The Future of Remote Work, According To 6 Experts

Whether you’re a remote work booster or a skeptic, there are lots of unanswered questions about what happens next for remote work, especially as Covid-19 restrictions continue to fade and as fears of a recession loom.

How many people are going to work remotely in the future, and will that change in an economic downturn? Will remote work affect their chances of promotion? What does it mean for where people live and the offices they used to work in? Does this have any effect on the majority of people who don’t get to work remotely? If employees don’t have to work in person to be effective, couldn’t their jobs be outsourced?

It turns out there’s a dangerous line between arguing for remote work and arguing yourself out of a job. And since remote work makes employees less visible, they will have to find other ways to let higher-ups know they exist or risk being passed over for pay raises. Remote work will also have long-lasting effects on the built environment, requiring office owners to renovate and allowing employees the potential for a higher quality of living. Finally, what happens during a recession largely depends on whether your company decides to save money by reducing real estate or laying off the employees they never met.

One thing that’s clear is that remote work is not going away. There are, however, a number of ways to make it better and more commonplace, and to ensure that it doesn’t harm you more than it helps.

To get a better idea of what could be coming, we asked some of the most informed remote work thinkers — people who study economics, human resources, and real estate — to make sense of what to expect in the future of remote work. Their answers, edited for length and clarity, are below.

Five years from now, what percentage of the US population will work remotely?

Johnny Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management: I think that number will never exceed 30 percent fully remote. What percentage will have some remote work? Probably 60 to 65 percent. There are some roles that will never be remote. But even in retail, employers are trying to figure out how to give that worker population some ability to work remotely. One retail company I talked with is going to make it so that the people who work in the store five days a week now do one day a week in customer service remotely.

Nicholas Bloom, economics professor at Stanford University, co-founder of WFH Research: Currently, 10 percent of the US workforce are fully remote and 35 percent are hybrid remote. In five years, I think both numbers will be pretty similar. Pushing this up is continued technological improvements in working-from-home technology. Pushing this down is the pandemic ebbing from memory.

Julie Whelan, global head of occupier research at Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis: The last few years has proven that people are able to work remotely. Now, we are trying to mix a combination of in-person and remote work — that is where the challenges shine. I am not convinced we will see a large jump in fully remote work; I think jobs that are fully remote will always remain the minority.

What has to change for more people to be able to work remotely?

Matthew Kahn, economics professor at the University of Southern California and author of Going Remote: How the Flexible Work Economy Can Improve Our Lives and Our Cities: Firms must have clear performance metrics — ideally ones that can be verified using quantitative data, so that remote workers understand in real time how they are performing. Firms must also figure out how to configure “virtual watercooler” interactions so that remote workers are less likely to feel like they are out of the loop.

Arpit Gupta, assistant professor of finance at New York University Stern School of Business: Companies need to have better ways to onboard new workers and get them involved in corporate culture. They also need to improve remote workers’ ability to connect with different parts of the organization and create better ways to manage new idea generation and creativity. Finally, they need to ensure improved promotion prospects for purely remote workers and the ability to go completely remotely from one firm to another.

Bloom: The main driver of working from home is whether it makes business sense for the organization, and if employees are happy doing this. This is driven by technology and the job task. Over time the technology is slowly improving to support working from home. I have been working on this topic for almost 20 years, and the changes over that period have been incredible.

Twenty years ago, working from home meant telephone calls and emailing or mailing small files. Now it’s all video calls and the cloud. Within 10 years, I predict new major technologies will arise to make this far better. In terms of job tasks, these are also changing to support working from home. For example, my neighbor is a doctor and pre-pandemic was in the office every day, but now sees patients remotely two days a week, as her job tasks now include televisits.

Taylor: We as management have to get comfortable with a total paradigm shift. We constantly say, “That can’t happen.” And the fact of the matter is we have to be willing to challenge our notions of what can’t happen and say, “Can it?” We’re in this dynamic stage where we’re determining whether or not it works. So the question, “Can you work remotely?” is really not the question. Is it possible? Yes, during the pandemic we proved that it’s possible. The question is, will there be trade-offs?

How might remote work affect jobs that aren’t remote?

