Initially Thrilled to Telework, India Workers Miss the Office

As she settled down to work from home when India announced a lockdown in March, Shweta Andrews thought exultantly “this is the way to go.” After all she no longer had to do the grinding commute between office and home in the Indian capital that took up two hours daily.Two months on, the digital editor of a publishing house is nostalgic about that ride. “I miss my colleagues and believe it or not, I miss travelling in the Metro. I miss the rush. I miss the crowd.”The unprecedented experiment of work from home that began in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic has prompted some Indian companies to explore the possibility of scaling up remote work as they eye long term benefits such as smaller office spaces and lower rentals.But at a time when a long, stringent lockdown has intensified social isolation, many are finding that an interactive office environment is hard to replace at home.Apoorva Bapna says office spaces generate energy that cannot completely be replaced by online connections. (Photo Courtesy: Apoorva Bapna)A New Delhi-based senior professional in a global company, Apoorva Bapna, dismisses the notion that remote work could be the “new normal” and points out that while flexi-hours are welcome, online connections cannot replace the energy generated by professional spaces.“There is just that much of bouncing of ideas I can do on a video call or a phone call. Sometimes you just need to sit across the table and have that heated conversation or a debate or just exchange ideas,” says Bapna.India’s Information Technology sector appears to be blazing the trail for adopting the work-at-home model as the industry gears up to have nearly half the country’s four million I-T workers operate remotely – up from an average of 20 percent before March. The country’s biggest technology company Tata Consultancy Services says that it will have 75 percent of its workforce operating from home by 2025.Some companies that rely heavily on online work could make the shift much sooner because they found it to be an efficient model in the last two months.“From a purely productivity standpoint, we have seen a fairly smooth transition in work from home,” says Raghav Gupta, managing director, India and Asia Pacific with Coursera, a U.S. based online learning platform. He gives an example. “If I would go to Bangalore and meet two sets of people in a day, I can do five meetings today by sitting at home.”As India eases its stringent lockdown and offices begin to reopen with a much leaner staff onsite, the debate has begun heating up.Some assert that the personal touch provided by an office environment cannot be overlooked, even in the IT sector. “You get ready for the day, it is a mental shift you make,” according to Abhimanyu Mukherji, a service delivery manager in New Delhi with a partner company of software organization, SAP. “Just walking up to someone and talking to my team has a different impact. Now there is a loss of human touch and social interaction which we all are so used to.”While it is possible to be productive even doing work from home, Abhimanyu Mukherji says walking up and talking directly to his team has a different impact. (Photo Courtesy: Abhimanyu Mukherji)While he and his team delivered to their clients’ satisfaction during the lockdown, he points out that working at home from living rooms and dining tables can pose challenges of the kind that some of his team members with young children faced.“When the kids are at home, they expect a lot of attention from the parents and therefore they are having a lot of difficulty in actually concentrating on the job,” says Mukherji. “The children assume that you must be on leave so you should be giving them all the attention.”There are also the constraints that living in small apartments or extended families throw up, especially in cities with expensive rentals.  “It is not easy for people who live in Bombay, in smaller homes with six to eight family members crammed up in two bedroom homes,” points out Bapna.And work from home settings can be even more burdensome for women. “We do everything on the house front and we also manage our office work, which is fairly hectic,” says Bapna who was caught in the lockdown in Jaipur city where she was visiting her parents.Amid the lockdown there have been no comprehensive surveys to indicate which way Indians would prefer going. But a recent survey by a Bengaluru based research firm, Feedback Insights, found that two-thirds of employees were concerned about personal wellbeing, a lack of connectedness with the team and overall anxiety about the job environment. They also cited frequent distractions at home as a key challenge.However benefits such as savings for companies, less traffic on roads, less pollution and less spending on fuel and daycare will inevitably lead to a greater push for the work-at-home model in the post Covid world.“By choice and also by planning we will say – you go to office two days a week, you may or may not have a dedicated desk, and the other three or four days you consistently work at home,” says Gupta at Coursera.But shrinking office spaces, thanks to technology and the new emphasis on social distancing, is something many view with trepidation. Andrews draws an analogy with reading a book on Kindle – it does not replicate the original. “The feeling of holding a book in your hand, that touch, that smell, that personal feeling you get – it’s the same as personal contact in an office,” says Andrews. “So yes technology and computers and zoom and Kindle don’t work as well as interacting with a real human being does.” 

