HO, HO, HO, WTF!

‘Tis the season to be jolly (if possible) and work from home yet again. So let your gift list reflect that! For loved ones still trapped by their screens, here’s Raskin’s last-minute list of gifts to make working at home at least a better experience.

It’s beginning to look a lot like a remote Christmas.

Yes, ‘tis the season to be jolly (if possible) and work from home yet again.  For the loved ones in your life, trapped in their screens, here’s our last-minute gift list, created by the editors of the Virtual Events Group (which I founded amidst the pandemic).

Lumecube Cordless Ring Light

Perfect for live-streaming, it includes adjustable color temperature, adjustable brightness, and a cordless battery-powered option. You can mount it easily and always look great on Zoom, Teams, Webex, FaceTime, even Blue Jeans. $149  

Poly’s Work From Home Kit

Audio and video in a single kit–it includes the Voyager 5200 UC Bluetooth headset with noise-canceling and the EagleEye Mini HD video-conferencing desktop camera. Free cloud device management software for one year is included.

$279 at CDW. Poly has lots of products that make virtual meetings better.

Oculus Quest 2

Like Gillette with its razor blades, Meta (you know it still as Facebook) is practically giving these away to get you hooked on its virtual reality service. This will be the key to really immerse your remote worker in the next-gen of meetings.

$299.00 at Target (where you can see it in 3D) and Amazon, among others.

Blue Yeti

The gold standard in USB microphones, for everything from Zoom meetings to podcasting. It excels at rejecting room noise and stray sounds, and will give you much better sound quality than your laptop or webcam.

$100 from Blue, Amazon, and other retailers.

Elgato Stream Deck Mini

Run your video sessions like the big kids do! The Stream Deck Mini gives you six programmable push buttons that can lead to nested folders to enable infinite combinations of functions for a video session. The buttons light up with graphics of your choice so you can tell at a glance what each one does.

$80 at Amazon, MicroCenter, and other retailers.

Boyata Adjustable Laptop Stand

Avoid the dreaded “up your nose” webcam view with this excellent laptop stand. It raises your computer up off your desk, angles the keyboard so you can reach it, and puts the camera near eye level, where it should be.

$31 at Amazon.

CoosBonfik Chair-Back Green Screen

Virtual backgrounds like photos or graphics are cool, but they work much better if you have a green screen behind you. If you don’t have the space (or patience) for a full green screen backdrop, try one that fits onto your chair like this one. And it folds up to become an easy-to-store circle.

$44 at Amazon.

Logitech C920s PRO Webcam

For video meetings, get significantly better image quality and more camera control with an external webcam. The Logitech C920s PRO makes a visible difference for an affordable price.

$60 from Logitech or Amazon.

An NFT from Rarible

The digital equivalent of collectibles it’s sort of like buying your loved one a lotto ticket. Don’t worry if they don’t understand it. Hardly anyone else does either. But it’s certifiably cool. Rarible seems to have the best prices and an easy way of gifting, even to those that don’t have a digital wallet yet. https://rarible.com/

Gift Certificates

Every work-from-homer needs a soundtrack for life (Spotify), a way to chill (Headspace) or food deliveries (DoorDash). Let them buy exactly what they want themselves, with your money.

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Where Will COVID Passports Take Flight?

The vision of a global system with standards for the sharing, storage, and verification of vaccination data has not materialized. But success in places like Singapore could help the world move towards a digitized healthcare future.

Preparing for a recent trip from the United States to my home base in Singapore, I had to document and organize records of my COVID vaccination status and required test results. I spent hours preparing numerous forms stored in separate websites or apps. I also struggled to verify if my pre-departure PCR test at San Francisco airport, issued on a piece of paper that could have easily gotten lost, met the stringent entry requirements of the Singapore government. It wasn’t exactly a nightmare, but it certainly wasn’t fun. It would have been easier if I had been able to use a universal globally-accepted digital Covid “passport.”

As the world emerged from pandemic lockdowns this year, such passports have gained attention as a potential tool for safely reopening economies and borders. The apps, which allow individuals to store their test results or vaccine records on a phone and display them to third parties, showed early promise and sparked buoyant enthusiasm in many tech circles.

But the story of COVID passports is one of only fitful progress.

Early in the pandemic, many of the most high-profile COVID passport projects were designed to help facilitate international travel. Within months of the first major lockdowns, a vibrant and global community of technologists came together to build transnational systems to allow test results and vaccine records to be recognized across borders, enabling a more seamless road to international travel recovery.