Gupta: Changing consumption patterns will create more demand for goods and services — and the people who provide them — in the suburbs and remote-friendly destinations, relative to office central business districts in current metropolitan areas.

Bloom: Many non-remote jobs interact with remote workers. Think of retail and food service workers in city centers. If office employees move to remote work, these service workers have to change their location of work, too.

Taylor: More jobs might become partially remote. For a nurse, we’ll give them three days in the hospital and two days as a tele-nurse. So we are thinking a sharing of responsibilities to get to hybrid, even in those roles that absolutely, at the end of the day, largely have to be in person.

Will remote workers find it harder to advance than their in-person colleagues?

Taylor: Yes, point-blank. More than two-thirds of supervisors (67 percent) consider remote workers more easily replaceable than onsite workers, and 62 percent believe fully remote work is detrimental to employees’ career objectives. Managers acknowledged that when they are looking to give an assignment, they oftentimes forget the remote worker. Proximity matters.

Something that is of particular importance to me as an African American is, for years, we argued that we weren’t able to build relationships with the majority community. We didn’t have access to them and therefore visibility. Well, you really lose access and visibility if you’re at home and they’re in the office.

“Working remotely significantly reduces your opportunities to build relationships with people who can influence your career”

I’ve heard this argument that office culture is a white male-dominated relic of the past. That might be. But as long as those white males are in the office making decisions about who is going to be promoted, then you are very likely putting yourself at a disadvantage. It’s not a question of, is that right or wrong, fair or not. It’s just what it is. Working remotely significantly reduces your opportunities to build relationships with people who can influence your career.

Whelan: There is a risk that those people who get more face time are naturally at an advantage to advance faster than others. However, if an organization truly supports flexible work, then behavior around promotions and compensation gains needs to be discussed early, observed closely, and action should be taken if desired outcomes are not met. Just because people may work remotely some of the time — or all of the time, depending on company policy — that doesn’t mean they cannot be visible. So it is incumbent on everyone, including the employee themselves, to make sure people remain visible, front-of-mind, and reviewed based on job performance despite a remote status.

Kahn: The answer to this key question hinges on whether a given firm promotes based on a type of nepotism or based on objective value added to the firm’s core goals. Face-to-face interaction does build up trust and friendship. If bosses play favorites, then the remote workers will have a disadvantage in getting promoted. Those bosses who seek to promote based on a meritocratic criteria will emphasize the value of the quality of face-to-face interactions over the quantity of face-to-face interaction at work. Such an emphasis of quality over quantity of face-to-face interaction will alleviate concerns that remote workers are second-class citizens, as they may visit the headquarters just a few days a month.

Those firms that figure out these new work configurations will have an edge in attracting and retaining a more diverse workforce.

Bloom: Fully remote workers may find slow career progression, particularly those who are early in their careers. As individuals advance in their careers, however, personal mentoring becomes somewhat less important. It is also worth noting most remote workers in the US are not fully remote. They are mostly hybrid, coming into the office for three days a week on average, and as such, they get a good dose of personal interaction. So, yes, fully remote workers may face some career advancement costs, but hybrid workers likely will face little or no costs.

What’s going to happen to all the offices?

Whelan: Offices will still exist — they will just evolve. The most sought-after locations, the most desirable amenities, and the most productive space design will continue to morph as population migration and work patterns settle into a new place. The workplace today is anywhere you have a mobile device and an internet connection. But the physical office as a place to gather, innovate, and connect cannot easily be replaced.

Bloom: In the short run, not much. The reason is scheduling. Most firms are either letting employees choose their working-from-home days, which typically means Monday and Friday, or are scheduling teams or the whole firm to come in on the same days, often Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. As such, they cannot cut space. Nobody sublets an office on Monday and Friday.

In the longer run, clever scheduling software, like Kadence, will organize teams and working groups to come in on different days: Say the industrials team is in the office on Monday and Tuesday, and the residential team on Wednesday and Thursday. But from talking to hundreds of firms, this is probably some years away from being a major reality. Until that time, office demand will be soft but won’t see major drops.

