The Technology 202: Tech executives remain divided over the future of the office

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He’s predicting most companies will end up with a four-day in-office workweek with one day engaged in virtual work from home, as he says working from home makes “debating ideas” more difficult. 

“Once we can get a majority of people vaccinated, then it’s probably back to the office,” Hastings says in the interview, noting that will probably be about six months after a vaccine is approved. 

Silicon Valley remains divided over how necessary the office is in the future. 

The decisions these businesses make their sprawling campuses will be widely watched as a test of the efficacy of remote work, and have implications for other industries as well. 

Tech companies were among the first to send their employees home as cases of coronavirus began emerging. And they’re more suited than many industries to make the move permanent because they rely so heavily on jobs done on computers. 

Companies such as Twitter have emerged as the poster children for a permanent pandemic-induced shift away from the office after  it announced most of its employees will be permitted to work from home indefinitely. 

But those flashy statements are hardly illustrative of how all tech executives are feeling. 

Satya Nadella, the chief executive of Microsoft, warned earlier in the pandemic about the risks of embracing telecommuting long term. 

“What does burnout look like? What does mental health look like? What does that connectivity and the community building look like?” he told the New York Times in May. “One of the things I feel is, hey, maybe we are burning some of the social capital we built up in this phase where we are all working remote. What’s the measure for that?”

Amazon has also signaled it is bucking the remote work trend, announcing last month it’s expanding in Dallas, Detroit, Denver, Manhattan, Phoenix and San Diego as part of a $1.4 billion investment in new offices. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

“The ability to connect with people, the ability for teams to work together in an ad hoc fashion—you can do it virtually, but it isn’t as spontaneous,” Ardine Williams, vice president of workforce development at Amazon, told the Wall Street Journal at the time. “We are looking forward to returning to the office.”

The potential downside of remote work may become more apparent the longer the pandemic drags on. 

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai has also expressed skepticism about a permanent shift to remote work, saying he would be watching closely the long-term impacts as the pandemic continues. The challenges of working remotely may become more acute as more new projects begin from home, rather than workers just continuing work that started in the office. 

“How productive will we be when different teams who don’t normally work together have to come together for brainstorming, the creative process?,” he told Wired earlier this year. “We are going to have research, surveys, learn from data, learn what works.”

Google has told employees they will not be required to return to the office until at least summer 2021. 

Yet other companies see remote work as an opportunity – especially amid the high cost of living in major West Cost tech hubs. 

Twitter isn’t alone in expanding virtual work. Facebook also joined the permanent work-from-home movement when chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said about 50 percent of its 45,000-person company could be remote in the next five to ten years. That could give the company access to engineers and other professionals who don’t currently live in major tech hubs. 

“Certainly being able to recruit more broadly, especially across the U.S. and Canada to start, is going to open up a lot of new talent that previously wouldn’t have considered moving to a big city,” Zuckerberg said.

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China launched its own global data-security initiative to counter a U.S. push against Chinese tech. 

The initiative calls on partnering nations to maintain an open and secure supply chain, and respect other countries cyber sovereignty.”

It also urges members to oppose “mass surveillance against other states” and calls on tech companies not to install “back doors in their products and services to illegally obtain users’ data. The U.S. government has accused Beijing of both practices, placing restrictions on companies including Huawei as a result.

The United States last month launched its “Clean Network” program, an initiative to develop digital standards to safeguard U.S. citizens data from foreign threats including the Chinese Communist Party. More than 30 countries are participating in the program. 

“Bent on unilateral acts, a certain country keeps making groundless accusations against others in the name of ‘clean’ network and used security as a pretext to prey on enterprises of other countries who have a competitive edge,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in announcing that country’s initiative “Such blatant acts of bullying must be opposed and rejected.”

TikTok is struggling to keep a graphic video of a man shooting himself off its platform. 

The social media platform is banning accounts from people who are re-uploading the clip, which originated on Facebook. But some users are hiding the disturbing clip in other videos, Julia Alexander at the Verge reports. TikTok began warning users about the graphic video.

“Our systems have been automatically detecting and flagging these clips for violating our policies against content that displays, praises, glorifies, or promotes suicide,” a TikTok spokesperson told the Verge. “We are banning accounts that repeatedly try to upload clips, and we appreciate our community members who’ve reported content and warned others against watching, engaging, or sharing such videos on any platform out of respect for the person and their family.”

Instagram, where the video is also circulating, is issuing a warning to its users, too.

Social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Reddit have struggled to remove high-traffic graphic videos from their platforms. Even with the technology to flag versions of the video for automatic removal, edited versions of such videos are often uploaded again. Facebook removed more than 1.5 million videos depicting the shooting of a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, after the shooter live-streamed his attack on the platform.

The U.S. extradition trial of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange resumed in London.

The trial, which will decide whether Assange will be extradited from the United States to Britain, had been on pause during the coronavirus crisis, William Booth reports.

Assanges lawyers asked for a four-month delay, arguing that the prosecutions updated indictment in June included new information that required more time for discovery.

The judge denied the request.

Cybersecurity advocates, however, worry that stretches the interpretation of the law too much and could set a dangerous precedent. 

Assanges lawyers call the charges purely political offenses.

Only one witness was called Monday, Mark Feldstein, a former investigative reporter and now a University of Maryland journalism professor. However, his testimony was largely derailed by technical issues. The hearings will resume Thursday.

The digital race to 2020

The Biden campaign will take over a popular Instagram account. 

The account @VoteJoe has racked up over 93,000 followers since a 15-year-old supporter started it this summer, the Verge reports. The campaign will use the account to boost content developed by Biden supporters. 

“What we’ve seen blowing up in places both in and outside of politics is a focus on shareable content,” Sarah J. Galvez, director of social and audience development for the Biden campaign, told the Verge. “Previous to this, you would have these conversations with your friends, your colleagues, and your family in person. But as a result of COVID, we’re having these political conversations online.” 

Inside the industry

Amazon and retail app Wish will no longer allow the import of foreign seeds.

Multiple agencies, including the Agriculture Department, Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Postal Service, are investigating an influx of mysterious seed shipments, mostly from China, marked as other goods, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Authorities suspect the unsolicited packages may be part of a scam in which online vendors place orders for their own products to pose as buyers and post fake reviews. They send out low-value or empty packages as part of the scam.

“Wish has proactively taken down seed listings based on false claims and misleading information as this issue has risen to the forefront over the last few months,” a spokesperson for the company told the Journal.

Competition watch

Italy’s antitrust watchdog opened an investigation into cloud storage services from Apple, Dropbox and Google.

The investigation will explore complaints alleging the companies have unfair practices related to data collection for commercial purposes, TechCrunch reports. 

Dropbox also faces concerns over failing to clearly communicate the conditions of its contracts. The investigation follows a broader push by the European Commission for tech companies to make their terms of service clearer.



  • The House Oversight and Reform Committee will hold a hearing on “Ensuring a Free, Fair, and Safe Election During the Coronavirus Pandemic” at 1 p.m. tomorrow.
  • The House Oversight and Reform Committee will hold a hearing on “Providing the Census Bureau with the Time to Produce a Complete and Accurate Census” on Thursday at 11 a.m.
  • The Justice Department’s Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission will co-host the 19th annual International Competition Network (ICN) Conference online from Sept. 14-17.
  • Facebook Connect will take place virtually on Sept. 16.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to examine threats to U.S. intellectual property, focusing on cyberattacks and counterfeits during the coronavirus pandemic on Sept. 23 at 2:30 p.m.

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