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Stop setting reopening dates

Empty office

Good morning! This Friday, Microsoft postponed its office reopening and others should, too, Facebook is ready for its own "glasshole" backlash, and a new Texas censorship bill is awfully similar to the one that was struck down in Florida.

Also, please join us for POLITICO's inaugural tech summit next Wednesday, where Protocol chief correspondent Issie Lapowsky and POLITICO's Brakkton Booker will co-moderate the "Tech For All?" panel. They'll examine the racial equity commitments tech companies have made over the past year and what the tech industry and Washington are doing to root out racial bias in AI. Send questions and sign up here.

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The Big Story

Step away from the crystal ball

Microsoft dealt the final blow yesterday to the hot-vax-summer hope that October would see a widespread return to the office. Just six weeks after shifting reopening dates from September to October, Big Tech now admits it won't make its employees go back to campus until at least early next year.

But unlike Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Uber, Lyft and others — which have all at least mentioned January or February 2022 as an office reopening date — Microsoft said that it doesn't know when its headquarters will fully reopen.

Predicting when to bring workers back is nearly impossible. Clearly, whatever methods Big Tech has been using so far don't work in an ever-changing pandemic.

  • Companies often say they rely on data, such as infection and vaccination rates, to make reopening plans.
  • Still, the course of the pandemic continues to surprise decision-makers at even the most powerful companies in the world.
  • For its part, Microsoft has been saying since March that it won't reopen an office until COVID-19 has stopped being "a significant burden" on the surrounding community and acts "more like an endemic virus such as the seasonal flu."

So embracing uncertainty may be a good idea. Microsoft isn't alone: Intel, Twitter and Hewlett Packard Enterprise are also holding off on announcing a return-to-office date. But many others continue to set (and move) tentative return dates.

  • Arguably, telling employees they have until at least January to work from home gives workers a feeling of control.
  • But moving these dates back again and again risks leaving workers feeling jaded after an already destabilizing 19 months.
  • It also has a ripple effect through the industry, where smaller tech companies often model their return-to-office plans off of the major players.

One smaller company that doesn't know when it will reopen is Workhuman. The nearly 800-person software maker had planned to reopen in September, but decided in recent weeks to postpone its full reopening indefinitely.

  • The Massachusetts-based company now looks at its return to work as a gradual progression, letting workers come in if they want but still holding off on calling everyone back to the office.
  • "We'll return to our physical workspaces and workplaces much like the dimmer switch, as opposed to simply flipping the switch on," Workhuman's chief human resources officer, Steve Pemberton, told Protocol.

Of course, many Big Tech offices are open now. Campuses are by no means closed, but these delayed reopenings mean that most workers will have the option to stay home until next year.

  • The longer companies wait for a full return, the harder it may be to lure people back to the office now that the tech workforce is so accustomed to remote work.
  • And as they make further reopening plans, companies that haven't already imposed their own vaccine mandates will have to contend with a sweeping new move from the White House.
  • President Biden asked OSHA yesterday to require that private-sector employers with 100 or more employees to implement vaccine or weekly testing mandates.

In the meantime, tech companies, do your workers a favor and do like Microsoft, Twitter and Intel: Take a breath and think hard before you announce a new return date.

— Allison Levitsky (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM SINGAPORE EDB

Singapore is fast becoming a global hotbed of tech innovation. It's easy to see why. Nearly 80 of the world's top 100 tech firms have set up outposts there, including Google, Facebook, Stripe, Salesforce and homegrown unicorns like the super-app Grab.

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People Are Talking

Google Health may have dissolved, but Karen DeSalvo said the company's interest in health care hasn't gone away:

  • "We are not retrenching on health. I'm busier than ever. So is my team."

Elon Musk is pushing Tesla employees to rally before the end of the quarter:

  • "The end of quarter delivery wave is unusually high this time, as we suffered (like the whole industry) from extremely severe parts shortages earlier this quarter."