If you want to look for big impacts on real estate, then focus on city center retail. With office workers working from home about 50 percent of days, retail expenditure in central New York, San Francisco, and other big cities has collapsed, and that retail spending, jobs, and space is moving out to the suburbs.

Kahn: In high-quality-of-life cities, these commercial buildings will be converted into housing as well as schools and centers for our population’s aging senior citizens.

Taylor: There is no question that we’re going to have less demand for the traditional office space. Will it go away? No.

To what extent will remote work affect where people live?

Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin: Remote work is already affecting where people live. A record nearly one-third of homebuyers looked to relocate out of their home metro in the second quarter of 2022. That’s up from roughly 26 percent before the pandemic. Many people who have the flexibility to move have been doing so during the pandemic, often taking their higher housing budgets with them and, in turn, contributing to higher home prices in the places they’re moving. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in popular Sunbelt cities like Phoenix, Miami, and Austin, which have seen a surge of in-migration from more expensive coastal metros like NYC, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Taylor: We are absolutely seeing people move further away. Hell, I’ve even seen people who have to be in-office two days a week say, “Hey, I live in a totally different city, and I can commute in.” So I can live in Atlanta, work in Washington, DC, buy a plane ticket for those two days, get a hotel, and the math says it’s actually cheaper and better for me to live where I want to live and commute — even if the company doesn’t pay for it, because I don’t have to pay for housing in DC.

Kahn: In expensive superstar cities, working-from-home workers will be more likely to move to the suburban fringe, where land is cheaper and the homes are newer. Remote workers will also seek out beautiful areas that offer them the leisure opportunities they desire. Real estate prices in Santa Barbara, California, have boomed since March 2020 due to its beauty and its proximity to Los Angeles. Perhaps surprisingly, medium-size cities such as Baltimore will gain. Located along the Amtrak Corridor, Baltimore offers easy access to Washington, DC, New York City, and Philadelphia and features much lower housing prices.

How will it affect pay?

Fairweather: Some companies are localizing pay for their workers who relocate and work remotely, but plenty are letting remote workers keep their high salaries. The biggest winners will be coastal workers who move to more affordable places and maintain their salary. They’ll find their money goes much further, not just for housing but for other goods and services.

The biggest losers are people already living in popular migration destinations who may not have the option to move somewhere less expensive, and whose salaries may not go as far as they once did, thanks to both higher inflation and rising home prices in their area. However, some people living in popular migration destinations may be happy that their home values have increased and their local businesses have more high-earning customers.

Bloom: Working from home is a perk, so it means any individual firm offering hybrid-WFH can pay about 5 to 10 percent less. But, of course, there are also general equilibrium effects in that firms compete for talent in a labor market. If every firm offers working from home, no individual firm can cut pay without losing employees.

Will remote work cause companies to hire more contractors or more people outside the US?

Taylor: An employee came to me, and she made a really, really compelling case: “Johnny, I don’t need to come into the office.” She literally gave me a three-page memo making the case for why she could work remotely. And I smiled and said, “Be careful what you pray for. In the process of saying, ‘I don’t need to interact with other people, I’m an individual contributor,’ you’ve literally made the case that your job can be outsourced. And now I don’t have to cover your pension plan, I don’t have to deal with a salary increase every year, I don’t have to do any of that.” And guess what? I did exactly that. I outsourced that role.

Let’s face it, most of us could have a fully contracted environment, but what we want is a culture, people who have a long-term commitment. We want to build leadership; we need management. And we do that by having consistent relationships and getting to develop our people, so there’s a lot of upside to employing people internally and reasons that we don’t outsource. But there’s a lot of space between not doing it and doing a little bit.

Gupta: Yes, to both outside contractors and outside the US employees. But these workers will be more integrated into existing job functions and teams, rather than outsourcing entire processes.

Kahn: This offshoring is a serious possibility. Those firms that require some monthly face-to-face interaction at the corporate headquarters will be less likely to engage in offshoring.

Bloom: This is already happening, from what firms tell me. Anti-immigration policies initiated by Trump have accelerated this process by reducing the ability of foreign workers to migrate to the US. So dozens of firms have said if they can’t get workers to their jobs in the US, they will move their jobs abroad. Working from home has shown how easy it is to have fully remote employees and teams, and in an era of tight domestic labor markets with restricted immigration, moving jobs overseas is one common solution (the other being automation).

