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Returning to the office isn’t as simple as choosing a date

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The question of when workers can and will return to the office could have long-term consequences for the future of work, writes Jenny Darmody.

Click here to view the full Future of Work Week series.

Last week, the Government published the results of a public consultation on a legal framework for employees in Ireland to request remote work.

Tánaiste and Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar, TD, said there is now a “real opportunity” to make remote and blended working a bigger part of normal working life.

“We recognise that remote working won’t work for everyone or for every organisation, so the Government will take a balanced approach with the new legislation.”

This public consultation followed the National Remote Work Strategy released earlier this year, with the aim of making the practice a permanent part of work in Ireland post-pandemic. It marks another step towards legislation that could change how much of the Irish workforce works.

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But in the meantime, we’re all in a sort of limbo between pandemic and post-pandemic life. All these plans centre around the post-pandemic world and with around 85pc of the adult population in Ireland now fully vaccinated, that world seems unbelievably close – but we’re not there yet.

While the Government looks to the possibility of greater remote and hybrid working in the future, its workplace advice for the here and now remains the same: people should continue to work from home unless necessary to attend in person.

This is despite the fact that September, which has long been heralded as the month for a return to workplaces, is just around the corner.

However, a roadmap to reopening is on the way next week and is expected to include staggered guidelines for a return to workplaces and could see the use of antigen tests come into play.

What’s the hold-up?

I wrote about the rocky road to reopening at the end of July, and while there are many calls for clarity and guidance on reopening here in Ireland, there are also challenges that still need to be addressed.

For a start, there are questions around vaccinations. Earlier this year, William Fry’s head of the employment and benefits, Catherine O’Flynn, told Siliconrepublic.com that while employers may be keen to confirm whether their employees have or have not received a vaccine, it’s important to remember their duties under data protection legislation.

In terms of more general guidelines, there will also be challenges to address around buildings without sufficient ventilation, open-plan offices that may require protective screens and additional social distancing measures, and the task of dealing with a staggered workforce.

All of these issues will have to be addressed by the Government when it releases guidelines, particularly since these guidelines will be seen by many employers as the first official green light to bring their employees back to the office.

The Delta variant also remains a concern and has scuppered many companies’ plans to return to the office in other countries, with several Big Tech names in the US pushing out their plans until next year.

The latest of these was Apple, where employees had voiced their discontent at the iPhone maker’s disinterest in allowing remote working. Now, the surge in Covid-19 cases has forced Apple’s hand, and the company has pushed out its office return until at least January 2022, a delay first reported by Bloomberg.

Bigger, long-term consequences

While Apple’s delay may be welcome for many of its employees, it puts forward a bigger question around how many companies are willing to abandon remote working as soon as they possibly can.

I see the push for office returns as a double-edged sword. There is no doubt that clarity is needed on how people can return to an office-based environment safely. But once those guidelines are given, how quickly will employers use them as a licence to demand their staff’s presence as soon as possible?

To paraphrase Jurassic Park’s Ian Malcolm, several companies have become so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

While the pandemic inadvertently launched the world’s largest remote working experiment and accelerated the future of work, the light at the end of the tunnel may be causing us to turn our backs on the lessons we learned over the past year in favour of a desperate need to get back to what was once normal.

But that remote working experiment has successfully shown many employees that it is possible to work from home if they want to. While working during a pandemic should not be deemed a fair assessment of remote working, it has given us all a taster of what it’s like and shown us what we really want.

For some, that might very well mean returning to the office. For others, a blended or hybrid approach will work. And for some, fully remote is the only way to go.

But the power is firmly back in the employees’ hands now as while some companies are still craving that full-time office life, many others have seen the benefits of having a decentralised workforce. This could become a point of differentiation between companies and their competitors, and makes it much easier for remote-loving employees to seek work elsewhere.

Founder and CEO of Firstbase, Chris Herd, is a big advocate of remote-first working and often speaks about it on Twitter. “Imagine how small the talent pool will be for jobs that require five days a week in office,” he tweeted recently.

There is no question that companies, especially SMEs, need clarity on how they can safely reopen, and the Government needs to deliver on that while considering the legal, data protection and health and safety implications.

However, while employers are waiting, I sincerely hope they’re working on their own future plans to offer their workforce what is best for them.

The Government guidelines we’re all waiting on are still very much ‘mid-pandemic’ plans, even if it feels more like the beginning of the end.

But what workers need from their employers is a sign of post-pandemic plans that include the flexibility and understanding we’ve always needed, because the future of work is only going to work with a happy staff.



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Will this be one of the world’s first RISC-V laptops? • The Register

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Pic As Apple and Qualcomm push for more Arm adoption in the notebook space, we have come across a photo of what could become one of the world’s first laptops to use the open-source RISC-V instruction set architecture.

In an interview with The Register, Calista Redmond, CEO of RISC-V International, signaled we will see a RISC-V laptop revealed sometime this year as the ISA’s governing body works to garner more financial and development support from large companies.

