What do tech workers really want for the holidays?

That’s a loaded question.

Video: YouTube

Click banner image for more holiday coverage for 2021

It’s hard to find just the right holiday gift for people in tech.

Some might want remote work to last forever. Others might say they want to be in an office, with co-workers all around and an abundance of snacks in the communal kitchen.

One could ask for a four-day workweek. But don’t be surprised if their colleague says they don’t care how many days per week they need to work, they just don’t want it to be synchronous. Another might say they’d like to talk all about their salary, while their tight-lipped boss may say those conversations are best left unsaid.

Maybe all a tech worker really wants for the holidays is the ability to determine how and where they get work done, without any protocol from their employer. HR experts said these wishes aren’t new, but tech workers are more willing to ask for them as the pandemic shifts their outlook on work and the job market becomes more talented and competitive.

“Most of what people want is the autonomy to be treated like an adult, and a degree of flexibility,” Katie Burke, the chief people officer of HubSpot, told Protocol. “I actually don’t think what people want has changed that much, I just think people have become more emboldened to ask for it because we’re dealing with a really powerful talent market.”

What do tech workers really want? It depends on who you’re talking about.

Tech workers include a wide range of people. But there are a few distinct groups at play: gig workers, employees who have traditionally gone to the office and activist employees pushing for internal change. All have a pretty extensive wish list, and they’re all quite different.

Workers at ride-hailing and delivery companies have pushed for higher wages and other benefits. Other low-wage workers at Amazon continue pressing for unionization, safer working conditions and better wages.

People who were in an office before the COVID-19 pandemic have been primarily focused on keeping remote work flexibility. One of the more notable tussles between companies and their workers on the issue was at Apple, where the tech giant laid out a back-to-office plan earlier this year and got serious backlash from employees. On a broader scale, most workers say they don’t want to fully work in an office again, and historically underrepresented groups said they’d benefit from more-flexible work even more.

Then there are the activist employees, like those at Netflix and Apple, who are willing to put their jobs on the line for the sake of changing company culture. At Netflix, trans employees and allies protested the company’s decision to release the Dave Chappelle comedy special and listed a bunch of demands for the streaming service to do better. At Apple, workers began publicly sharing stories of workplace harassment and discrimination in hopes of fixing some of the issues. At Pinterest, former employees pushed to end NDAs.

These workers won’t put up with a company that leaves coal in their stocking. If they’re not listened to, it’s not uncommon for a group of gig workers or activist employees to stage a walkout or speak out publicly. Other tech employees will simply leave if they’re unsatisfied with their jobs; after all, there’s apparently more to life than what you can find in an office. Even the biggest tech companies like Facebook and Amazon are struggling to figure out how to attract and retain talent.

“Employees are saying, ‘You know what? I want that flexibility, and if you’re not going to give it to me, I’ll just go somewhere else because the market is so good that I can go to an interview at lunch and have a job offer after an hour and a half,’” Rey Ramirez, a management consultant at Thrive HR consulting, told Protocol.

How to fulfill employees’ wish lists

HR leaders said in order to avoid turnover, companies need to acknowledge the new normal and adjust their workplace accordingly.

Ramirez said employers need to come to terms with three big shifts: Remote work is here to stay, companies should support employees in whatever new work environment they choose, and companies should adjust their leadership to allow for that support. “If that is at home, then that’s where you want to support them,” he said. “If that’s in a co-office space, then you support that.”

One way a company could tweak leadership is by hiring a head of Remote, said Darren Murph, who holds that position at GitLab. “Hiring a dedicated cross-functional, communication-driven leader or team increases the likelihood of success, understanding and buy-in,” Murph told Protocol. He cited a GitLab report that found while the majority of people would recommend remote work, it’s become a struggle to facilitate teamwork outside of the office.

Murph said retaining top talent means becoming more flexible. Since the pandemic unfolded, workers have realized that they can do well in their careers without giving up time with family and friends, and Murph said organizations should adapt to allow for that personal time. He added that allowing remote work is only half the battle; companies should own that transition by upskilling their workers and introducing new tools that allow for remote collaboration.

HubSpot’s Burke said the company tried to “reduce friction” toward the beginning of the pandemic by shifting its work plans last summer. Employees can pick their work preference — remote work, in-person work or a mix of both — for a year, and change their preference if they move later on.