But I should point out currently that this is probably good for most US citizens. US labor markets are incredibly tight, generating painful inflation and shortages of goods and services. Try taking a flight, booking a restaurant meal, or hiring a contractor. It is extremely hard, as there is too much demand for labor right now. So having some foreign workers fill that gap in is good news. Of course, if the US hits a hard recession and unemployment rises drastically, that benefit will be less clear.

What will happen to remote work in a recession?

Gupta: I actually suspect remote work will increase. While firms have bargaining power against employees, they mostly want to cut costs like real estate leases, pushing people remote.

Firms are also less interested in onboarding new employees into corporate culture and long-term innovation — two important use cases for the office. It’s more about keeping things going, which can be handled by existing workers at home.

Kahn: Scenario 1: The boss has discretion over who to fire and is more likely to fire the remote worker, because the boss doesn’t really know this worker and hasn’t built up a friendship with the worker.

Scenario 2: Since remote workers do not bear a fixed daily cost of commuting to the office, such workers can more easily reduce their hours to meet the firm’s new demand for labor. In this case, remote workers may be less likely to be fired.

Taylor: Reversing this — putting this genie back in the bottle — is not going to happen. What I think is more likely to happen during a recession is that productivity will become even more important. And so then you will see employers looking really, really hard at the data because they’re going to have to make choices between employee A and employee B. And so employees who are more productive and more efficient are the people who are going to make it through.

Fairweather: Historically, recessions have lasted longer because it takes time for workers to move to job opportunities. If a salesperson in Cleveland lost her job, she may have had to move to San Francisco to find another sales job. But with remote work, you can do a sales job from anywhere. Hopefully this recession is shorter than historical recessions because of remote work.

Source: The future of remote work, according to 6 experts – Vox

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What Does a Hybrid Office Look Like? This Company Has 5 Ideas

Like many companies, manufacturing technology firm Augury ditched its New York City office during the pandemic. With few people coming in, and most work able to be done remotely, paying rent on an empty office was a waste. But the need for an office didn’t go away completely, and now the company is fitting out a new space in the city. As it does, it’s fundamentally rethinking how the space will work by looking at who will actually be using it.

To help guide the new design, the company surveyed its teams to understand how different departments expected to use the space, especially in a more hybrid work mode. “When we were talking about that, we started asking what kind of people will be there?” says Tiffany Millar, Augury’s workplace experience director.

The people who’d be using the office, the company realized, fit into a few distinct categories—locals coming in semi-regularly, for example, or foreign-based workers visiting only rarely. Head counts might range from 20 people to 80, depending on the day, with different types of workers needing different spaces. “At a high level, we broke it down into five personas,” says Millar.

Home Away From Home

The first persona is what Augury calls Home Away From Home, or people who live in the tristate area who may come into the office once or more per week, even if most of their work can still be done remotely. “These were the people that essentially wanted to get out of their tiny New York apartments, or maybe it’s really loud because the kids are home,” says Millar. “It’s about getting away and going into the office,” Millar says.

The spaces designed for the Home Away From persona focus on the social side of work—a nice kitchen area, coffee machines, high-top tables where employees can work but also chat with people they may only see in person every few weeks. “It had a lot to more do with hospitality,” says Millar.

Time Traveler

There’s also the Time Traveler persona, or employees who are based in Europe and fly in for meetings but need a bit of a time-zone adjustment. The office includes space to store luggage, and even rooms where the jet-lagged can take a nap after landing early in the morning. “While they might not need a conference room at 5 in the morning, they definitely need a place to store their luggage or take a nap,” Millar says.

Hero Visitor

Another persona is the Hero Visitor, which Millar envisions as investors, board members, and potential clients who may visit quarterly. Spaces designed with this person in mind focus on creating a comfortable and fun environment while also showcasing some of Augury’s technology, which is used to monitor and perform diagnostics on industrial devices. The HVAC system in Augury’s new office will have its technology on display for Hero Visitors to see.