NGOs and private sector players soon rose to the challenge. Multilateral partnerships were forged; international forums were held; and pilot programs were launched along key international air travel routes. But to date, the vision of a global system with common standards for the sharing, storage, and verification of health data has not materialized. As my experience underscored, international travel in the COVID era remains cumbersome.

Given the thorny technological, political, and operational challenges to making international COVID passport apps work, one can be forgiven for questioning their feasibility. But with pressure mounting on governments around the world to reopen economies, we are seeing many COVID passport solutions focused on national-level needs. This is certainly true in the Asia Pacific region, where “zero COVID” strategies and the risk-averse pandemic management policies of many governments have led to sustained lockdowns and created an urgent need for safe reopening.

Some countries have done well developing and deploying COVID passports. In Singapore, for example, proof of vaccination has been strictly required for entry to restaurants and other venues for many months. Most Singaporeans can easily demonstrate their vaccine status with a digital health pass embedded in TraceTogether, the national contact tracing app. Having lived here through most of the pandemic, I can personally attest that rollout of the system was practically seamless—vaccine records were automatically imported directly into the app, which was intuitive to use and taken up by most of the population.

Singapore’s success with its domestic COVID passport solution can be attributed, in part, to its digitally-savvy and technocratic governance. The country is also small, making it relatively easy to operate a centrally administered database of vaccine results and test records that can easily be queried by COVID apps. This is one of the reasons that a vibrant ecosystem of COVID passport providers emerged quickly in the country. Few other countries have these same ingredients for success.

Singapore is also a place where strict regulations are the norm, people tend to follow the rules, and trust in government services is relatively high. In many other countries, however, public apathy or antipathy towards COVID passports has been a key obstacle to uptake of COVID passports. In the United States, for example, the MIT Technology Review found in August that seven states had rolled out vaccine certification apps, while 22 states have banned such systems to some degree. On my recent trip to the United States, it was downright trippy to visit cities like Tucson, Arizona where people could barely be convinced to wear masks in crowded indoor settings, much less download an app. Vaccine mandates were nonexistent anyway.

But despite social and political resistance, COVID passport apps are becoming increasingly common around the world. Compared to those designed for international travel, these local systems require less technology to implement and don’t face the interoperability challenges of global solutions. National-level systems are also less likely to be beset by fraud and misuse, since it is easier to query and verify test results or vaccine status within a single nation’s borders than across disparate systems for vaccine approval and lab accreditation.

Still, some countries have seen COVID management hampered by stop-and-go implementation of domestic solutions. Denmark was one of the first to introduce a COVID passport, in April. After 80% of its citizens had been fully vaccinated, it phased out the pass in September, but after a subsequent surge in cases, health experts called for its return. Israel, another early adopter, followed a similar pattern, dropping its Green Pass in June before reinstating it after record infections, a decision that was credited for helping to reduce the spread of COVID once again.

So clearly, in some contexts, COVID passport apps are feasible and helpful for managing the pandemic. But many solutions will almost certainly fail. And what will happen when the pandemic wanes?

The good news is that all such efforts may ultimately have lasting and positive impact. They helped raise awareness and drive investment in the underlying technologies that power COVID passports, which could be useful in other settings where vaccine records or test results are mandatory for accessing facilities, such as the requirement in some countries for surgeons to be vaccinated against hepatitis B virus. They are helping the world move towards an urgently-needed more digitized healthcare future. And they may also come in handy for the next pandemic. It could be right around the corner.

Will Greene is a Singapore-based healthcare writer and strategy professional. He currently serves as Healthcare Engagement Manager for Roche Diagnostics Asia Pacific, where he drives thought leadership for Lab Insights, a data hub and educational content platform for the clinical lab community. All views are his own.

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Genetic Tests Won’t Predict Your COVID-19 Risk

Tests that claim to predict someone’s susceptibility to COVID-19 based on genetic data don’t work, researchers found. That’s partly because there is as yet no scientific consensus on what constitutes genetic risk.

Years from now, our current age of genetic testing will be remembered as one of innovation and excitement — as well as a time when a host of misleading claims about genetic tools were targeted at consumers. Unfortunately, that last trend applies to pandemic-related marketing too.