It turns out Philipp Tomsich, chair of RISC-V International’s software committee, dangled a photo of what could likely be the laptop in question earlier this month in front of RISC-V Week attendees in Paris.

A slide that shows a picture of a laptop and says, 'Will we see the first RISC-V laptop released in 2022?'

A slide from the RISC-V Week event in Paris teasing a potential RISC-V laptop coming in 2022 … Click to enlarge.

Tomsich teased the device at the end of a talk with Mark Himelstein, CTO of RISC-V International, about the software optimization work needed to mature the RISC-V ecosystem.

“The big question that everybody is asking themselves, and the one where I’m wondering, Mark, if we’ll be able to pull this off: will we see the first RISC-V laptop announced this year?” Tomsich said as he showed a picture of a black, brandless laptop that had a large question mark over it.

Tomsich then hinted at the potential specs of the laptop:

Tomsich shared the photo of the mystery PC while promoting a few milestones for RISC-V, including the March launch of the first portable RISC-V computer, modeled after Kyocera’s classic TRS-80 Model 100 “slab” computer from 1983. Tomsich also hailed Alibaba Cloud for getting Android 12 to work on its own RISC-V silicon, and RISC-V compiler support for Java through OpenJDK.

What could the RISC-V laptop be for?

We were able to extract the image of the mystery laptop from the slide to get a slightly closer look:

A photo of what could be a laptop running a RISC-V processor, as shown at the RISC-V Week event in Paris in early May.

A photo of what could be a RISC-V laptop, as shown at the RISC-V Week event in Paris. Click to enlarge.

Unfortunately, there’s not much we can discern from this photo. The device itself looks fairly rough, pretty much a prototype, which means the laptop is likely being used for development and testing purposes.

However, there was one interesting detail that caught our attention: the bottle in the top-left corner of the photo. We learned from a quick Google search that this is a water bottle brand in China called Ganten.

Now, normally we wouldn’t care much about seeing a bottle of water, but we do know that, as of last summer, the Institute of Software at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (ISCAS) was planning to build 2,000 RISC-V laptops by the end of 2022 as China looks to reduce its reliance on foreign tech giants like Arm and Intel amid ongoing tensions with Western countries.

Does this mean the mystery laptop is being developed by ISCAS? It’s too soon to say. There could be other RISC-V laptop developments in China, though the ISCAS project is the only one in the country El Reg knows of so far.

The only other public RISC-V laptop development we’re aware of is one in Russia, which is expected to have homegrown RISC-V laptop chips ready for devices by 2025, according to a report from last year. The country is now cut off from Arm and Intel due to its invasion of Ukraine, so RISC-V is probably its best option now due to the ISA’s borderless nature.

As for RISC-V laptops popping up elsewhere in the world, we shouldn’t expect commercial products for a while – though if you know of any, or can identify the machine above, please do let us know. We’re also more than aware of the RISC-V boards out there for developers.

Patrick Little, the CEO of RISC-V chip designer SiFive, told us earlier this year he doesn’t think system-on-chips using the company’s CPU blueprints will find their way into PCs until roughly late 2025.

There’s also the fact that much work is needed for the RISC-V ISA to provide the same level of software support and cross-platform stability that x86 and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Arm, provide for PCs now. ®

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Engineering jobs are coming to Shannon as Ryanair creates 200 roles

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The new facility will create jobs for engineers, mechanics and support staff as Ryanair seeks to expand its fleet to more than 600 aircraft over the next four years.

Ryanair is opening its first heavy maintenance facility in Ireland at Shannon Airport, which the airline said will lead to 200 “high-skill” jobs in the region.

The airline said it will invest €10m into the “state-of-the-art” facility, leased from Shannon Group. This will support the maintenance of Ryanair’s fleet, which it is looking to expand to more than 600 aircraft over the next four years.

Future Human

Jobs to be created at the maintenance facility include licensed engineers, mechanics and support staff.

“Ryanair creates opportunities for highly skilled engineering jobs, with our industry-leading rosters and the youngest fleet in Europe,” Ryanair director of operations Neal McMahon said. “Shannon is an ideal location with opportunities to attract, train and employ local talent to support this new facility.”

Ryanair has operated from Shannon Airport since 1986, opening a base at the airport in 2005. It has carried more than 17m customers to and from the airport to date.

The airline said the investment is a mark of its commitment to both Ireland and the mid-west region.

Shannon Group CEO Mary Considine added that it represents a “vote of confidence” by Ryanair in the future of the airport.

“Having Ryanair at hangar 5, one of 10 fully occupied hangars on our Shannon campus, is another significant boost for the region, creating high-quality jobs for local aviation specialists,” Considine said. “The resulting jobs and investment are also consistent with our strategic plan to increase economic growth and retain skills and talent in the region.”

Ryanair carries around 154m passengers every year on more more than 2,400 daily flights from 82 bases, with its fleet of roughly 470 aircraft. The airline said it has a headcount of more than 19,000 skilled aviation professionals globally.

