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Google’s announcement that it is planning to give employees a three-day “flexible workweek” when they return to the office next September raises as many questions as it answers. If the company wants to encourage collaboration, how will it manage which three days people come to work? And if workers choose to live further from the office, will three days a week allow sufficient flexibility? Kudos to the Googleplex for trying to provide some clarity. But the future of work remains hazy.
To cut through the haze, Fortune is hosting a series of virtual discussions in partnership with the Future Forum by Slack. A few takeaways from yesterday’s:
—Work-from-home has helped democratize the workplace, according to Jenny Johnson, CEO of Franklin Templeton Investments. Everyone’s box is equal on Zoom.
— “Sense of belonging” is where work-from-home falls short, according to Future Forum’s Brian Elliott. The problem is most pronounced among middle managers. You can read the Future Forum’s research findings here.
—A key issue is “watercooler” type interactions. But Prithwiraj Choudhury, an associate professor at Harvard who has studied companies that work remotely, says that problem can be addressed with what he calls “planned random interactions.” More on Choudhury’s work here.
—Transparency is key to making work-from-home work. “Many organizations are set up not to be transparent,” says Gitlab’s Darren Murph. “There are gaps and silos. And you feel like you belong less.” It’s important to make goals and project updates available to all.
—Burnout is a real problem. “Most of what we have done during the pandemic we need to keep doing,” said Tracy Layney, chief human resource officer at Levi Strauss. “We will continue to focus more on burnout, well-being, and mental health.”
One thing that’s clear is the new normal will be very different from the old. “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” says Murph. Whether companies allow work-from-home “is going to massively affect their ability to attract talent,” he believes. “This is peoples’ lives.”
More news below.
China's largest chipmaker, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp or SMIC, suddenly lost its co-CEO under strange circumstances, lopping nearly a tenth off its share price. Liang Mong Song allegedly authored a resignation letter that's been circulating on social media, and SMIC has been trying to contact him. Liang was apparently irked about the company making a board appointment without asking him. Fortune
Another reason SMIC's share's aren't so hot right now: along with six other Chinese companies that were labelled by the U.S. government as having military ties, it will be removed from MSCI's global equity indexes on January 5. The Trump administration's move means U.S. investors are barred from holding stakes in SMIC and the others, which include construction, communications and surveillance firms. Financial Times
The European Medicines Agency has moved forward its potential authorization of Pfizer/BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine. The agency was to have met to discuss the vaccine on December 29, but that's been shifted to next Monday, with official authorization possibly following around Christmas. Meanwhile, the U.S. is likely to approve a second vaccine, Moderna's, this week. Politico
Gmail suffered its second outage in as many days yesterday, this time conking out for over two hours rather than one. The initial outage was apparently down to an authentication error, affecting all of Google's services that require users to log in with a Google account. Fortune
AROUND THE WATER COOLER
China has become the latest country to mull the introduction of a "digital tax" on companies that have enormous troves of data, judging by the comments of a senior securities-watchdog official, Yao Qian. Comparing such firms with mining companies, Yao suggested that "governments should study in depth whether it’s necessary for them to levy digital taxes to platform-like enterprises, just like they levy taxes on natural resources." Reuters
BP has bought a controlling stake in Finite Carbon, the U.S.'s largest producer of carbon credits (it helps landowners sell parts of their forests as carbon sinks). BP innovation chief David Eyton: "Finite Carbon has the potential to build a global platform for managing and financing natural climate solutions." Wall Street Journal
U.S. shale producers should be worried about the incoming Biden administration, said U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette: "There are some in Congress who are going to drive a climate policy that’s going to be very aggressive." (Bonus read: Princeton scholars reckon Biden's target of "net zero" by 2050 will require 50 million electric vehicles and a quadrupling of wind and solar capacity in the next decade alone.) CNBC
MacKenzie Scott has given away $4 billion of her $60-billion-ish fortune in just four months. Scott—Jeff Bezos' ex-wife—has seen her stash surge along with Amazon's share price this year, and she's asked her team to come up with ways to give more away more quickly. Her focus: groups "operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital." Fortune
This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.