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Facebook to give employees paid time off to vote, staff voting stations

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Founder and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the annual Munich Security Conference on February 15, 2020.

Kuhlmann | Munich Security Conference

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Friday the company will offer employees paid time off to vote and to staff polling stations for the November presidential election.

Facebook follows a handful of other tech companies, including Apple, Uber and Twitter, that will allow employees to take time off to vote or work the polls. In the United States, Election Day takes place on Tuesday, November 3.

“We’re less than two months away from the US elections, and we are seeing a massive shortage of poll workers to staff voting stations. Shortages can lead to hours-long waits at the polls, which makes it harder for people to participate in the democratic process,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a post Friday. 

“This recruitment drive is part of Facebook’s larger voting information campaign, with the goal to help 4 million people register and vote,” Zuckerberg said. “Priscilla and I have also personally donated $300 million to non-partisan organizations supporting states and local counties in strengthening our voting infrastructure.”

Facebook is also launching a prompt at the top of users’ News Feeds that encourages people to sign up to work the polls. “We’ve also offered free ad credits to every state election authority so they can recruit poll workers across our platforms,” Zuckerberg said. “California has already started running these ads and several more states are joining in the coming days.”

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Google tackling mental health among staff with ‘resilience training’

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Google’s “resilience” lead Lauren Whitt installed a series of tutorials and video content for Google employees experiencing burnout while working through the pandemic.

Google

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Google has emphasized employee health, establishing long-term remote work plans and offering periodic days off called “reset” days. Even that hasn’t been enough to deal with the mental stress caused by the virus.

“Covid-19 is something we weren’t anticipating or frankly prepared for from a mental skills approach,” said Lauren Whitt, whose title at Google is wellness manager and resilience lead. She has a big job, “helping Googlers meet the moment they’re facing today.”

Whitt told CNBC in an interview that, in seeking out strategies to help Google’s 130,000-plus employees deal with the ongoing crisis, the company is leaning on “resilience training,” a phrase typically reserved for professional athletes and combat fighters.

The company said it has expanded existing programs and created weekly short instructional videos from athletes, coaches and psychologists, which employees are watching with greater frequency.

Alphabet’s chief financial officer, Ruth Porat, who organized the early crisis response efforts, said last week that the company has rebounded after a dip in employee productivity. Her main concern today is with their mental wellness due both to isolation and the intensity of recent events.

“One of the things we’re very concerned about is the wellness measures,” Porat said at The New York Times DealBook conference. “What are some of the things we could do that helps ease the stress of working during a pandemic?”

For investors, Alphabet continues to perform. The stock is trading near a record, up 32% this year, compared with the 12% gain by the S&P 500. But the company’s vocal employee base has not been silent about the surrounding struggles, particularly at a time when they don’t have access to their usual campus amenities.

Google vs. S&P 500 this year

Soon after the Covid-19 outbreak, the nation faced another crisis following the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, which was caught on tape and sparked nationwide protests. The incident forced tech companies, including Google, to reckon with their own issues surrounding diversity and the treatment of minorities.

“Summer led to a lot of discussions around social unrest and racial justice,” Whitt said. “It is very real and a very prevalent part of our conversation of 2020.”

She said that even with all the support groups and employees resources, “more than anything, we’re encouraging Googlers to have conversations and to be authentic with who they are and what they’re feeling.”  

As discussions got more heated, Google began asking employees to take a more active role in moderating internal message boards.

“Tensions continue specifically for our Black+ community with Black Lives Matter, and our Asian Googlers with coronavirus and China/Hong Kong,” Google’s internal moderation team said in a blog post in September. “All of this is compounded by the additional stress of working from home, social isolation, and caregiver responsibilities — to name a few.”

Meanwhile, Google made clear that there wouldn’t be a return to normalcy anytime soon.

In July, Google became the first major company to announce it would allow employees the option to work from home through mid-2021, an extension of its prior timeline. Soon after, it began offering reset days so employees could take periodic time off to unplug.

“In July and August, we realized this isn’t going away and we really began to shift the conversation to how to set new routines, how to change or alternate the environment they’re working in and focus on new skills and habits and routines,” Whitt said.

Small habits

The company’s resilience team, which had existing programs like counseling and employee resource groups, wanted to do more for mental well-being. But it faced a challenge. Employees were already stuck in front of their screens for too many hours, and now they were being offered additional videos to watch.

