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  1. Google will keep 200,000 workers home through next summer Google is the first major tech company to announce office closures until mid-2021. Enlarge / Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifies before the House Judiciary Committee in 2018. Xinhua/Liu Jie via Getty Images 135 with 66 posters participating, including story author Google will keep "nearly all" of its workforce—around 200,000 employees and contractors—working from home for another year, The Wall Street Journal has reported. Google CEO Sundar Pichai reportedly made the decision last week. The long timeline gives more certainty for Googlers who are making school and housing decisions for the coming academic year. Previously Google workers were due back in the office in January. Companies across Silicon Valley—and across the broader US economy—have been keeping their offices closed longer as the severity of the coronavirus pandemic becomes more clear. In May, Facebook announced that it was making a permanent shift toward allowing more employees to work from home. All Facebook workers are encouraged to work from home through the end of the year. Amazon is encouraging employees to work from home through the end of the year. Twitter said in May that employees could work from home indefinitely. Its offices will be closed through at least September. Microsoft is allowing employees to work from home until at least October. While working from home is a new option for a lot of American workers, Ars Technica has been a work-from-home organization for decades. Our writers and editors offered some remote working tips in a March article. Google will keep 200,000 workers home through next summer
  2. Charter engineer quits over “reckless” rules against work-from-home Charter workers apparently face choice in pandemic: work in the office or resign. Enlarge / Charter CEO Tom Rutledge speaks during the New York Times DealBook conference in New York on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. Getty Images | Bloomberg 182 with 117 posters participating A Charter Communications engineer called the company's rules against working from home during the coronavirus pandemic "pointlessly reckless" and "socially irresponsible" before subsequently resigning instead of continuing to work in the office, according to a TechCrunch article published yesterday. Charter CEO Tom Rutledge last week told employees in a memo to keep coming to the office even if their jobs can be performed from home, because people "are more effective from the office." Employees should only stay home if they "are sick, or caring for someone who is sick," Rutledge wrote. Nick Wheeler, a video operations engineer for Charter in Denver, sent an email expressing his displeasure with the policy to a senior vice president and "hundreds of engineers on Friday," TechCrunch wrote. The email said: I do not understand why we are still coming into the office as the COVID-19 pandemic surges around us. The CDC guidelines are clear. The CDPHE [Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment] guidelines are clear. The WHO guidelines are clear. The science of social distancing is real. We have the complete ability to do our jobs entirely from home. Coming into the office now is pointlessly reckless. It's also socially irresponsible. Charter, like the rest of us, should do what is necessary to help reduce the spread of coronavirus. Social distancing has a real slowing effect on the virus—that means lives can be saved. A hazard condition isn't acceptable for the infrastructure beyond the short-term. Why is it acceptable for our health? The CDC's advice to businesses stresses that sick people should not come to the office but also urges businesses to "Ensure that you have the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple employees who may be able to work from home." Resignation accepted Within hours of sending the email, Wheeler was out of a job. The TechCrunch article explained: Just a few minutes after Wheeler sent the email, he was summoned to a vice president's office to a conference call with human resources. In a call with TechCrunch, Wheeler said his email was described as "irresponsible" and "inciting fear." He said it was hard to understand why Charter had not implemented a work-from-home policy after the coronavirus outbreak was upgraded to a pandemic. Wheeler said he was given an ultimatum. Either he could work from the office or take sick leave. Staff are not allowed to work from home, he was told. Wheeler offered his resignation, but was sent home instead and asked to think about his decision until Monday. Later in the day, he received a call from work. Charter accepted his resignation, effective immediately. Charter explains policy Internet providers are in a tricky situation. Broadband is crucial to people's daily lives and their ability to work, even though it's not regulated like a utility. Maintaining home- and mobile-Internet connectivity is even more important than usual because of the pandemic, and that means sending technicians to customer homes and going into the field to fix broken equipment or wires. But back-office functions can be performed remotely at many companies, and