Workplace

Does ‘reopening’ even make sense anymore?

Tech offices are open, yet mostly empty. Many workers are already visiting the office occasionally. What does “reopening” even mean at this point?

An empty office

Flexible work means that the return to the office is a gradual one, particularly at companies that don’t require employees to spend half their time at the office.

Photo: Marc Mueller via Pexels

The long-postponed “return to the office” is starting to feel like a myth.

With flexible work now the industry norm and offices remaining largely empty, it’s hard to imagine the “full reopenings” planned for the coming months. Add in concerns about the new COVID-19 variant, omicron, and you’ve got a murky-looking 2022.

“There used to be a date, and then the date was getting pushed back and pushed back,” said Arnaud Ferreri, a senior director of engineering at Instacart. “The concept of ‘return back to office date’ doesn’t make sense anymore.”

Sitting on a plaza near Instacart’s San Francisco headquarters on Friday, Ferreri told me he’d been going into the office once or twice a week, but estimated that around 85% of desks go unused on any given day.

More than 70% of full-time roles at Instacart will accommodate permanent remote work, and a number of Ferreri’s colleagues in San Francisco have taken advantage by moving farther from the office, either within the Bay Area or to other parts of the country.

“I don’t see a world in which we go back to a hard rule of ‘everyone has butts in seats here,’” Ferreri said. (Instacart told me it doesn’t yet have any “official return-to-office timelines to share.”)

Flexible work means that the return to the office is a gradual one, particularly at companies that don’t require employees to spend half their time at the office.

Google, Microsoft, Uber, DoorDash and Twilio have all postponed their return dates indefinitely, and SAP has pushed its January return date back to next summer. Both Salesforce and Amazon have said they’d allow for remote work until January, but are leaving it up to teams how often they’ll work in the office in the new year.

For now, tech workers are still remote — mostly. Last week, Google touted that almost 40% of its workforce had been to the office at some point in the last few weeks, and encouraged others to “start regaining the muscle memory of being in the office more regularly.” The company didn’t say whether it was postponing its reopening date because of the omicron variant.

Apple and Facebook parent company Meta are still planning to start their hybrid models in January and February. At Meta’s San Francisco office, most employees are still working at home.

Svapnil Ankolkar, a software engineer at Meta, told me he started going into the office “when the free food started” a few weeks ago. But even free lunches haven’t been enough to lure most of his colleagues back: Ankolkar estimated that 15% or fewer were coming in, and he said some of his coworkers seemed nervous about omicron.

He’s noticed that more experienced employees, and those with kids at home, are staying home more.

“The people that already kind of like working at home — I think [the variant] is a good reason to stay at home longer,” said Ankolkar. “I imagine as you get more senior in your role at Facebook, you have more confidence in your ability to effectively work at home.”

As an early-career engineer, Ankolkar has already been coming in two or three days a week to set better boundaries between home and work. He’s a little more productive at the office, he said.

“I’m kind of more worried about the variant because I like being in the office,” Ankolkar said. “It’s nice to feel like you’re back to normal life again.”

Fintech

Can crypto regulate itself? The Lummis-Gillibrand bill hopes so.

Creating the equivalent of the stock markets’ FINRA for crypto is the ideal, but experts doubt that it will be easy.

The idea of creating a government-sanctioned private regulatory association has been drawing more attention in the debate over how to rein in a fast-growing industry whose technological quirks have baffled policymakers.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Regulating crypto is complicated. That’s why Sens. Cynthia Lummis and Kirsten Gillibrand want to explore the creation of a private sector group to help federal regulators do their job.

The bipartisan bill introduced by Lummis and Gillibrand would require the CFTC and the SEC to work with the crypto industry to look into setting up a self-regulatory organization to “facilitate innovative, efficient and orderly markets for digital assets.”

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Every day, millions of us press the “order” button on our favorite coffee store's mobile application: Our chosen brew will be on the counter when we arrive. It’s a personalized, seamless experience that we have all come to expect. What we don’t know is what’s happening behind the scenes. The mobile application is sourcing data from a database that stores information about each customer and what their favorite coffee drinks are. It is also leveraging event-streaming data in real time to ensure the ingredients for your personal coffee are in supply at your local store.

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Jennifer Goforth Gregory
Jennifer Goforth Gregory has worked in the B2B technology industry for over 20 years. As a freelance writer she writes for top technology brands, including IBM, HPE, Adobe, AT&T, Verizon, Epson, Oracle, Intel and Square. She specializes in a wide range of technology, such as AI, IoT, cloud, cybersecurity, and CX. Jennifer also wrote a bestselling book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer to help other writers launch a high earning freelance business.
Enterprise

Alperovitch: Cybersecurity defenders can’t be on high alert every day

With the continued threat of Russian cyber escalation, cybersecurity and geopolitics expert Dmitri Alperovitch says it’s not ideal for the U.S. to oscillate between moments of high alert and lesser states of cyber readiness.

Dmitri Alperovitch (the co-founder and former CTO of CrowdStrike) speaks at RSA Conference 2022.

Photo: RSA Conference

When it comes to cybersecurity vigilance, Dmitri Alperovitch wants to see more focus on resiliency of IT systems — and less on doing "surges" around particular dates or events.

For instance, whatever Russia is doing at the moment.

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Kyle Alspach

Kyle Alspach ( @KyleAlspach) is a senior reporter at Protocol, focused on cybersecurity. He has covered the tech industry since 2010 for outlets including VentureBeat, CRN and the Boston Globe. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at kalspach@protocol.com.

Policy

How the internet got privatized and how the government could fix it

Author Ben Tarnoff discusses municipal broadband, Web3 and why closing the “digital divide” isn’t enough.

The Biden administration’s Internet for All initiative, which kicked off in May, will roll out grant programs to expand and improve broadband infrastructure, teach digital skills and improve internet access for “everyone in America by the end of the decade.”

Decisions about who is eligible for these grants will be made based on the Federal Communications Commission’s broken, outdated and incorrect broadband maps — maps the FCC plans to update only after funding has been allocated. Inaccurate broadband maps are just one of many barriers to getting everyone in the country successfully online. Internet service providers that use government funds to connect rural and low-income areas have historically provided those regions with slow speeds and poor service, forcing community residents to find reliable internet outside of their homes.

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Aditi Mukund
Aditi Mukund is Protocol’s Data Analyst. Prior to joining Protocol, she was an analyst at The Daily Beast and NPR where she wrangled data into actionable insights for editorial, audience, commerce, subscription, and product teams. She holds a B.S in Cognitive Science, Human Computer Interaction from The University of California, San Diego.
Fintech

How I decided to exit my startup’s original business

Bluevine got its start in factoring invoices for small businesses. CEO Eyal Lifshitz explains why it dropped that business in favor of “end-to-end banking.”

"[I]t was a realization that we can't be successful at both at the same time: You've got to choose."

Photo: Bluevine

Click banner image for more How I decided series

Bluevine got its start in fintech by offering a modern version of invoice factoring, the centuries-old practice where businesses sell off their accounts receivable for up-front cash. It’s raised $240 million in venture capital and about $700 million in total financing since its founding in 2013 by serving small businesses. But along the way, it realized it was better to focus on the checking accounts and lines of credit it provided customers than its original product. It now manages some $500 million in checking-account deposits.

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Ryan Deffenbaugh
Ryan Deffenbaugh is a reporter at Protocol focused on fintech. Before joining Protocol, he reported on New York's technology industry for Crain's New York Business. He is based in New York and can be reached at rdeffenbaugh@protocol.com.
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