Whitt’s group decided on a series of digital clips called “Meet the Moment.” Each video is five or six minutes long and focused on a specific topic like sleep, breathing, parenting and avoiding anxiety. Whitt said she worked with experts and performance coaches from professional football, basketball and baseball leagues as well as collegiate and Olympic athletes to create the resilience training and skills development content.

“Video content around breathing and sleep are the most meaningful ways we can rest and recover as well as momentary detachment throughout the work day,” Whitt said. She added that another popular video was about “meeting times of uncertainty with authenticity and humility.”

The main characters in the resilience training videos are people who have experienced high-stress situations like a big game, combat or other pressures.

“Resilience is a skill that can be built, practiced and cultivated,” Google says in its digital resilience instructions for employees.

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Alphabet Inc., gestures while speaking during a discussion on artificial intelligence at the Bruegel European economic think tank in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. Pichai urged the U.S. and European Union to coordinate regulatory approaches on artificial intelligence, calling their alignment critical.

Geert Vanden Wijngaert | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In less than a month, 30,000 Google employees have watched the videos. Whitt said the company has also hosted 150 virtual events globally to raise awareness about mental health and “prioritizing wellbeing.” Contractors and temporary workers, who make up roughly half of Google’s overall workforce, can access some but not all of the Covid-19 mental health and well-being resources, the company said.

To produce the videos in a way that was compliant with Covid-19 precautions, Whitt said Google used robotic cameras developed by a third party. The filming took place in Google’s offices in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado, while the directors and the audio visual team connected virtually.

As a part of the employee training, the company also expanded some existing activities it created just before the pandemic called “TEA check-ins,” an acronym for thoughts, energy and attention. They’re meant to address common symptoms of burnout, and managers are encouraged to say, “Let’s have some TEA,” as a way to get employees to be proactive.

“It gave people an opportunity to check in with, ‘Where are you in this moment?'” Whitt said. “Are you distracted? Do you need a nap? Push-ups?”

Google developed a variation aimed at addressing mental health needs among employees who were parents and caregivers. Video content includes tutorials on how to focus on things like time management and household chores when people are distracted.

Parents have the added challenge of “the transition to having kids at home with a day job while navigating what it’s like to be physically distanced from people you care about,” Whitt said. The company also offered tips on “how to build a productive workspace in the kitchen.”

To try and keep things light and fun where possible, the company began offering virtual classes on dancing, cooking and a virtual “yoga with your dog” event. The videos feature many of the same instructors and counselors who taught onsite at Google’s offices. 

Employees have also formed virtual orchestras and comedy shows.

“We wanted to continue to connect employees with activities, arts and music — all that were part of our culture when they were in the office,” Whitt said.

WATCH: Suffering in silence


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It will help you fix your bad Wi-Fi

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I set up Amazon‘s $449 Eero Pro 6 mesh Wi-Fi system a few days ago and have already noticed a huge improvement in my Wi-Fi at home.

You might want to try mesh networking if you know you pay for fast internet but feel like your home Wi-Fi is slow or there are areas of your house where you can’t stream movies or video chat. Wi-Fi is important right now, with lots of people working or attending class in different rooms of the house.

Mesh networking, to put it simply, puts several wireless routers around your house so that they cover a greater area. It works better than cheaper Wi-Fi extenders.

The new model from Amazon’s Eero supports the latest Wi-Fi 6 standards, so you can have more gadgets connected to Wi-Fi without as much interference. It also has better antennas than the last generation Eero 5 that I was using before I set up the Eero Pro 6.

Here’s what you need to know about it.

What’s good

The Eero Pro 6, as with other Eero products, is super easy to set up. You just plug one hub into the modem provided by your cable company and then use an app to add the other two in different parts of your house. It does all the legwork in the background so you don’t have to worry about getting each unit to talk to one another. I set up the new system in about 10 minutes.

I pay for really fast ,one-gigabit internet but, normally, I get Wi-Fi speeds that are about 90% slower than that. I live in an old house with plaster walls that really mess up the Wi-Fi signal, even in places that are just a few rooms away from my router.

The Eero Pro 6 has doubled or quadrupled my speeds around the house, boosting them from anywhere around 100Mbps uo to 700Mbps, depending on the room I’m in. It means I can now stream game services like Google Stadia in my living room, where I couldn’t before, or download movies and apps much faster around the house. And it means there’s enough speed for my wife and I do do multiple video streams at the same time.