Wheeler argued that Charter is no exception. Despite that, Charter argued that even employees whose jobs can be done remotely should still come to the office. Rutledge's memo to employees was posted on the company website Saturday. Rutledge wrote: Across 41 states, we have 95,000 employees, of which there are more than 80,000 frontline employees including maintenance and construction technicians, customer service specialists, sales and retention professionals, supply chain, employees in network construction, operations, monitoring and field dispatch facilities with their associated support functions across Spectrum Residential, Business, Enterprise, Reach and Networks. You provide and service important broadband connectivity, video, telephone, mobile services, local news and advertising for our customers, and those jobs cannot be performed effectively from home. What about those other 15,000 employees? Those people are based "primarily in Denver, St. Louis, Charlotte, and Stamford, [and] are here to support the front-line [workers]," Rutledge explained. The CEO then acknowledged that some of these employees could do their jobs from home but aren't being allowed to. "While some back office and management functions can be performed remotely, they are more effective from the office," Rutledge wrote. Rutledge said that Charter's policy could change, but he didn't say when. "You may have heard that some companies are instituting broad remote working policies for some of their employees," Rutledge wrote in the memo. "While we are preparing for that possibility by geography, Charter is not doing the same today. We provide critical communications services and we believe our approach to supporting front-line employees is the right way for us to operate at this time to continue to deliver those important services to our customers." "Based on facts and circumstances we will modify our approach as needed as we navigate COVID-19's development," he also wrote. By contrast, AT&T told its staff that "Employees who are in jobs that can be done from home should do so until further notice." Comcast is testing a work-from-home system with some workers but still tells most employees to come to the office or retail stores where they work, unless they are sick. Update at 5:32pm ET: When contacted by Ars, Charter declined comment on Wheeler but offered the following statement: "As one of FEMA's Community Lifeline sectors, our services are essential. We are working around the clock to deliver uninterrupted Internet, phone, and TV news services to our 29 million customers including critical institutions like hospitals, first responders, and government facilities. During this time, continuing to maintain our operations, while applying the latest CDC guidelines, ensures we provide these vital communications, which help flatten the curve and protect the country. We are reviewing our business and employee continuity plans daily, and will adjust accordingly." Wheeler not alone in objections Wheeler apparently was not the only Charter employee to disagree with the ISP's policy. "Over 80 percent of Charter employees in and around the Denver area can work from home," one person who claimed to be a Charter employee wrote on Reddit. But "Charter DOES NOT believe in work[ing] from home" and "as usual is being foolish and opening themselves up for huge legal troubles from the state, the federal government, and of course any employees that were/are affected," the person wrote. That Reddit thread also included the text of an employee email allegedly sent internally to Rutledge and executive VP of network operations Scott Weber. "I am writing this mail under utter displeasure in the way Charter is treating its employees," the email said. "As you are aware of the spread of coronavirus outbreak here in the United States, Charter is putting us the employees under harm and risk. There are close to 50 confirmed cases here in Colorado and this morning we were told by our leadership at Network Operations that there is no work from home policy and anyone who takes sick leave must produce a doctor's note or else be fired." (Colorado's coronavirus cases rose to 160 by Monday.) "If any of us gets exposed to this at work we will hold you personally accountable," the email also said. "The work we do can be done remotely without any obstacles. We do on-call and work through the nights from home all the time. I do not see a reason why we cannot work remotely during these difficult times." Wheeler concerned about ex-colleagues Update 4:23pm ET: Wheeler spoke to Ars by phone after this article was published, saying he's heard from at least 80 Charter employees who thanked him for sending the email. "I obviously hit a nerve," he said. Wheeler said he's not planning to try to get his job back, as "I feel like I've thoroughly burned that bridge." But he is concerned about his former co-workers. "My immediate concern is is that my former colleagues can work from home. I want the pressure to be on Charter to change their policy for everybody who can work from home," he said. Wheeler sent the email after numerous discussions with co-workers who were also concerned about working in the office during a pandemic, he said. Wheeler said his job and many others in