This story begins, like so many other COVID-19 stories, on social media. Early this spring Robert Pyatt was browsing social media channels when he noticed ads popping up for genetic tests that would tell him how susceptible he was to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, or how severe he could expect his case to be if he did get infected. As a genetics expert at Kean University, Pyatt knew enough to be skeptical.

But he didn’t have to just wonder about the value of these tests. Pyatt serves as research coordinator for his university’s genetic counseling program, and helped develop the campus diagnostics laboratory that tests faculty and students for COVID-19. Working closely with two Kean students training to be genetic counselors, Maya Briskin and Esther Choi, Pyatt decided to order these susceptibility tests to see what kinds of results they delivered. He wanted to answer two key questions, he told me later: “What’s the genetic and medical background for these tests? And what kind of information are they really relaying to [customers]?”

At the recent annual meeting of the National Society of Genetic Counselors, Choi presented results from five different tests. They showed conflicting outcomes, depending on which company offered the test. All five tests were run on existing consumer genetic data rather than on new saliva samples — for example, a 23andMe customer could upload their genetic data to these services for analysis.

For this study, the team aimed to make results as comparable as possible by using 23andMe data from the same person — a participant in Harvard’s Personal Genome Project whose genetic data is freely available for research purposes. The same data was uploaded to each direct-to-consumer test provider (GeneInformed, LifeDNA, SelfDecode, Sequencing.com, and Xcode). When all the test results came back, the researchers compared the outcomes and reviewed the scientific basis each company used for its test.

They found what any scientist might expect in a field evolving so rapidly. With no clear consensus in the scientific community about which genetic variants make someone more or less susceptible to COVID-19, or more or less likely to suffer severe disease, the test results were predictably hazy. There have been many published reports of human genetic variants associated with that person’s COVID-19 response — but none of those has been validated in the kinds of large studies needed to translate findings into actionable, consumer-ready information. So it’s no surprise that test companies looked at different subsets of human genome variants, basing results on certain reports and ignoring others.

“Our main takeaway from this study [is] ‘buyer beware,’” says Briskin. “We did see an overlap of certain genes and variants across the tests, but what we’re not seeing is consistency of the results they’re producing.”

To be clear, there’s no indication that any of these services conducted its test badly; it doesn’t seem that the conflicting results were caused by erroneous genetic data or by evaluating the wrong variant. There’s even a disclaimer in each company’s report saying the results are not intended for medical use.

The problem highlighted by the Kean team is that inconclusive scientific findings are being presented to consumers as reliable and meaningful. And, really, won’t people who are told by one of these testing companies that they have a lower risk of getting COVID-19 make some health-related decisions based on that information?

In this study, all five providers offered disease severity tests, covering five to 52 genetic variants (with two providers not revealing how many variants their tests analyzed). In the results, two companies said the genetic data indicated higher risk, two predicted average risk, and one interpreted the data as showing lower risk. Remember, this is all based on the exact same person’s genetic data.

Three providers also ran susceptibility tests, which analyzed as few as two variants and as many as 31 variants to make a call. In this case as well, results were inconsistent depending on which company produced them.

“As genetic counseling students, we’ve been taught to view everything with a critical lens,” says Choi. “It wasn’t particularly surprising to me that the results came back as what they were.”

Also not surprising: these tests aren’t going away. Months after identifying the five testing companies included in this study, Pyatt searched online again and this time found that even more companies were offering tests with similar claims. “This is an area of consumer testing that we’re going to see grow,” he says. “Our fear is that people are being directly advertised to. They’re being sold either inaccurate information or information that hasn’t been scientifically proven.”

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Uber-Inspired Software Flags COVID-19 Variants Before They Explode

Until now there was no way to predict the most transmissible variants, or to guide policy as new strains emerged. Now software from ride hailing can analyze the genome of variants with precision.

Data scientists took a tool originally developed for Uber and built a new prediction model to help make sense of emerging variants.

Until recently, there was no scientific way to predict which COVID-19 variants would be the most transmissible, and therefore no way to guide public policy as new strains emerged. For the past year and a half, public health experts have had to base their planning on simple observation, and to some extent, guesswork: which variants were becoming dominant in other regions or countries, and how soon could we expect to see them here?

Now, though, a collaborative team of data scientists, biologists, and infectious disease experts has applied machine learning advances originally designed, believe it or not, for the ride-sharing industry to this challenge. The result: a new tool that can actually predict the transmissibility of variants well ahead of time, accurately forecasting variant transmission patterns for the next one to two months. (Note: this tool and a description of its scientific validation have been posted as a preprint, which is a scientific paper that has not yet undergone the rigors of peer review.)