On Protocol | Workplace: Social impact will eventually become part of a company's makeup, Twilio's Erin Reilly said:

  • "There's an important element of having a chief social impact officer that reports to the CEO."

Making Moves

Box's Aaron Levie isn't going anywhere. The company's shareholders struck down a proposal that would have removed him and two other board members.

Apple fired Ashley Gjøvik, a senior engineering program manager, for allegedly leaking confidential information. She's been tweeting for months about her issues with the company, and has been on leave since August.

Kevin Lynch is taking on Apple's self-driving car project following Doug Field's move to Ford. Lynch first started working on the car project earlier this year.

Ximalaya ditched its U.S. IPO plans. A few months ago, China was pressing the online audio platform to move its IPO from the U.S. to Hong Kong.

Mastercard bought CipherTrace, a blockchain analytics company, as the company tries to get more involved in digital currencies.

JPMorgan Chase is acquiring The Infatuation, which owns websites and apps that help people find places to eat. It'll run as a separate brand within JPMorgan.

Brian Shroder is the new president of Binance.US. Shroder previously served as an exec at Ant Group and Uber.

John Branscome is heading to Facebook to work on federal policy. Branscome is currently the top Democratic staffer on the Senate Commerce Committee.

Jennifer Taylor Hodges will join Mozilla as its new head of U.S. policy in D.C. Hodges was previously the VP of U.S. government affairs at BT in the District.

In Other News

  • On Protocol: What do you think of Facebook's smart glasses? They're called the Ray-Ban Stories, they look just like a pair of regular sunglasses, and they're either incredibly cool or incredibly creepy (or both!) depending on how you look at them. Either way, they're only the beginning.
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is targeting social media, and doesn't want those companies to silence conservatives. He signed a bill that aims to prevent big platforms like Facebook and Twitter from taking down content based on a user's "viewpoint."
  • Epic wants Fortnite back in the App Store, at least in South Korea. Under a new law, Epic thinks its new alternative payments system is now perfectly legal, and asked Apple to reinstate the app.
  • Ukraine is all in on bitcoin. The country's parliament adopted a law that legalizes and regulates crypto, but it's a bit different from El Salvador's bitcoin plans: Ukraine won't roll out the cryptocurrency as legal tender.
  • Facebook is reportedly making a machine learning chip, which will take care of tasks like suggesting content to users, according to The Information. The company is also creating a chip that aims to improve the quality of watching recorded and livestreamed videos for app users.
  • The Houseparty's over. The app will shut down next month, and the team behind it will work within Epic on the company's metaverse efforts.
  • Apple's bug bounty program isn't very rewarding, security researchers told The Washington Post. They said Apple pays less than some of its rivals for discovering bugs, often limits conversation with hackers and takes far too long to fix bugs.
  • Twitter wants to know how you really feel about tweets. The platform is testing emoji reactions for tweets for users in Turkey over the next few days, and depending on the response, it may expand to other countries.
  • Amazon wants to help employees get through college. The company will offer to cover the costs of college tuition, fees and textbooks for hourly workers in its warehouses and distribution centers starting in January.

One More Thing

How much time do you spend in meetings?

Some days, it might feel like you spent more time talking to people about getting stuff done than, you know, actually getting the stuff done. But Google Calendar now has a tool that can help you figure out where you spend your time.

The new feature shows you how many working hours you spend in meetings each day, and breaks the stats down into meetings with just one other person and meetings with multiple people, offering insights into how you spend your days. And don't worry: The information isn't available to anyone but you, so your boss won't know if you skip a couple meetings to run some "errands."

A MESSAGE FROM SINGAPORE EDB

Business leaders say they choose Singapore for its modern tech infrastructure, strong government support, robust pipeline of talent and pro-business regulations (the World Bank ranks it No. 2 in the world for ease of doing business). Plus, its location in the heart of Southeast Asia serves as a launchpad into the bustling Asian-Pacific market.

Learn More

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