“We’re transparent about what employees are choosing when they pick an option and saying, ‘By the way, things are changing and are fluid. We did not know what was going to happen with vaccination rates … We didn't know how travel would work,’” she said. “We were really clear that we don’t know how it’s all going to work, but we were clear about which options were available to people.”

Burke added that as companies shift to new work environments, they should overcommunicate those changes to employees to avoid confusion. She said companies should frequently collect feedback from employees through surveys, share potential action plans as often as possible and acknowledge where leaders need more information before making decisions.

“Rather than trying to make everyone happy, be clear on what you’re prioritizing and what you’re emphasizing and allow people to pick the option that works best for them,” Burke said.


A pro-China disinformation campaign is targeting rare earth miners

It’s uncommon for cyber criminals to target private industry. But a new operation has cast doubt on miners looking to gain a foothold in the West in an apparent attempt to protect China’s upper hand in a market that has become increasingly vital.

It is very uncommon for coordinated disinformation operations to target private industry, rather than governments or civil society, a cybersecurity expert says.

Photo: Goh Seng Chong/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Just when we thought the renewable energy supply chains couldn’t get more fraught, a sophisticated disinformation campaign has taken to social media to further complicate things.

Known as Dragonbridge, the campaign has existed for at least three years, but in the last few months it has shifted its focus to target several mining companies “with negative messaging in response to potential or planned rare earths production activities.” It was initially uncovered by cybersecurity firm Mandiant and peddles narratives in the Chinese interest via its network of thousands of fake social media accounts.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (

Some of the most astounding tech-enabled advances of the next decade, from cutting-edge medical research to urban traffic control and factory floor optimization, will be enabled by a device often smaller than a thumbnail: the memory chip.

While vast amounts of data are created, stored and processed every moment — by some estimates, 2.5 quintillion bytes daily — the insights in that code are unlocked by the memory chips that hold it and transfer it. “Memory will propel the next 10 years into the most transformative years in human history,” said Sanjay Mehrotra, president and CEO of Micron Technology.

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.

Ripple’s CEO threatens to leave the US if it loses SEC case

CEO Brad Garlinghouse said a few countries have reached out to Ripple about relocating.

"There's no doubt that if the SEC doesn't win their case against us that that is good for crypto in the United States,” Brad Garlinghouse told Protocol.

Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile for Collision via Getty Images

Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse said the crypto company will move to another country if it loses in its legal battle with the SEC.

Garlinghouse said he’s confident that Ripple will prevail against the federal regulator, which accused the company of failing to register roughly $1.4 billion in XRP tokens as securities.

Keep Reading Show less
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 or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.


The Supreme Court’s EPA ruling is bad news for tech regulation, too

The justices just gave themselves a lot of discretion to smack down agency rules.

The ruling could also endanger work on competition issues by the FTC and net neutrality by the FCC.

Photo: Geoff Livingston/Getty Images

The Supreme Court’s decision last week gutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions didn’t just signal the conservative justices’ dislike of the Clean Air Act at a moment of climate crisis. It also served as a warning for anyone that would like to see more regulation of Big Tech.

At the heart of Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision in West Virginia v. EPA was a codification of the “major questions doctrine,” which, he wrote, requires “clear congressional authorization” when agencies want to regulate on areas of great “economic and political significance.”

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.


Microsoft and Google are still using emotion AI, but with limits

Microsoft said accessibility goals overrode problems with emotion recognition and Google offers off-the-shelf emotion recognition technology amid growing concern over the controversial AI.

Emotion recognition is a well-established field of computer vision research; however, AI-based technologies used in an attempt to assess people’s emotional states have moved beyond the research phase.

Photo: Microsoft

Microsoft said last month it would no longer provide general use of an AI-based cloud software feature used to infer people’s emotions. However, despite its own admission that emotion recognition technology creates “risks,” it turns out the company will retain its emotion recognition capability in an app used by people with vision loss.

In fact, amid growing concerns over development and use of controversial emotion recognition in everyday software, both Microsoft and Google continue to incorporate the AI-based features in their products.

“The Seeing AI person channel enables you to recognize people and to get a description of them, including an estimate of their age and also their emotion,” said Saqib Shaikh, a software engineering manager and project lead for Seeing AI at Microsoft who helped build the app, in a tutorial about the product in a 2017 Microsoft video.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories