.

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The Big Story

Back to the office

Slowly but surely, and cautiously at first, tech companies are getting ready to reopen their offices.

  • Uber's Mission Bay office is open starting today at 20% capacity.
  • Microsoft's Redmond HQ is open today too.
  • SAP is planning to open up in the "next few weeks."
  • Salesforce is "very close" to opening up its SF skyscraper.
  • Facebook's Bay Area offices will be opening at 10% capacity starting May 10.

The light at the end of the pandemic tunnel is starting to get brighter: San Francisco is allowing offices to reopen at up to 25% capacity; Gov. Newsom said everyone will be eligible to be vaccinated in about three weeks. Companies around the tech industry are itching to take advantage and reopen.

Most employees still won't have to go back to the office for at least a few more months, and those that do are going to find a very different workplace. Daily health checks and sign-ins, no free group lunches, less time in conference rooms and more "prototype hybrid meeting spaces" and "mixed reality scenarios." And definitely more masks.

  • The initial push to send employees home happened at breakneck speed, but the reopening is going to be much more gradual. Every company, even every office, will handle things slightly differently. And it seems it's going to be at least early fall before most people even think about heading back to HQ.

Also expect fewer perks and more reimbursements. Facebook isn't running its buses for now, for instance, but plans to offer commuter benefits to those who come back to the office. (It's not offering lunch, though, and doesn't plan to pay for your takeout.)

It's almost time to say goodbye to remote work and usher in the era of hybrid work. Which is going to be even messier. But at least we'll get to see other humans again.

Apps

WattsApp > Facebook

Janko Roettgers writes: No, that headline's not a typo. Reggie Watts — musician, comedian, "Late Late Show with James Corden" band leader and all-around whiz-kid — recently released a new app cleverly named WattsApp that's all about keeping up with his work without having to follow him on social media.

  • "I just got tired of using Facebook," Watts said. "They're so insistent and reliant on advertising," he said, lamenting that Facebook was collecting too much data and creating addictive feedback loops to keep people hooked.
  • Watts isn't really a fan of Facebook's UI, either. "The design just looks shitty," he said. "It just looks like a junkyard. It's gross."

WattsApp is pretty much barren thus far. No accounts, no app permissions, no social sharing, just a handful of cards presenting small snippets of Watts's work.

  • Eventually, Watts wants to turn it into a template for other artists, allowing them to build their own apps for cheap. "Kind of like a Wix or a Squarespace for artists," he said, explaining that he wants to add Web3 and crypto technology to it as well to enable a kind of decentralized patronage. "It doesn't take that many fans to support an artist."
  • For now, WattsApp's only monetization tool is a simple in-app shop, where you can buy secondhand gadgets. "It's just all my personal stuff that I'm trying to get rid of," he said.

Asked whether he expects to get in trouble with Facebook over the app's name, Watts laughed. "No, not at all," he said. "It's my name. That would be a hard one for them."

Read Janko's latest story for more on how the music business is trying to adapt to pandemic times.

Titans

Teflon Elon

Another day, another entry in the "Elon Musk Does Things That Might Be Illegal But Nonetheless Don't Seem To Cause Him Any Trouble" file. (The file is currently about the size of the Ever Given, by the way.)

  • Musk tweeted on Friday morning that "I think there is a >0% chance Tesla could be the biggest company," which is not something your average CEO would tweet but seems like something Tesla's lawyers might let him say.
  • But his follow-up tweet, "probably in a few months," didn't last very long before being deleted.

Musk and Tesla have had a few weeks you'd think would be problematic, but even the worst news never seems to stick to the internet's favorite CEO. Shareholders are suing over Musk's tweets; the NLRB forced him to delete one (which he hasn't) and reinstate a fired employee; China is accusing Tesla of using its cars for spycraft; people are getting into accidents and blaming it on Autopilot; people and regulators are also asking questions about what "Full Self-Driving" actually means.

  • Wall Street is showing some signs of worry, with Tesla's stock down in recent weeks. Tesla's likely to report its Q1 car deliveries this week, though, which will be more consequential.

The Lesson of Elon is that you can be as wild and reckless as you want, as long as you keep delivering. Most people aren't too worried about his tweets as long as he keeps shipping cars and putting internet satellites into space.

A MESSAGE FROM GODADDY

Greg Goldfarb, who is VP of Products and Commerce at GoDaddy, admires the resilience and ingenuity of small business owners. "It is amazing to see entrepreneurs figuring out the new context really quickly to adapt and survive." We sat down with Goldfarb to talk about the rise in ecommerce, the impact of COVID-19, the major trends emerging this year and more.

Read the interview

People Are Talking

Gaël Duval is building a Google-free version of Android, and has a theory about why Big Tech got so big in the first place:

  • "My own feeling is that we are living a kind of historic singularity, a special moment in history where some big corps took a lot of power at the speed of light — since the world is fully connected in real time — without any regulation. So many people made a lot of money without any real contribution, and they put this money into the same system to fuel it again."

Google getting into the shopping wars is a good thing even for its competitors, said Overstock's Jonathan E. Johnson:

  • "When all shopping starts and stops at Amazon, that's bad for the industry. It's nice to have another 800-pound tech gorilla in this space."

Palantir's Alex Karp said out loud what a lot of tech CEOs wish they could:

  • "My lawyers tell me my job is to evade the answers of journalists and never answer a question. And by the way, they want to get me into these workshops so I learn to evade answers better and never say anything, however, so far I've evaded them."

Some tech folks are trying to recall Gavin Newsom, but a group including Ron Conway, Laurene Powell Jobs, Reid Hoffman, Eric Schmidt, Marissa Mayer and others are trying to stop them:

  • "Faced with extraordinary challenges, Governor Newsom has made the tough decisions to guide our state through multiple crises unprecedented in our lifetimes. We hope you'll agree now is the ABSOLUTE WRONG TIME to recall the Governor, stop our progress in its tracks, and take our state backwards again."

Coming up this week

The Amazon union vote in Bessemer, Alabama will be counted starting on Tuesday. It has huge ramifications for organizing efforts all over the industry.

On the earnings calendar, Foxconn reports this Tuesday.

Is Microsoft really buying Discord? It would be a huge acquisition, and could be a huge shakeup in the gaming world. We might find out more this week.

And when is the Facebook Oversight Board going to rule on Donald Trump? I'm not holding my breath, but … it could happen this week.

In Other News

  • Jeff Bezos himself ordered Amazon's recent Twitter shenanigans. He "expressed dissatisfaction in recent weeks that company officials weren't more aggressive" in fighting back against criticism, Recode reported.
  • Boston Dynamics has a new robot. Its name is Stretch, and rather than do tricks or look terrifying its primary job is to navigate warehouses. It's downright practical.
  • On Protocol: Speaking of badly conceived PR plays, Intel managed to offend both men and women in China with a marketing stunt involving comedian Yang Li.
  • Tech companies are going all out for Oscars season. Netflix is sending everything from high-end scotch to DoorDash coupons to reporters and critics, Hulu is shipping out karaoke microphones and Amazon is gifting Borat unitards (no, seriously).
  • John Sullivan resigned from the Free Software Foundation, and Red Hat pulled its FSF funding. The FSF has gotten huge criticism since Richard Stallman rejoined its board of directors a few days ago.
  • The next hot job title: Chief TikTok Officer. Nerf is hiring one (cue the sound of everyone who is still 9 years old at heart furiously updating their LinkedIn profiles) and I bet it won't be the last.
  • New York is rolling out a vaccine passport app, which people can use to get into event venues. If it works, it could be a model for lots of other places.

One More Thing

You know you're a thing when you're on SNL. And now NFTs are a thing. "What the hell's an NFT" was the funniest tech-ish skit I've seen in a long time — it even got a "Nice" tweet response from Elon Musk — and has unfortunately been stuck in my head for the entire 36 hours since it first aired. Supreme Court Justice Chuck E. Cheese, my friends.

A MESSAGE FROM GODADDY

Greg Goldfarb, who is VP of Products and Commerce at GoDaddy, admires the resilience and ingenuity of small business owners. "It is amazing to see entrepreneurs figuring out the new context really quickly to adapt and survive." We sat down with Goldfarb to talk about the rise in ecommerce, the impact of COVID-19, the major trends emerging this year and more.

Read the interview

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

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