On-Site and Fresh Blood

More work-focused personas are On-Site and Fresh Blood—remote workers and new recruits who may be coming to the office for annual meetings or for the first time since being onboarded. The innovation economy—a reason to be optimistic. Creating global solutions that beget great economic opportunities requires a higher purpose

For remote workers in the On-Site category, conference rooms and breakout spaces are being designed into the office to enable easier in-person collaboration after months of working on projects only remotely.

For the Fresh Blood persona—mostly new hires and people being recruited—the design prioritizes way-finding and clear signage. “That space has everything to do with making sure things are easy to find,” says Millar. “It’s very overwhelming when you’re hired remotely and you go to the office for the first time.”

5 Personas, 1 Space

Each persona has influenced different parts of the office, which will have two floors. Millar says there’s no space that’s dedicated to one persona only, but rather that each will tend to use some sections of the office more than others. Instead of designing the space with one main user in mind, like Augury’s old office, the new office will include these persona-focused design elements to make it adaptable to whomever happens to be in the office on any given day.

While the end result may not look all that different from other pandemic-era office redesigns, it does suggest a new way of rethinking these spaces to better reflect how office work has so thoroughly changed. It’s an evolving concept, and one that the company is creating as it prepares to move into the space early next year.

“There used to be a very clear blueprint of how to build out an office. Post-COVID in a hybrid model, I would say that’s failing,” she says, noting that the 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday office is no longer relevant to the way companies like Augury work. “Knowing who exists in your space, and understanding the gaps and the holes will help you create a solution before the friction starts to happen.”

The personas that Augury is using to guide its design may ultimately change, Millar acknowledges. She says it will be important to track how the spaces are being used, and by whom, to determine whether the design is meeting the changing needs of the different types of people using the office. The five personas Augury has designed around in 2022 may be completely different a year from now.

“I think we’re at the foundation of using personas,” Millar says. “Next comes issues of human behavior, and we’ll see whether we were right.”

By Nate Berg

Source: What does a hybrid office look like? This company has 5 ideas

Enter the Hybrid Workplace

Evidence is starting to emerge that workplaces that adopt a hybrid model early are most likely to thrive. In fact, a recent ONS Survey showed that 85% of UK working individuals favoured a hybrid approach of both home and office working. Similarly in the USA, 52% of US workers preferred a mix of both. And it’s not just a passive sentiment.

The number of searches for jobs offering remote working has increased threefold in 2021 in comparison to the year before. On a more local level, London tube passenger numbers are regularly around 60% of pre-pandemic levels. That includes the 25% boost since the lifting of restrictions on the 19th of January 2022.

What has changed for employees following the unprecedented disruption of the global pandemic is the way the working population consider work-life balance, well-being, and flexible working. Business owners and directors consequently need to address these concerns and make the appropriate changes to their office design and layout to accommodate hybrid working. This is one trend that’s likely to stay.

While the hybrid office is by no means a new concept, the Covid-19 pandemic has given fuel to it. It has changed the dynamic to one where employees move seamlessly between home and office work environments. But it also requires a different set of solutions and ideas, some of which include:

  • Wi-fi enabled spaces for connecting with staff working from home
  • Technology to book meeting rooms and private spaces
  • Configurable office furniture that is easy to move around
  • A combination of team-working collaborative spaces alongside private spaces

Hybrid design typically involves the reconfiguration of existing office space and furniture to create more collaborative and flexible workspaces. The key principle of hybrid design is to create spaces that transcend physical and social barriers. But that doesn’t necessarily mean less space. A communications agency we worked with in London reduced their number of desks from 200 to 100 while retaining their existing space. What they achieved was creative desk layouts and breakout areas for increased flexibility and dynamic working that allowed for collaborative engagement.

The space also included a new booking system that provided the client with a feature-rich cloud-based booking of workspaces and meeting areas. Similarly, Adtrak, a digital marketing agency in Nottingham, reduced its number of desks from 120 to 70 while retaining around 100 staff. The space was essentially reconfigured to include hot-desking areas, social areas, and meeting rooms designed for videoconferencing with remote working staff.

