Protocol | Workplace

Despite delta, some tech companies are back in the office with no vaccine mandate

Most of Big Tech has pushed back its reopening to October or later. But these smaller companies are fully back in the office — no vaccine mandates needed.

An office full of work stations with masked employees

Despite the COVID-19 surge that has led many companies to postpone reopenings, some smaller and mid-sized tech companies have continued calling their employees back to the office.

Photo: Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

Despite the COVID-19 surge that has led many large, well-known companies to postpone reopenings, some smaller and mid-sized tech companies have continued calling their employees back to the office.

Three of those companies (Starry Inc., C3 AI and Cepton) have all reopened their offices and are embracing in-office work as the default. None of the three indicated to Protocol that workers are required to be vaccinated before coming in.

Most of the industry's giants remain in a "partial reopening" phase of the pandemic. Their offices are open at a limited capacity, and in many cases only to vaccinated employees. Many tech workers won't have to reenter the office until the fall or winter.

That's not the case at Starry. The Boston-based Internet service provider that reopened in June isn't mandating vaccines and allows managers to decide whether to accommodate remote work.

"[CEO Chet Kanojia] is a big advocate of non-remote working," one Starry employee told Protocol. "He sees a lot of the political fervor around mask mandates and vaccine mandates … This is his way of trying to toe that line."

No vaccine mandate, no problem?

Starry, which has more than 700 employees across the U.S., called its corporate employees back to the office in late June. Its executive team works in the office every day, but some managers are allowing their teams, or individual employees, to work from home some days.

"We're in every day, and that's what we prefer to do and we want to set an example," said Virginia Lam Abrams, Starry's senior vice president of government affairs and strategic advancement. "That doesn't mean not allowing our managers to have some flexibility in how they manage their teams."

Starry doesn't require its workers to get vaccinated but has collected proof of vaccination from almost 70% of its workforce and nearly 90% of its in-office corporate staff. Unvaccinated employees are required to wear masks at Starry offices, as are vaccinated workers at offices that are subject to the local mask mandates in Los Angeles and Washington.

Still, a Starry employee who spoke to Protocol expressed frustration at the "level of COVID-preparedness at the company," noting that at his office, which is not in L.A. or Washington, most haven't been wearing masks, and employees have resumed sitting at adjacent desks rather than spacing themselves out.

To Starry's credit, there have only been a handful of staff COVID cases over the last year and a half, and no one has caught the virus at the office. The company incentivized its workers to turn in proof of vaccination by offering spot bonuses of $25 and entering vaccinated employees into a raffle for 5,000 stock options.

Cepton's workforce almost fully vaccinated without a mandate

Cepton, a San Jose-based lidar maker with 116 employees, didn't need to offer prizes. When the five-year-old company was gearing up to reopen in May, it asked its workers to get vaccinated but stopped short of a mandate.

"It might sound trite, but we are lucky (and grateful) to have an employee base that wasn't just focused on their own health but also the health and safety of their colleagues," said T. R. Ramachandran, Cepton's chief marketing officer. "People wanted to enable others to come into the office without worrying about falling sick."

Almost all of Cepton's employees are working on site because between 90% and 95% need to be in the office "to support the build and manufacturing of our products," Ramachandran said, noting that the company had not had any COVID cases connected to the office.

Being based in the Bay Area also means Cepton's office is subject to the local mask mandate that applies in public, indoor places, regardless of vaccination status.

C3 AI is another company embracing in-office work for the long term. The Redwood City-based enterprise software vendor's billionaire CEO, Tom Siebel, said earlier this summer that he would require his employees to come to the office five days a week. "There are talented people who work from home," Siebel said in June. "We just don't hire them. We tend to attract people who are not introverted, who like to interact with other people and where work is a big part of their lives."

Apparently, Siebel's philosophy hasn't changed since COVID cases picked back up last month. A spokesperson for C3 AI said Wednesday that the Silicon Valley enterprise software vendor is "fully back in the office," but the company didn't respond to several inquiries sent over the last week about its mask and vaccine policies.

Who's back at the office?

Companies like these seem to stick out in an industry where most of the giants are embracing hybrid work and won't head back to the office until October, if not next year. But they're certainly not alone.

A recent survey of more than 22,000 LinkedIn users found that the software and IT sector was the only one where most employers were allowing for permanent hybrid work. But even that sector had a substantial number of respondents — 45% — who reported their employers weren't going hybrid.

Across the broader U.S. workforce, most office workers across industries who Morning Consult surveyed between July 16 and Aug. 5 said they were already back at the office. More highly educated office workers were more likely to report that they were still working from home, with most professionals with advanced degrees still working remotely.