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Remote Work May Be India’s Future, But Everyone Not On Board

As she settled down to work from home when India announced a lockdown in March, Shweta Andrews thought exultantly “this is the way to go.” After all she no longer had to do the grinding commute between office and home in the Indian capital that took up two hours daily.Two months on, the digital editor of a publishing house is nostalgic about that ride. “I miss my colleagues and believe it or not, I miss travelling in the Metro. I miss the rush. I miss the crowd.”The unprecedented experiment of work from home that began in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic has prompted some Indian companies to explore the possibility of scaling up remote work as they eye long term benefits such as smaller office spaces and lower rentals.But at a time when a long, stringent lockdown has intensified social isolation, many are finding that an interactive office environment is hard to replace at home.Apoorva Bapna says office spaces generate energy that cannot completely be replaced by online connections. (Photo Courtesy: Apoorva Bapna)A New Delhi-based senior professional in a global company, Apoorva Bapna, dismisses the notion that remote work could be the “new normal” and points out that while flexi-hours are welcome, online connections cannot replace the energy generated by professional spaces.“There is just that much of bouncing of ideas I can do on a video call or a phone call. Sometimes you just need to sit across the table and have that heated conversation or a debate or just exchange ideas,” says Bapna.India’s Information Technology sector appears to be blazing the trail for adopting the work-at-home model as the industry gears up to have nearly half the country’s four million I-T workers operate remotely – up from an average of 20 percent before March. The country’s biggest technology company Tata Consultancy Services says that it will have 75 percent of its workforce operating from home by 2025.Some companies that rely heavily on online work could make the shift much sooner because they found it to be an efficient model in the last two months.“From a purely productivity standpoint, we have seen a fairly smooth transition in work from home,” says Raghav Gupta, managing director, India and Asia Pacific with Coursera, a U.S. based online learning platform. He gives an example. “If I would go to Bangalore and meet two sets of people in a day, I can do five meetings today by sitting at home.”As India eases its stringent lockdown and offices begin to reopen with a much leaner staff onsite, the debate has begun heating up.Some assert that the personal touch provided by an office environment cannot be overlooked, even in the IT sector. “You get ready for the day, it is a mental shift you make,” according to Abhimanyu Mukherji, a service delivery manager in New Delhi with a partner company of software organization, SAP. “Just walking up to someone and talking to my team has a different impact. Now there is a loss of human touch and social interaction which we all are so used to.”While it is possible to be productive even doing work from home, Abhimanyu Mukherji says walking up and talking directly to his team has a different impact. (Photo Courtesy: Abhimanyu Mukherji)While he and his team delivered to their clients’ satisfaction during the lockdown, he points out that working at home from living rooms and dining tables can pose challenges of the kind that some of his team members with young children faced.“When the kids are at home, they expect a lot of attention from the parents and therefore they are having a lot of difficulty in actually concentrating on the job,” says Mukherji. “The children assume that you must be on leave so you should be giving them all the attention.”There are also the constraints that living in small apartments or extended families throw up, especially in cities with expensive rentals.  “It is not easy for people who live in Bombay, in smaller homes with six to eight family members crammed up in two bedroom homes,” points out Bapna.And work from home settings can be even more burdensome for women. “We do everything on the house front and we also manage our office work, which is fairly hectic,” says Bapna who was caught in the lockdown in Jaipur city where she was visiting her parents.Amid the lockdown there have been no comprehensive surveys to indicate which way Indians would prefer going. But a recent survey by a Bengaluru based research firm, Feedback Insights, found that two-thirds of employees were concerned about personal wellbeing, a lack of connectedness with the team and overall anxiety about the job environment. They also cited frequent distractions at home as a key challenge.However benefits such as savings for companies, less traffic on roads, less pollution and less spending on fuel and daycare will inevitably lead to a greater push for the work-at-home model in the post Covid world.“By choice and also by planning we will say – you go to office two days a week, you may or may not have a dedicated desk, and the other three or four days you consistently work at home,” says Gupta at Coursera.But shrinking office spaces, thanks to technology and the new emphasis on social distancing, is something many view with trepidation. Andrews draws an analogy with reading a book on Kindle – it does not replicate the original. “The feeling of holding a book in your hand, that touch, that smell, that personal feeling you get – it’s the same as personal contact in an office,” says Andrews. “So yes technology and computers and zoom and Kindle don’t work as well as interacting with a real human being does.” 

