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Cost of living? Get ready for the cost-of-working crisis • The Register

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We all must have experienced the deepening cost-of-living crisis first hand by now. But according to new research, there is a cost-of-working crisis too as employers insist staff return to the office.

In its Digital Etiquette: Reinventing Work Report, digital transformation specialist Adaptavist quizzed almost 3,500 professionals from the US, UK, Australia, and Canada on their views about hybrid vs office work, productivity, collaboration and isolation, communication tools, health and wellbeing, and the future of work.

Adaptavist found that for the 1,200-plus UK employees surveyed, inflation and shocking cost-of-living increases have folded into a new “cost-of-working” crisis affecting not only where they work but how.

Although the cost of working from home is increasing with stomach-turning energy bills, 44 percent of Brit respondents said they are worried about the additional costs of working in an office if they return full time.

Of the 38 percent that said they were anxious about returning to the office, 35 percent said the anxiety was due to the commute. Everyone has felt the pang of stupidity in traveling to work to be able to afford traveling to work, and according to the Office of National Statistics, the annual increase for transport in the UK was 15.1 percent in July 2022.

As a result, 29 percent say they’d want to see commute reimbursement and free parking as the carrot that would get them back in the office full time.

“The transformation of work over the last few years has been long lasting, but will also continue to evolve,” said John Turley, head of Organisational Transformation at Adaptavist.

“Just as employees have grown accustomed to questioning the level of flexibility and freedom their organization provides, they’re now understandably considering the costs associated with heading back to the office, working from home or some combination of the two.

“Whether these costs are mental, emotional or financial, employees and employers will need to find a new equilibrium between business as usual and the way people want to work now – one that supports well-being as well as creating value for customers.”

Meanwhile, the flexibility of working from home has allowed respondents to supplement their income with freelance gigs or additional hours as recession looms, opportunities they feel will be stripped by a mandatory office schedule. Some 28 percent plan to take on additional work and 16 percent already have, with 51 percent citing an increased income of £6,000-£12,000 annually (c $6,800 to $13,600). It’s clear why some would not want to lose this.

The downside to these ventures is that they could cause burnout. Adaptavist said 31 percent of British employees are so overwhelmed with work that they don’t have time to talk to colleagues, while 89 percent said in-person communication with co-workers is critical or important. This could contribute to loneliness or isolation, though more than half of professionals have not accessed their employer’s mental health resources.

Psychotherapist Petra Velzeboer commented: “Often we find that mental health and well-being resources do exist within organisations, but the communication about them is poor and awareness low.

“An effective Employee Assistance Program and communication strategy is essential to ensure companies and employees have the right tools in place, but it’s only half the solution. We need to proactively combat loneliness by creating a culture of connection, with mental health and well-being at the forefront. Companies need to prioritize mental health before people start to struggle, not after.”

The Great Reset

For better or worse, with 43 percent of respondents in either hybrid or remote positions, this flexibility could be coming to an end as employers begin to mandate a return to the office. Whether driven by recession, the need for control or to boost productivity, nearly three quarters of British workers said returning to the office would negate all, some, and the most important of their workplace freedoms.

This has pushed more than a third to look for a new job elsewhere. However, 66 percent of those who quit as part of the pandemic-inspired “Great Resignation” said they either regret or sometimes regret the decision – so proceed with caution.

Among the tech companies herding workers back to HQ are BT, Apple, and Google, which have all mandated a “3 together, 2 wherever” (as BT put it) model – three days in an office, and two remote.

On the other hand, Red Hat has no qualms with staff working remotely for the foreseeable future, Amazon has said it has no hard return to the office planned, Dell envisioned 60 percent of staff staying away after the pandemic, and Salesforce believes “office mandates are never going to work.”

At the more disturbing end, Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri famously said “maybe five days is too much family time. One or two days is a good amount,” when explaining why staff had to come back in.

Time for a four-day week?

Adaptavist also asked professionals for their take on the future of employment. While 63 percent said they were working the same hours as before the pandemic, more than 62 percent wanted to see an end to the 40-hour work week, with 49 percent angling for a four-day schedule.

Almost a quarter of those surveyed said their employer already offers four days. This follows a huge UK pilot of the schedule shakeup for 3,000 workers across tens of companies between June to December.

At the half-way point of that pilot, 88 percent of companies that respondended said the four-day week is working well for their business; 46 percent said business productivity has stayed the same; and 86 percent said they are ‘extrememly likely” to retain the four-day week policy.

Tool fatigue

The survey also looked at communication and productivity tools, with Brits frequently experiencing “tool fatigue.” This was most acutely felt by asynchronous workers – those on a team that does not require all members to be online simultaneously – who had tool fatigue rates twice that of synchronous workers.

Just over half of employees said they lose time due to task switching, and 41 percent complained that their organization had too many tools that do the same thing.