The IT sector saw an increase in office attendance between June and July, according to data released Tuesday from Robin, a workforce management software maker that tracks its customers' desk reservations.

Some of that came from San Francisco, which across industries saw a more than 50% increase in desk bookings and a 153% increase in employees returning to the office in July. The financial services, professional services and tech industries are driving the return to the office in SF, Robin found.

But tech workers were still spending an average of just a few hours in the office per week, according to Robin, which found a similar office attendance rate in the wholesale, nonprofit and retail sectors.

Power

VR pioneer The Void is plotting a comeback

Assets of the location-based VR startup have been acquired by a former investor, who plans a relaunch with key former team members.

The Void's New York outpost closed during the pandemic. Now, the company is planning a comeback under new ownership.

Photo: The Void

Location-based VR pioneer The Void may rise from the ashes next year: A former investor has acquired key assets of the defunct startup and is now looking to relaunch it with key team members, Protocol has learned. The company is said to be actively fundraising, and is getting ready to start hiring additional talent soon.

The Void's patents and trademarks were recently acquired by Hyper Reality Partners, a company headed by former OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel, who also used to be an investor in and board member of The Void. Hyper Reality Partners is actively fundraising for a relaunch of the VR startup, and is said to have raised as much as $20 million already, according to an industry insider.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

The pandemic won't be over until the economy recovers. While cities, states and regions across the U.S. are grappling with new variants, shifting mask policies and other factors that directly impact businesses large and small, it is nevertheless time for brands and enterprises to jumpstart COVID-19 recovery strategies.

Data will undoubtedly be critical to such strategies, but there is one type of data in particular that is poised to yield greater impact than ever in the COVID-19 Recovery Era: location data.

Keep Reading Show less
Michele Morelli, Foursquare
As SVP of Marketing, Michele is responsible for overseeing the brand strategy, communications, and product and performance marketing of Foursquare’s apps and enterprise products. Prior to joining Foursquare, Michele held several senior leadership positions with wide-ranging responsibilities at AOL, Toluna, Citibank and Yahoo!.
Protocol | Workplace

A new McKinsey study shows that women do more emotional labor at work

The 2021 Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey found that women are far more likely than men to help their teams manage time and work-life balance and provide emotional support.

Senior leaders who identify as women were 60% more likely to provide emotional support to their teams and 26% more likely to help team members navigate work/life challenges, according to the report.

Photo: Luis Alvarez via Getty Images

Over the last year, emotional support, time management skills and work-life balance have become drastically more important and difficult in the workplace — and women leaders were far more likely than men to step in and do that work for their teams, according to the latest iteration of McKinsey and LeanIn.org's annual Women in the Workplace report.

Senior leaders who identify as women were 60% more likely to provide emotional support to their teams, 24% more likely to ensure their teams' workload is manageable and 26% more likely to help team members navigate work/life challenges, according to the report. In addition, about one in five women senior leaders spend a substantial amount of time on DEI work that is not central to their job, compared to less than one in 10 male senior leaders.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Amazon needs New World’s launch to be a success

New World arrives Tuesday. Whether it flops could determine the future of Amazon Games.

New World launches on Tuesday, after four delays. It could be Amazon's first big hit.

Image: Amazon

Amazon's New World launches on Tuesday, marking the end of a long and bumpy road to release day for the company's most pivotal video game release to date. There's a lot riding on New World, a massively multiplayer online game in the vein of iconic successes like Blizzard's long-running World of Warcraft and Square Enix's immensely popular Final Fantasy XIV.

If the game succeeds, New World will mark a rare success for a technology company in the gaming space. With the exception of Microsoft, which entered the console game industry nearly two decades ago, tech firms have tried time and again to use their engineering talent and resources to crack the code behind making successful video games. Almost every attempt has failed, but Amazon is the closest to having a hit on its hands. If it flops, we could see Amazon's gaming ambitions go the way of Google's.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
Protocol | Enterprise

Underneath the Dreamforce pomp, Salesforce flexes its financial muscle

Last week, investors got a taste of Salesforce's post-Slack future. And despite looming risks, Wall Street appears to be buying it.

Dreamforce is a chance for customers to come together and celebrate everything Salesforce.

Photo: Salesforce

It's easy to forget that Dreamforce serves an important purpose for Salesforce beyond turning downtown San Francisco into a "Burning Man for people with jobs."

The annual conference is, of course, a chance for customers to come together and celebrate everything Salesforce in an environment that can feel like a cult gathering. In past years, attendees would stand in lines to get their own face imposed over Marc Benioff's latest book release cover or rush to take pictures with one of the multitude of dancing cartoon characters that serve as Salesforce mascots, including a literal "Customer 360" wheel.

Keep Reading Show less
Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Latest Stories