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China Threatens to Put American Tech Giants on Its ‘Unreliable Entity List’ 

China has responded to a new U.S. ban targeting telecom giant Huawei, threatening to retaliate through a series of countermeasures, including putting U.S. companies such as Apple, Qualcomm and Cisco on an “unreliable entity list” that would seriously impede their sales in Chinese markets.   The U.S. Commerce Department on Friday threw a one-two punch at China’s high-tech efforts by announcing a new ban on global chip supplies to Huawei, while allowing a Taiwanese semiconductor producer to open a next-generation plant in the United States.   In an FILE PHOTO: A Huawei company logo at Shenzhen International Airport in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China, July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song/File PhotoA ban tailored for Huawei The U.S. Commerce Department issued a statement on Friday to amend an export control rule that “strategically targets Huawei’s acquisition of semiconductors that are the direct product of certain U.S. software and technology.”   Under the new rule, foreign companies using U.S. semiconductor and chipmaking equipment will be required to obtain a license to supply chips to Huawei or its affiliates. The rule has a 120-day grace period. 

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Analysis: Privacy Worries Could Derail Virus Tracking Plans

Worries about the breach of individual privacy rights could undermine Louisiana’s ability to quickly pinpoint those who have encountered someone infected with COVID-19, a tracking plan that public health experts say is critical to slowing the spread of the coronavirus disease.Gov. John Bel Edwards has started reopening much of Louisiana’s economy, saying residents have done well with staying home and apart from others that the state’s no longer at risk of overwhelming its hospitals with COVID-19 patients.  Loosening restrictions means more people are moving around, visiting salons and restaurants, attending churches and encountering others. To avoid overwhelming spikes in coronavirus cases, infectious disease specialists say, requires robust testing to locate virus hot spots and widespread contact tracing to determine who has come into close contact with someone infected so they can be urged to self-isolate.Dr. Alex Billioux, leader of Louisiana’s public health office, said he knows some people will find the process of contact tracing “scary,” to be asked about their interactions with people and businesses or to find out someone else has shared information about where they’ve been.”The goal here, though, is to help protect you. The goal here is to identify where you have risk,” Billioux said.But word that the Edwards administration hired nearly 300 contact tracers on top of 70 already employed — and could eventually build up to 700 disease detectives to track the virus— quickly raised concerns about collecting personal medical information and spreading it improperly.Rep. Raymond Crews, a Shreveport Republican, told health care officials he’s heard a lot of reluctance to contact tracing from people who “put a big, big premium on liberty.””My constituents are very leery. They think it opens a Pandora’s box and it’s going to be very scary,” Crews said.Realizing that widespread reluctance to respond to contact tracers could hamper Louisiana’s efforts to contain the virus, Edwards has appealed to people to be “good neighbors” by participating.The Democratic governor said people who test positive for the coronavirus will be asked to identify people they recently came into close contact with for 15 minutes or more. A contact tracer, working from home, will call those people and tell them they should get tested if they’re symptomatic and should isolate for 14 days even if they’re not showing symptoms.”You can rest assured that your information will remain confidential,” Edwards said.Billioux stressed the contact tracers will follow federal laws for protecting personal health information. He said the information collected is held in a private system similar to those used by hospitals to store health data.”We’re not revealing any details of the individual that they came into contact with,” Billioux said.  Public health agencies have used contact tracing to track and combat the spread of other infectious diseases for years, drawing little attention. Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a doctor, said the nation has laws governing the process.”Privacy is absolutely of greatest importance. Fortunately, we have 25 or 30 or even 40 years of privacy law that we have seen work,” Cassidy said in a conference call with reporters. He added: “We have to reopen the economy safely, and we have to do it in a way which both balances the safety and the reopening. And the way to do that is to know who may be infected.”Rep. Jack McFarland, a Winnfield Republican, said contact tracing concerns are rampant on social media, and he’s been inundated with emails and phone calls from people resisting the idea.  He said the state hasn’t done enough to explain that the contact tracing will be done by phone, that participation will be voluntary and that the “government can’t come into your home and lock you up.” He also said more should be done to explain the benefits to slow the virus’s spread.  McFarland acknowledged he’s not yet “completely comfortable” with contact tracing, and he anticipates the state will have trouble getting some people to participate.”Once people make up their minds, it’s hard to change them,” he said. “The public’s perception is this is big government, an invasion of our privacy. Somebody’s got to do a better job of changing that perception or it’s not going to be successful.”