Email remains the most used communication method for work at 31 percent, followed by in-person talking (17 percent), then collaboration tools like Slack as the primary communication method (12 percent). However, those working asynchronously in larger companies with more than 250 employees were more likely to use such tools, with Microsoft Teams (75 percent) and Zoom (53 percent) considered essential for collaboration. ®

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Google UK staff earned average of more than £385,000 each in 18 months | Google

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Google UK’s staff earned an average of more than £385,000 each in the 18 months to the end of December, as the tech company gave almost £1bn in share-based payments.

Google, which like other tech firms is looking at budget and potential job cuts as global economic conditions become tougher, reported £3.4bn in turnover and £1.1bn in pre-tax profits in the 18 months to the end of December 2021.

The company, which reported a year and a half of financial results after moving its accounting period from the end of June to December last year, paid £200m in UK corporation tax.

Google UK hired 577 staff between June 2020 and December last year, taking its total headcount to 5,701. The company employs 2,275 staff in sales and marketing roles, 2,412 in research and design and 1,014 in management and administration roles.

Google’s total staff costs hit £2.2bn in the 18-month reporting period, according to accounts filed at Companies House. The staff wage and salary bill came to £1.06bn.

The accounts show UK staff received an £829m bonanza in share-based payments, and there was £258m on social security costs and £52m in expenses relating to its defined contribution plan.

The accounts also show that Google paid £200m in UK corporation tax on its £1.1bn profits.

Like its tech peers Meta – the owner of Facebook and Instagram – and Amazon, Google is frequently the target of criticism that it does not pay enough in tax in the UK.

While the company reported £3.4bn in turnover over its 18-month reporting period, the research firm Insider Intelligence estimates that Google made almost £8.7bn in ad revenue in the UK in 2021 alone.

Google, which has its European headquarters in Ireland, where taxes are lower, reports some revenues in other jurisdictions.

“Our global effective income tax rate over the past decade has been close to 20% of our profits, in line with average statutory tax rates,” a spokesperson for Google said. “We have long supported efforts via the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] to update international tax rules to arrive at a system where more taxing rights are allocated to countries where products and services are consumed.”

In November, Google’s Irish subsidiary agreed to pay €218m (£183m) in back taxes to the Irish government. In 2020, Alphabet, Google’s parent company, said it would stop using a notorious tax loophole known as “the double Irish with a Dutch sandwich”.

In 2020, the UK introduced a digital services tax, which levies 2% of gross revenues, and aimed to target large digital companies that make huge revenues but report relatively small profits.

Next year, it will be replaced by a new global tax system after the OECD brokered a deal between 136 countries that will result in large multinational companies paying tax in the countries where they do business, and committing themselves to a minimum 15% corporation tax rate.

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Tesla has a bit of work to do on Optimus robot • The Register

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Tesla headlined its AI Day 2022 event on Friday with the reveal of its “Optimus” robot prototype, showing just how much work was left to do on the project.

While the demo was certainly more robotic than last year’s dancer in a onesie, the lumbering mess of cables was far from the sleek and sexy design faithful Muskites might expect from the EV maker.

CEO and founder Elon Musk said before the curtains opened: “I do want to set some expectations with respect to our Optimus robot. As you know, last year it was just a person in a robot suit, but we’ve come a long way and, you know, compared to that, it’s going to be impressive.”

But in a world accustomed to the back-flipping bots of Boston Dynamics, Optimus was less than impressive. A mechanical engineer stepped in to inform the audience that this was the first time the robot was run “without any backup support – cranes, mechanical mechanisms, no cables, nothing.”

Tesla Optimus protoype

Tesla’s ‘rough development robot’

The prototype managed to rotate its arms, then tottered to the forefront to give the audience a wave, before walking back as a screen failed to close. “This is essentially the same self-driving computer that runs in Tesla cars by the way,” an Autopilot engineer proclaimed.

The event then showed videos of the robot picking up and putting down objects, and watering plants. “What you saw … was our rough development robot using semi-off-the-shelf actuators. But … we actually have an Optimus bot with fully Tesla-designed and built actuators, battery pack, control system, everything.”

This version, which was then pushed onto the stage, was a little more “Tesla” – slimmer, neater, shinier. Only one problem: it can’t walk. “I think it will walk in a few weeks,” Musk said, “but we wanted to show you something that’s fairly close to what will go into production.”

Clumsily wheeled out by staff, it also managed a couple more waves and did the splits from the rod on which it was mounted.

“Our goal is to make a useful humanoid robot as quickly as possible,” Musk said. “We’ve also designed it using the same discipline we use in designing the car, which is to say to design a form of manufacturing such that it is possible to make the robot in high volume at low cost with higher liability.

“You’ve all seen very impressive humanoid robots demonstrations, and that’s great, but what are they missing? They’re missing a brain. They don’t have the intelligence to navigate the world by themselves. They’re also very expensive and made in low volume. Optimus is designed to be an extremely capable robot but made in very high volume – ultimately millions of units – and it’s expected to cost much less than a car, so probably less than $20,000.”

That’s one expensive Roomba.

Accepting that there was “a lot of work to be done to refine Optimus and improve it,” Musk said the aim of the event was convince more AI and mechanical engineers to join the company to bring the project “to fruition at scale” and “help millions of people.”