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Older people using TikTok to defy ageist stereotypes, research finds | TikTok

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Older TikTok users are using the online platform, regarded as the virtual playground of teenagers, to defy ageist stereotypes of elderly people as technophobic and frail.

Research has found increasing numbers of accounts belonging to users aged 60 and older with millions of followers. Using the platform to showcase their energy and vibrancy, these TikTok elders are rewriting expectations around how older people should behave both on and off social media.

“These TikTok elders have become successful content creators in a powerful counter-cultural phenomenon in which older persons actually contest the stereotypes of old age by embracing or even celebrating their aged status,” said Dr Reuben Ng, the author of the paper Not Too Old for TikTok: How Older Adults are Reframing Ageing, and an assistant professor at Yale University.

Interestingly, said Ng, most TikTok elders are women who “fiercely resist common stereotypes of older women as passive, mild-mannered and weak, instead opting to present themselves as fierce or even foul-mouthed,” he said.

The immense reach that these older TikTok users have means they have the potential to transform negative age stereotypes that proliferate on social media.

“There is considerable evidence that ageist stereotypes preponderate among the young on social media,” said Ng. These prejudices reached an all-time high during the Covid pandemic, during which the deadly virus was labelled a “Boomer remover”.

“The strength of anti-age prejudices means the participation of older adults in social media is vital in ensuring that such ageist ideas are not left unchallenged,” said Ng, whose paper is to be published in the Gerontologist journal.

The paper looked at 1,382 videos posted by TikTok users who were aged 60 or older and had between 100,000 and 5.3 million followers. In total, their videos, all of which explicitly discussed their age, had been viewed more than 3.5bn times.

Ng found that 71% of these videos – including those from accounts such as grandadjoe1933, who has 5.3 million followers, and dolly_broadway, who has 2.4 million followers – were used to defy age stereotypes. A recurring motif was the “glamma”, a portmanteau combining “glamorous” and “grandma”, with videos including those of a 70-year-old woman joyfully parading around the streets in a midriff-bearing top.

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Almost one in five of the videos analysed made light of age-related vulnerabilities, and one in 10 called out ageism among both younger people and their own contemporaries. Other videos positioned older users as superior to younger people. “I may be 86 but I can still drink more than you lightweights” says one clip. “I may be 86 but I can still twerk better than you,” says another, showing an octogenarian leaping up from a fall down the stairs with a twerk.

Analysis by the Pew Research Centre has found a remarkable uptake of technology by older Americans during recent years: in 2000, 14% of people aged 65-plus were internet users; in 2019, it was 73%. Only half of adults owned smartphones in 2014, 81% of those aged 60 to 69 have them today.

Emma Twyning, the director of communications at the Centre for Ageing Better said: “We need to see much more diverse portrayals if we are to truly shift attitudes and cast off negative perceptions of growing older. Social media is the perfect platform to do this and to call out ageism more generally.”

Stuart Lewis, the chief executive of Rest Less, said TikTok was the ideal platform for midlife influencers to take to the stage and defy ageist stereotypes. “Creators are encouraged to be original, raw and unedited – making it the ideal soapbox on which to stand if you want a space to debunk stereotypes and be your uncensored self,” he said.

Prof Fiona Gillison, from the Healthy Later Living Network at the University of Bath, who is leading work on challenging stereotypes about ageing, said the study was important. But she added: “There is a balance to be struck in challenging stereotypes about ageing while also accepting that it is OK to want different things from younger people as we grow older, and accepting that our interests and abilities may change.”

Ultimately, she said, people need to “take the stigma out of needing adjustments as we age while also challenging assumptions that can accompany these. For example that having a hearing aid somehow implies that we are ‘fragile’ or ‘infirm’ in other ways.”

The older users showcasing their energy and vibrancy

@grandadjoe1933

The 88-year-old Staffordshire man is TikTok’s wealthiest “granfluencer”, his videos apparently earning him about £134,000 a year. Grandad Joe has won 5.4 million followers and 156.7 million likes for videos including one of him giggling after his youngest granddaughter gives his grown-up daughter “attitude just like she gave me [when she was younger]”.

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@grandma_droniak

92-year-old Grandmother Droniak went viral, reaching 4.2 million followers, after laying down rules for her funeral including “Cry, but not too much,” “Bertha isn’t invited” and “Get drunk afterwards”.

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@grandmaann2

Grandmaann2 lures viewers to her account with the strapline “I’m old so follow before I die”. Two million people couldn’t resist, and to date they have given her lip-syncs and comedy skits 63.5m likes.

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@its_j_dog

Jenny Krupa, 87, has won 2 million followers and 93m likes since a 2019 video accidentally posted by her grandson, Skylar Krupa, titled “Perks of being old” reached 1,000 views in about 15 minutes.

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@dolly_broadway

The latest video for her 1 million followers shows 89-year-old Dolores Paolino dressing up in a Marilyn Monroe-type dress and telling Kim Kardashian she looks better in it than her.

Other videos show the grandmother from south Philadelphia wearing sequined jumpsuits and swigging from a bottle on her birthday, and pushing ice-cream cones into her grandchildren’s face.

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