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Why Expensive Social Media Monitoring Has Failed To Protect Schools

There’s a set of questions that comes up with grim hindsight after a shooting like the one in Uvalde, Texas: Were there signs? Did we miss them? Could we have caught this? An entire industry has sprung up claiming that it has the answer: software that scans social media for threats.

Ari Sen, a computational journalist for the Dallas Morning News, has reported that the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District purchased one of these social media monitoring services, called Social Sentinel, a few years ago. Right now, Ari says it’s hard to know if the software was active in Uvalde at the time of the shooting—the school district hasn’t answered that yet.

But the bigger question is whether the posts on the gunman’s now-removed Instagram page—including lots of photos of AR-15-style rifles and weapons—would even have been flagged by the software. Why then are schools spending millions of dollars on this software, and why does the industry claim it helps protect students?

On Friday’s episode of What Next: TBD, I spoke with Ari Sen about what threat surveillance software promises and how it falls short. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Lizzie O’Leary: Can you explain what Social Sentinel is and who uses it?

Ari Sen: Social Sentinel is a social media monitoring technology. It’s used by dozens of colleges and hundreds of school districts all around the country. What they claim to do is to scan billions of social media posts with really sophisticated AI to identify threats of potential violence or self-harm. Now, some of the reporting that I’ve done suggests that these models may not be very sophisticated or that this might be a really hard problem to solve even if the models are very sophisticated.

In your reporting, you found that several school districts that bought this software, spending between $1 and $2 per student, weren’t getting all that much for their money.

Most of the school districts that we talked to that had used Social Sentinel did not find the service to be useful. I contacted every school that we could find that had used Social Sentinel and the three other social media monitoring services that we studied in the state of Texas. Over 200 school districts had used one of these four services since 2015. Most of them did not respond to my questions, but there were a handful, maybe five or six, who did actually respond. I would say four or five of those said that “We canceled the service after a year. We didn’t find it to be useful. Or we found something, an anonymous reporting tool, a team of humans to monitor this stuff. We found that to be as good or better than the Social Sentinel service.”

One thing that I’ve heard a lot, not only from school districts but from colleges, is that 90 percent, 99 percent of the stuff that they were getting from the Social Sentinel service was false alerts. I’ve seen stuff like song lyrics, Bible verses, obvious jokes. If you just think about the way that people talk on social media, it’s a lot of sarcasm. It’s a lot of irony. It’s a lot of hyperbole. That can be really difficult for machine learning models to catch in general and particularly the less sophisticated stuff.

Do you have any examples of posts that got flagged where you thought, “Oh, come on. That’s someone tweeting lyrics”?

There is a college in Florida that I was able to get some flagged tweets from. Somebody tweeted the lyrics to the 2010 B.o.B song “Airplanes.” I think it picked up on the phrase “shooting stars.” Obviously, we’ve seen people tweeting about their favorite characters on TV shows: “If X character doesn’t get together with Y character, I’m literally going to die,” things like that. There’s a really funny tweet from one of these Florida colleges about Hamburger Helper and how Hamburger Helper needs to accept that it needs help.

They thought that was a mental health problem?

Evidently. Like I said, it’s hard to inspect these machine learning models. We don’t know for sure what exactly is going on behind the scenes there. But I am able to look at some of the things that they have flagged, and they don’t seem to be threatening at all. What we’ve heard anecdotally from schools and colleges is like, “Yeah, most of what we were getting is just not actionable.”

Is the algorithm searching for keywords? Does it look for shoot, kill, stab?

If you looked at Social Sentinel, the way they talked about the service early on, it very much sounds like a keyword-based service. They talk about how they have thousands of terms that they’re able to flag to school districts. The company now says that they have very sophisticated machine learning models. They have these eight different machine learning models that are able to classify text appropriately.

It’s also unclear exactly how these models work because the companies treat their algorithms as proprietary. They also say it would defeat the purpose of their work to disclose too much.

We don’t know what sorts of training data they have to go into the models, whether that training data has been audited for racial bias. All of that stuff is opaque to us. It really raises questions about, if schools are going to use this for such a serious and important purpose, should there be some transparency about the models, the training data, and how effective they are?

Moreover, machine learning models often struggle with slang and the way kids talk. That can mean posts from students of color are disproportionately flagged by the algorithms.