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Facebook Data Help Track COVID-19 Spread

Facebook likely knows a lot about you already. So would you fill out a survey on the social media site about how you are feeling today?What if that information could help researchers and officials navigate the current pandemic? If it meant local businesses, parks and beaches might reopen sooner rather than later, would that make a difference?That’s the idea behind several efforts to tap into people’s social media and internet use to find hot spots and forecast outbreaks of the virus well before hospitals are inundated.As society begins to open up after months-long closures, government officials are looking for leading indicators — data that may forecast that an outbreak is coming — to help them make key decisions about what to open and when.One indicator is through a symptom survey created by Carnegie Mellon University researchers. The survey appears at the top of a person’s Facebook newsfeed and asks whether he or she has experienced COVID-19 symptoms including fever, cough and shortness of breath.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline. Embed” />CopyThe survey is live globally through a partnership with the University of Maryland and is very active in the U.S.“We’re getting something like 150,000 responses a day,” said Laura McGorman, a Facebook policy lead.Carnegie Mellon researchers update the data daily on the university’s  COVIDcast website. Visitors to the site can look at specific counties by date and by data set.“The real-time estimates we’ve derived correlate with the best available data on COVID-19 activity,” Ryan Tibshirani, co-leader of Carnegie Mellon’s COVID-19 Response Team, said in a statement.The information “gives us confidence that we may soon be able to give health care officials forecasts” several weeks into the future, he said.Map of changesFacebook is also sharing user mobility data with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, helping researchers create a map of daily changes in population movement by state and county. People using Facebook’s mobile app with the location history turned on contribute to this data.Policymakers can use this information to understand how communities are responding to physical distancing measures and whether additional measures may be needed.Researchers caution that datasets are merely another layer of information pointing to possible trends in the disease’s spread. They’re not conclusive on their own.“No matter where you are in the world, hopefully some aspect of our data can be useful in a response,” said Facebook’s McGorman.

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US Moves to Cut Off Huawei From Global Chip Suppliers