Charter's Colorado offices can be done entirely from home. "All of the systems we work on live in other data centers that are not even in our building," and employee laptops have VPN capability, he said. Charter employees already do a lot of work at home during maintenance windows and heavy snowstorms, he noted. Wheeler said he didn't expect sending the email to lead to his newfound unemployment and that his abrupt dismissal was especially perplexing because Charter managers initially urged him to reconsider his resignation. "I was called into a meeting, following sending the email, and in the heat of that moment, I offered to resign out of protest of the options that I was given," he said. Wheeler said Charter managers told him it wasn't necessary for him to resign but that "If you still want to do that on Monday, then we'll accept your resignation." "That was all turned around an hour and a half later, and they accepted a resignation that I'm not sure was necessarily on the table anymore," Wheeler said. "I was prepared for the consequences of sending that email, but I really didn't think it would come down to that," Wheeler also said. "It's a silly thing to get rid of somebody over at this stage in the game." We also learned from a source at Charter that one team of workers within the company's customer operations division was given permission to work at home late yesterday. But as far as we know, the rest of the company's workers still face the rules outlined in Rutledge's post. Disclosure: The Advance/Newhouse Partnership, which owns 13 percent of Charter, is part of Advance Publications. Advance Publications owns Condé Nast, which owns Ars Technica. Source: Charter engineer quits over “reckless” rules against work-from-home (Ars Technica)
  3. Twitter has announced that employees are encouraged to work from home in an effort to stop the spread of a novel coronavirus that has infected at least 105 people in 15 states and killed six people in the U.S. The San Francisco-based social media company is believed to be the first major U.S. firm to announce a work-from-home policy as companies around the world enact new plans to fight COVID-19. Shelves where disinfectant wipes are usually displayed at a Target store on March 2, 2020 in Novato, California in the Bay Area. “Beginning today, we are strongly encouraging all employees globally to work from home if they’re able. Our goal is to lower the probability of the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus for us—and the world around us,” Twitter said in a statement posted to the company’s website. “We are operating out of an abundance of caution and the utmost dedication to keeping our Tweeps healthy.” There have been no reports of any Twitter employees contracting the virus, but with over 4,800 employees worldwide, the company clearly doesn’t want to take any chances. As of Tuesday morning, the coronavirus pandemic has reached at least 67 countries, sickened over 91,000 people worldwide, and killed at least 3,118. Twitter cofounder and CEO Jack Dorsey, who has recently come under fire from activist investors who want him to step down, recently cancelled his appearance at this year’s South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas over concerns about the coronavirus outbreaks. South by Southwest is still scheduled to start on Friday, March 13 and will not be cancelled, despite a petition to do exactly that, according to the Austin American-Statesman. While Twitter is encouraging people to work from home, it’s also allowing employees in some countries to continue traveling into the office if they like. Working from home is already mandatory for Twitter employees in Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea due to government restrictions. “We are working to make sure internal meetings, all hands, and other important tasks are optimized for remote participation,” Twitter said. “We recognize that working from home is not ideal for some job functions. For those employees who prefer or need to come into the offices, they will remain open for business.” Hong Kong has 100 cases and two deaths, while Japan has 274 cases and 6 deaths, not including the passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise that was, until recently, docked in Yokohama. At least 706 of the roughly 3,700 people on board contracted the virus and six have died. South Korea has also been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, with 374 new cases on Tuesday alone, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 5,186. South Korea’s government, which has declared a “war” on the virus, announced on Tuesday that the country has 28 deaths so far, according to Yonhap News. Twitter added that it’s “deep cleaning and sanitizing” its buildings and is installing visual reminders on personal hygiene and food safety. And it’s unlikely that this will be the first U.S.-based company to encourage employees to stay home. “While this is a big change for us, we have already been moving towards a more distributed workforce that’s increasingly remote,” Twitter said in a statement. “We’re a global service and we’re committed to enabling anyone, anywhere to work at Twitter.” Source
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