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July 29, 2021

Jabs and jobs: Tech firms divided on Covid office return

By Eric Johansson

Big Tech is seemingly taking a cue from Katy Perry’s early noughties banger Hot N Cold in terms of Covid return-to-office schemes. Just like the antagonist in the pop ditty, their employees are told “you’re in then you’re out”. Silicon Valley bosses seem incapable of making up their minds about what to do with their staff.

Google and Facebook have been dithering for months over whether and how their employees should return to the office as Covid-19 keeps raging. Now they’ve changed their minds again. The changes come as the Delta variant wreaks havoc on society-reopening plans worldwide. In the latest turn of events, Google and Facebook have banned unvaccinated US employees from coming back to the office.

In a recent GlobalData thematic research report, analysts wrote that office work won’t be the same after Covid-19.

“Physical spaces will be transformed and remote working, supported by technology, will become the norm for millions of employees,” the researchers wrote.

Google bans unvaccinated employees

Alphabet’s Google has done plenty of flip-flopping in terms of its return-to-office policies. At the end of March, the Mountain View-headquartered company planned to make home working a rarity. The search engine titan would only allow remote working for each employee up to 14 days per year and only if they’d been given special permission.

A few weeks later it changed its tune, following a public employee backlash. Now, flexible working was the flavour of the day, with CEO Sundar Pichai saying it was “the future of work at Google”. He emphasised that the management would still rather have people show up at the office.

“The majority of our employees still want to be on campus some of the time yet many would also enjoy the flexibility of working from home a couple days a week, spending time in another city for part of the year or even moving there permanently,” Pichai tweeted. “Google’s future workplace will have room for all of these possibilities.”

Google employees would be able to be in the office either two or three days per week. This week, it introduced restrictions on who will be allowed back into the office.

Mountain View’s latest change has seen it bar any unvaccinated US employees from going back to the office.

“Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead,” Pichai argued in a blog.

He added that the “implementation will vary according to local conditions and regulations, and will not apply until vaccines are widely available in your area.”

Google encouraged workers who were uncertain if the policy applied to them to talk with their managers.

It also extended its global work-from home policy until October 18.

Facebook likes vaccinations

Hot on the heels of Google telling unvaccinated staff to stay clear of its offices, Facebook issued a similar statement.

“As our offices reopen, we will be requiring anyone coming to work at any of our US campuses to be vaccinated,” Lori Goler, Facebook vice president of people, said on Wednesday. “We continue to work with experts to ensure our return to office plans prioritize everyone’s health and safety.”

The Menlo Park-headquartered social media giant recognised not everyone could get the jab. Facebook will create processes for those who couldn’t get vaccinated for medical reasons to find workarounds.

The news comes after Facebook said in June that it planned to slowly reopen its offices to reach 50% capacity by September.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has previously said he expects half of Facebook’s workforce to be working remotely within the next five to 10 years.

It is unclear how Google and Facebook will enforce the new Covid-19 restrictions.

Earlier this week, the White House criticised both Facebook and Google for failing to fight back against fake news and anti-vaccination propaganda.

“Facebook and YouTube… are the judge, the jury and the executioner when it comes to what is going on in their platforms. They get to grade their own homework,” one White House official said.

Big Tech Covid-19 news all around

Google and Facebook aren’t the only Big Tech firm giving their Covid-19 office responses a tune-up. Cisco said it would create a hybrid working solution. Unlike Google’s policy, it would enforce no mandate on how often people would have to be in the office.

Similarly, Netflix introduced new guidelines for its employees. The video streaming company said key cast and crew working on US productions must be vaccinated. Netflix will not allow unjabbed folks back on set.

Apple is also considering reintroducing mask requirements in US stores. The requirements would cover both vaccinated and unvaccinated workers and customers alike.

On a sidenote: Apple reported a spectacular third quarter this week. Cupertino recorded a record $81.4bn in revenue in the three months leading up to June 23. It did warn that the chip shortage could impair its growth going forward.

Verdict deals analysis methodology

This analysis considers only announced and completed artificial intelligence deals from the GlobalData financial deals database and excludes all terminated and rumoured deals. Country and industry are defined according to the headquarters and dominant industry of the target firm. The term ‘acquisition’ refers to both completed deals and those in the bidding stage.

GlobalData tracks real-time data concerning all merger and acquisition, private equity/venture capital and asset transaction activity around the world from thousands of company websites and other reliable sources.

More in-depth reports and analysis on all reported deals are available for subscribers to GlobalData’s deals database.

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