The Trump administration on Friday moved to block shipments of semiconductors to Huawei Technologies from global chipmakers, in an action ramping up tensions with China.The U.S. Commerce Department said it was amending an export rule to “strategically target Huawei’s acquisition of semiconductors that are the direct product of certain U.S. software and technology.”The reaction from China  was swift with a report saying it was ready to put U.S. companies on an “unreliable entity list,” as part of countermeasures in response to the new limits on Huawei, FILE – A security personnel stands near the logo of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd (TSMC) during an investor conference in Taipei, July 16, 2014.The rule change is a blow to Huawei, the world’s No. 2 smartphone maker, as well as to Taiwan’s Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd, a major producer of chips for Huawei’s HiSilicon unit as well as mobile phone rivals Apple and Qualcomm. TMSC announced late Thursday it would build a $12 billion chip factory in Arizona.TSMC said Friday it is “working with outside counsels to conduct legal analysis and ensure a comprehensive examination and interpretation of these rules. We expect to have the assessment concluded before the effective date,” the company said, adding the “semiconductor industry supply chain is extremely complex, and is served by a broad collection of international suppliers.”Huawei, which needs semiconductors for its widely used smartphones and telecoms equipment, is at the heart of a battle for global technological dominance between the United States and China.Huawei, which has warned that the Chinese government would retaliate if the rule went into effect, did not immediately comment on Friday. U.S. stock market futures turned negative on the Reuters report.”The Chinese government will not just stand by and watch Huawei be slaughtered on the chopping board,” Huawei Chairman Eric Xu told reporters on March 31.The United States is trying to convince allies to exclude Huawei gear from next generation 5G networks on grounds its equipment could be used by China for spying. Huawei has repeatedly denied the claim.Huawei has continued to use U.S. software and technology to design semiconductors, the Commerce Department said, despite being placed on a U.S. economic blacklist in May 2019.FILE – A chip by Huawei’s subsidiary HiSilicon is displayed in Fuzhou, Fujian province, China, March 21, 2019.Under the rule change, foreign companies that use U.S. chipmaking equipment will be required to obtain a U.S. license before supplying certain chips to Huawei, or an affiliate like HiSilicon. The rule targets chips designed or custom-made for Huawei.In order for Huawei to continue to receive some chipsets or use some semiconductor designs tied to certain U.S. software and technology, it would need to receive licenses from the Commerce Department.National security concernsCommerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Fox Business “there has been a very highly technical loophole through which Huawei has been in able, in effect, to use U.S. technology with foreign fab producers.” Ross called the rule change a “highly tailored thing to try to correct that loophole.”Ross said in a written statement Huawei had “stepped-up efforts to undermine these national security-based restrictions.”The Commerce Department said the rule will allow wafers already in production to be shipped to Huawei as long as the shipments are complete within 120 days from Friday. Chipsets would need to be in production by Friday or they would be ineligible under the rule.The United States placed Huawei and 114 affiliates on its economic blacklist citing national security concerns. That forced some U.S. and foreign companies to seek special licenses from the Commerce Department to sell to it, but China hawks in the U.S. government have been frustrated by the vast number of supply chains beyond their reach.Separately, the Commerce Department extended a temporary license that was set to expire Friday to allow U.S. companies, many of which operate wireless networks in rural America, to continue doing business with Huawei through Aug. 13. It warned it expected this would be the final extension.Reuters first reported the administration was considering changes to the Foreign Direct Product Rule, which subjects some foreign-made goods based on U.S. technology or software to U.S. regulations, in November.Most chip manufacturers rely on equipment produced by U.S. companies like KLA, Lam Research and Applied Materials, according to a report last year from China’s Everbright Securities.Other recent actionThe Trump administration has taken a series of steps aimed at Chinese telecom firms in recent weeks.The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last month began the process of shutting down the U.S. operations of three state-controlled Chinese telecommunications companies, citing national security risks. The FCC also in April approved Alphabet Inc. unit Google’s request to use part of an 8,000-mile undersea telecommunications cable between the United States and Taiwan, but not Hong Kong, after U.S. agencies raised national security concerns.This week, President Donald Trump extended for another year a May 2019 executive order barring U.S. companies from using telecommunications equipment made by companies deemed to pose a national security risk, a move seen aimed at Huawei and peer ZTE Corp. 

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Taiwanese Chip Company to Build $12 Billion Arizona Plant

A Taiwan-based company is planning a $12 billion semiconductor factory in the U.S. state of Arizona.Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. is the world’s largest contract manufacturer of computer chips.The firm said Friday the factory will create as many as 1,600 jobs. Thousands more jobs are expected to be created along the supply lines to support production of the 5-nanometer chips.The factory will be able to produce 20,000 of the wafers each month. They’re used in an array of consumer electronics, including the iPhones and defense equipment.Construction of the facility is to begin next year, and the location in Arizona has not been determined.“This project,” the company said, “is of critical, strategic importance to a vibrant and competitive U.S. semiconductor ecosystem that enables leading U.S. companies to fabricate their cutting-edge semiconductor products within the United States.”The firm has another U.S. factory in Washington state.U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross lauded the plan as showing the success of President Donald Trump’s programs.The company’s plan to set up the facility, he said, “is yet another indication that President Trump’s policy agenda has led to a renaissance in American manufacturing and made the United States the most attractive place in the world to invest.”Also praising the move was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said the facility will “increase U.S. economic independence, bolster our safety and competitiveness, and strengthen our leadership in high-tech manufacturing.”“This historic deal also strengthens our relationship with Taiwan, a vibrant democracy and force for good in the world,” he said.TSMC’s stock rose more than 1.5 percent Friday morning which outperformed the 0.8 percent gain in the main Taiwan stock market.  

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