There was a really interesting paper by some UMass Amherst researchers a couple years ago where they took African American Vernacular English and they plugged it into language identification machine learning models. Obviously, what it should spit out is that this is English. In actuality, one of these models flagged that language as Dutch with 99 percent confidence. So these models do poorly on non-Anglicized English text in general and may exhibit the biases from the training data which they were trained on. If you look at Social Sentinel’s claims, for example, on their website, they say, “We don’t perpetuate any biases.” The experts that I’ve talked to have said that’s very difficult to do if the underlying models you’re using behind the scenes have these sorts of biases built in.

While Social Sentinel claims it covers almost all of social media, your reporting and work from BuzzFeed News suggests it mostly just monitors Twitter. Do you think these services can even keep up with how students use social media as they jump from platform to platform?

Obviously, you have the problem with young people hopping between different services. The big thing now is TikTok, for example. Maybe 10 years ago, it was Facebook. It’s hard for these platforms to keep up. Then you also have the ways in which language changes naturally over time. Then, as we were just talking about, language differs very widely across groups and geographies. The way people talk in California is not the same way that people talk in North Carolina.

I saw that the Uvalde shooter was using a service called Yubo, which I suspect these companies are not monitoring.

I hadn’t even heard of Yubo. One of the things I’ve seen in my reporting on Social Sentinel is that police chiefs going back to 2015 were constantly bugging Social Sentinel: Can you add this platform? Can you add this platform? Sometimes they did, and sometimes they didn’t. But it’s very, very difficult to keep up with the fast-paced nature of how young people are acting online.

Listening to you, there seems to be a pretty substantial body of evidence that these services are largely ineffective. Do you think that’s a fair assessment? And if it is, why are they still being touted as a solution?

We haven’t really been able to identify a clear case of this service working. We have heard some anecdotes about maybe some of the other services preventing kids from harming themselves. But I think the question we have to ask is, is it worth the privacy invasion? I found in my reporting last year that most of the time students and parents weren’t told at all that these services were in place and had no way to opt in or opt out. What needs to happen is a more open conversation about, “This is the service that we’re using, this is why we’re using it, and this is the things that it looks for.”

If these schools and universities are under such pressure to do something, but the debate around guns is either a nonstarter where they are or completely out of their hands, maybe this software feels like a reed they can grasp.

We’re obviously having a larger political conversation about what gun restrictions we do and we don’t want. But I think for schools, they’re desperate to do something to protect their kids, whether that’s school safety drills, monitoring services, like the ones we’ve been talking about here, whether it’s physical security, like metal detectors or other sorts of physical security measures. But I think one of the things that the Uvalde shooting shows us is that even school districts that have all of those things in place and have all of the training and all the officers, these things can fail and do fail. So there needs to be a different conversation that’s happening about what measures are effective and whether new approaches are needed to tackle this problem.

These kinds of programs ingest a tremendous amount of information and data. To work best, they need to do that. It does make me wonder for what other reasons a school or a school district or university might want to have this information or might utilize this information?

Some of the things that I’ve been seeing in my reporting, particularly at the college level, is that colleges are adopting these services to monitor protests and activism. Obviously, that’s very chilling. In 2016, there was a company called Geofeedia that got caught monitoring Black Lives Matter protesters. But Geofeedia is not the only player out there obviously. My reporting has suggested that these other services, particularly Social Sentinel, at the college level may be used to monitor protests and activism.

What did the schools say when you asked them about this?

I have contacted every college that we know of that’s used Social Sentinel and asked about this question specifically. A lot of them don’t want to talk about this. We haven’t really heard a full-throated defense of, “We’re monitoring this protest to keep students safe.” A lot of them are very tight-lipped, so we have to rely on documents and whistleblowers inside of the company to give us information.

Does the company say, “Yeah, we know our stuff is being used to monitor protesters”?

The company fervently denies any ability or use of the service to monitor protesters in any way, and they have since the beginning. But that claim is very dubious.

It’s worth remembering that most of these services are being paid for with public money. An investigation by BuzzFeed News examined contracts from 130 schools and found that they collectively spent $2.5 million on social media monitoring over five years. If you are listening to this and you’re a parent or a teenager or a college student, what other kinds of questions you think you should be asking your educators, your administration about these services?