I haven’t had any issues with dropped connections yet, as I sometimes did with the regular Eero 5 and its competitor Google Wi-Fi, given they didn’t quite have enough strength to cover my whole home.

I don’t have children old enough to use this feature, but Eero also lets you manage different people in your home and block services. So, your kids might not be able to use FaceTime after a certain time, for example, or visit some websites you deem inappropriate.

The regular Eero 6, which I haven’t tested, works similarly but doesn’t provide as strong of an antenna or support the faster speeds I pay for from my cable company. But it may be a good alternative to the Pro model if you live in a smaller home or don’t pay for gigabit internet.

What’s bad

The Eero Pro 6 is expensive. It’s on sale for Black Friday for $479 but otherwise costs $599. That’s more than twice the cost of the regular Eero 6. So, only buy it if you pay for really fast internet (at least 500Mbps) and need to cover up to 6,000 square feet.

This is more geeky, but I also wish one of the access points had more Ethernet ports. There are only two. You’ll always get a faster connection if you’re wired in. It’s best for game consoles where you need the fastest possible connection, or for things that are constantly plugged in like smart light hubs or your work computer. I have an extra switch I plug in to the back of the Eero to solve this problem and expand the number of Ethernet jacks, but it’s something folks who care about wired connections should know about.

Sometimes your phone or tablet or laptop will connect to the farthest Eero hotspot. I asked Eero co-founder and CEO Nick Weaver about this during a quick phone call.

He explained that the Eero doesn’t decide which gadget it connects to and, instead, it’s the client device, like your iPhone or tablet, that decides which hotspot to use. Sometimes, that device will connect to the farthest one for whatever reason. But Weaver told me you can turn on a feature called “band steering” that forces your gadgets to use a 5GHz frequency, if available, which can help it connect to the nearest hotspot. Another solution I’ve found: turn off your Wi-Fi and turn it back on again. But Weaver warned doing this too often can cause a device to be blacklisted from Wi-Fi and will require you to enter your password again.

Gamers and other computer enthusiasts who care about specific Quality of Service (QoS) settings won’t find them here just yet. Those let you give priority to some devices, like a game console or a PC, over others. But, Weaver told me that sometimes people forget they have a game console using all the network’s speed and then wonder why other gadgets are running slowly. So, instead, it smartly manages this in the background. But Eero is testing a feature that gives more control to optimize video conferencing and gaming. Anyway, I play lots of games and haven’t had any issues with how the Eero works, so this isn’t a huge deal for me.

Finally, Eero sells subscription services with added security features. There are packages for $2.99 per month or $9.99 per month (with discounts if you subscribe for a full year up front), and they provide extras like password management and ad blocking. It’s another way Amazon is making money off the product. It doesn’t bother me much since I don’t pay for them and don’t need them, but I’ve heard from some people who say they’ve seen notifications on their phone to subscribe. Dismiss them if you don’t need them.

Should you buy it?

Yes, if you’re paying for really expensive home internet and aren’t getting the speeds you expect over Wi-Fi, you should consider a mesh networking system like the Eero Pro 6. I’ve been a big fan of Eero’s products over the years and like the latest update, which fixed a lot of the coverage problems I had with even the last generation regular Eero 5.

But it’s expensive, and if you don’t pay for really fast internet, don’t have coverage problems or don’t need to cover a lot of space with Wi-Fi, you don’t need it.


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Nextdoor’s rocky road to going public

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Nextdoor is a local social media app that acts as a digital public message board for neighborhoods where users can sell furniture, organize events and alert neighbors of danger.

In the past year, monthly active users on Nextdoor grew 20 percent, according to Sensor Tower. It’s provided neighbors and public agencies a platform to spread useful and important information during the pandemic.

But the app, along with crime-focused apps like Citizen and Amazon Ring’s Neighbors, has been scrutinized for years for not doing enough to curb the racism prevalent on the platform.

Unlike Citizen and Neighbors, Nextdoor is more than a crime-fighting app. It helps small businesses connect to their local customers and gain new customers with free business postings. Local news outlets, which have been dwindling for years, have used the platform to reach a larger local audience with articles that are relevant to their community. But its reputation as a public safety tool has drawn criticism.

As Nextdoor works its way toward possibly going public, investors and community members alike are asking Nextdoor to do more to clean up the racism on its platform so that the good parts can shine through.


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