He then waxed lyrical about an economy where there was “not a limitation on capita,” which could then become “quasi-infinite,” implying that he hopes Tesla’s robots might one day replace humans on production lines.

“This means a future of abundance,” he said. “A future where there is no poverty, where you can have whatever you want in terms of products and services. It really is a fundamental transformation of civilization as we know it.”

As if to reference his belief that AI is humanity’s “biggest existential threat,” he added: “Obviously, we want to make sure that transformation is a positive one and safe,” claiming that Tesla’s public ownership model was the right way to achieve this.

While not quite the disasterpiece of the Cybertruck reveal, going by what was shown at the AI Day, such a utopia is still far away. ®

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Dublin proptech constructing an operating system for buildings

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The SpaceOS platform sets out to create smart workplaces as the world wises up to the future of hybrid, flexible and sustainable work.

“We believe that buildings have been failing to answer people’s needs for decades,” said Marley Fabisiewicz. “We’re making them more convenient and human-centric with technology, while feeding the property managers and real estate developers with data.”

That, in a nutshell, is what proptech start-up SpaceOS is all about. “The real estate industry is a dinosaur,” said co-CEO Fabisiewicz, whose vision is to realise its digital transformation through developing tech-enabled workspaces. “Our mission is to help companies attract, retain, inspire and empower their people by creating dynamic and digitised workplace communities.”

Headquartered in Dublin, SpaceOS offers a workplace experience platform that Fabisiewicz said “turns smartphones into remote controls for the workplace”. The name derives from the concept of creating “an operating system for buildings”.

What this involves, Fabisiewicz explained, is digitising physical assets and providing APIs to integrate existing business technologies, such as access control. “[SpaceOS] covers everything from opening doors and booking desks and rooms, to ordering food, registering guests and sending out invoices, all blended seamlessly into daily workflows,” he said.

“Because of its modular structure, SpaceOS is ready to integrate with a variety of platforms to meet the specific requirements of any workspace infrastructure. It connects all stakeholders, reduces inputs and costs, provides insights, and offers smart management tools. It provides building managers and users with transparency, cost efficiency and real-time information, while focusing on the user experience.”

‘Dynamic workspaces are shaping the future of work’

Fabisiewicz sees the platform as essential to the transformed modern workplace. “We are targeting building owners, tenants, and managers. With a high demand for spaces to fit varying needs in a modern work environment, dynamic workspaces are shaping the future of work,” he said.

“However, current building management tools were typically designed before hybrid working became mainstream. As a result, they are inflexible and lack the adaptability and technology necessary to make today’s workspaces more efficient, while reducing operating costs.”

Demand for SpaceOS could also be employee-driven, Fabisiewicz explained, as modern workers demand systems that enable flexibility, engagement and sustainable practices. Clients can use the platform to deliver push notifications for news, events or community updates, and the service also offers detail data on carbon emissions, to support net-zero initiatives.

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals have been a focal point of the start-up in the past year, leading to a partnership with Germany company Aedifion, which provides a cloud-based platform to collate data on buildings’ energy consumption.

“This collaboration allows property owners and managers to offer tenants a real-time visualisation of metrics regarding their energy usage and carbon emissions. This is the basis for transparency, and a step to make everyone in the workplace become a sustainability activist, supporting the decarbonisation of buildings,” said Fabisiewicz.

“We are currently working on managing heating, ventilation and energy based on occupancy and capacity data, to decarbonise buildings even more effectively. Future integrations will also allow tenants to remote-control HVAC, blinds, lights and more, through the SpaceOS app.”

‘The landscape has changed significantly since the markets tanked’

Serial entrepreneur Fabisiewicz also founded Upnext Technologies, a software and digital product development agency focused on the fintech industry.

SpaceOS was founded in 2017 by Fabisiewicz and his co-CEO Maciej Markowski, who has a background in real estate consultancy and proptech. “He has international experience in corporate workplace and change issues, advising major corporations on their workplace research, strategy and change management,” said Fabisiewicz.

So far, the founding duo have increased revenue three times over in the past 12 months and built up a strong client portfolio. “However, we are still in the early innings of the proptech game,” said Fabisiewicz. “Market saturation for tenant experience technology is at around 5pc globally, so there’s still a massive upside potential and room to grow.”

Of course, the present-day market disruptions present a challenging environment for growth and investment. “The landscape has changed significantly since the markets tanked,” said Fabisiewicz. “12 months ago, it was all about hypergrowth. Today, it’s all about how quickly you can become profitable.”

In Dublin, however, Fabisiewicz describes the start-up ecosystem as “a continuous boom” with “more money to be deployed by investors, more founders with great ideas, and a maturing ecosystem for start-ups in general”.

In his company’s case, SpaceOS is looking for “smart money” that offers more than a cash injection. Fabisiewicz is seeking investors who “not only write a cheque, but also support in building the business”.

“I believe especially in proptech this is essential for a successful start-up,” he said.

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