Well, first of all, I think it’s just important to know whether the service is in place or not. For example, when I was reporting on these four social media monitoring companies last year, I discovered that my high school had used Gaggle, one of the monitoring services. I knew from previous reporting that my undergraduate institution, UNC Chapel Hill, used Social Sentinel. First of all, we should just ask the campus police department, the school administrators, “What service are you using? What does it monitor for, and why are you using it?”

The next questions are, is it effective? Is it doing what it’s set out to do, what they claimed it could do when they were marketing the service to you? If it’s not, then I think people really have to raise questions about, why are we still using this thing if it doesn’t work for the thing that they said it works for?

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China Manufacturing Begins To Rebound as COVID-19 Restrictions Ease

Manufacturing in China started to improve in May after the country lifted coronavirus lockdowns that shut down China’s richest and most populous city of Shanghai, as well as other industrial areas, according to an official survey released Tuesday.

The Purchasing Managers’ Index of the National Bureau of Statistics of China’s manufacturing industry jumped from 47.4% in April to 49.6% this month on a 100-point scale. Numbers below 50 reveal activity contracting.

New orders, exports and employment all improved during the month of May. More businesses in Shanghai are allowed to reopen this week after COVID-19 outbreaks were considered by the government as under control.Other industrial centers like Shenzhen and Changchun were also forced to shut down this spring due to the coronavirus, which disrupted the cities’ manufacturing and trade.

Tuesday’s data shows that “activity has started to rebound as containment measures were rolled back,” Capital Economics’ Sheana Yue said in a report, adding that the recovery “is likely to remain tepid amid weak external demand and labor market strains.”

More businesses in Shanghai, China’s most populous city, are being allowed to reopen this week after outbreaks were deemed to be under control. Other industrial centers including Shenzhen in the south and Changchun in the northeast also were temporarily shut down, disrupting manufacturing and trade.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is zeroing in on the ties that China’s state banks and other financial stalwarts have developed with big private-sector players, expanding his push to curb capitalist forces in the economy.

Source: China manufacturing begins to rebound as COVID-19 restrictions ease | Fox Business

In April, China’s industrial groups posted their biggest profit decline in two years, the latest sign of economic and corporate woes caused by a wave of coronavirus lockdowns. Industrial profits fell 8.5% in April from the same period a year earlier, the biggest drop since March 2020, when China was also engulfed in restrictions to deal with the initial outbreak of the virus.

The cutbacks are increasing pressure on the government, which is pushing to maintain its zero-Covid policy to eliminate infections through mass testing, lockdowns and quarantines. The strategy is a priority for President Xi Jinping this year as he seeks an unprecedented third term in office, but its rising economic costs pose a serious threat to the country’s 5.5% growth goal by 2022.

Official data last week showed a drop in overall activity in April at a time when Shanghai, China’s financial center, was closed and residents were chained to their homes. Retail sales, an important indicator of consumption, fell 11%, while industrial production also fell. Unemployment hit 6.1 percent, the highest level in two years. The lockdowns are estimated to have affected dozens of cities and hundreds of millions of people. Restrictions are also being put in place in Beijing, which reports dozens of cases daily.

The latest outbreak in China was centered mainly in Shanghai, where about 63,000 infections have been reported and where many residents are still staying at home. Officials stressed the need for a rapid citywide response to the highly contagious Omicron variant. Zhu Hong, senior statistician at the National Bureau of Statistics, said the outbreak “had a big impact on the production and operation of industrial enterprises” in April, adding that profits fell by 22% for manufacturing companies in particular.

The authorities, which had already eased monetary policy in response to last year’s real estate liquidity crunch, have taken other steps to support the economy. Last week, China’s mortgage lending rate was cut for the second time this year. Analysts at Goldman Sachs pointed to the impact of “high raw material costs” on industrial profits, in addition to supply chain disruptions caused by Covid lockdowns at manufacturing centers.

“We expect further policy easing on the fiscal front to stimulate demand, given the downward pressure on growth and the uncertainty of the pace of recovery from the Covid disruption,” they said.

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