The tool would not have been possible without an unusual pairing. In the summer of 2020, data scientists who had previously worked for Uber joined one of the world’s leading genomic institutes, teaming up with scientists dedicated to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, the Broad Institute (in this case, Broad rhymes with “rode”) in Cambridge, Mass., quickly converted some of its industrial-scale genomics lab capacity into a pandemic testing facility. In addition to determining whether samples were positive or negative for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the team also sequenced tens of thousands of viral genomes.

Around the world, many laboratories are contributing to the database of viral genomes as well; the GISAID repository has had 3.7 million submissions. That’s a wealth of data, but running any kind of comparison across so many genomes is prohibitively costly in computational terms.

At the Broad, scientists wanted to do more with this data, and they had just the team to make it happen — three data scientists recruited from Uber’s AI team who had created a machine learning tool called Pyro to help customize models of traffic patterns and other elements for cities or regions. The tool was particularly good for building new models that contained many uncertain variables. When it was publicly released by Uber as an open-source platform, it got a surprising amount of uptake in the life science community, where it could be used for probabilistic modeling of biological experiments. “It’s actually more useful for science than it is for a ride-sharing company,” says Fritz Obermeyer, one of the developers who formerly worked at Uber.

At the Broad, Obermeyer and his colleagues quickly took up the challenge of mining the millions of available SARS-CoV-2 genomes to try to forecast the transmissibility of new variants. Rather than comparing every genome to every other genome, they streamlined the process by analyzing clusters of closely related variants. Their preprint describes the analysis of 2.1 million genomes, clustered into nearly 1,300 lineages representing more than 1,000 different regions around the world.

The machine learning tool they built is based on the original Pyro framework — this one is called PyR0, a play on the R0 metric used to assess disease transmissibility. It models variant patterns based on specific mutations in the viral genome. “The predictive capability of this model relies on the repeated emergence of the same mutation in different strains independently,” Obermeyer says. “That allows us to predict the growth rate of a particular strain based on the new mutations it has acquired.”

While the model relies on mutations that have been seen before, one of its most important features is that it does not need to know what any given mutation does. Typically, scientists seeking to assess transmissibility of a variant have to perform a series of lab experiments to tease out the precise function of each new mutation. For Obermeyer’s tool, those time-consuming functional tests aren’t necessary for forecasting. The model has access to all of the mutations from genome sequence data, and can infer from the data which ones are associated with increased transmissibility. That is a huge leap in capability for epidemiological researchers focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Bronwyn MacInnis, an infectious disease scientist at the Broad who described this work in a presentation at the recent AGBT Precision Health conference, the PyR0 tool accurately predicted both the explosive growth of the Delta variant and the relatively minor emergence of the Mu variant (originally detected in Colombia earlier this year), long before conventional scientific approaches could have. Using genomic data for epidemiology and infectious disease has “really come of age” in the pandemic, she said. But genomic tools were not built for this kind of use. “The field really needs some great and quick innovation to keep up with the data,” she added, pointing to the former Uber team’s work as a great example.

Obermeyer points out that the model only works as well as it does because it has access to such an enormous trove of genomic data collected around the world. “It’s really important to be able to share observations [of mutations] across countries and across cities,” he says.

Now that the tool is available, public health experts have one more arrow in the quiver to help guide the pandemic response. Mask mandates, indoor capacity limits, and other measures can all be used in a more targeted manner if we can predict the likelihood of the spread of specific new COVID-19 variants. “As soon as we see that there’s a more highly transmissible strain in a particular region, then we [can] react to that by changing these intervention measures,” Obermeyer says.

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Lessons from the Pandemic: Technology Disrupting (and Improving) Chinese Healthcare

Digital technology, unexpected partnerships and an integrated closed-loop system will lead to care that’s faster, less expensive, and more accessible. Here’s how China is improving healthcare.

We have learned many lessons from the pandemic – but three stand out as drivers for how to improve healthcare. First, it is painfully apparent that certain segments of the population lack access to care, resulting in huge gaps in healthcare outcomes. Second, it is clear that technology has fundamentally impacted all industries and changed business models. That’s true especially in healthcare, which has been a laggard in adopting tech. Third, unorthodox partnerships and collaborations have greatly accelerated our ability to move. They have allowed us to introduce new solutions to health challenges as pandemic pressures and waves of COVID traveled around the globe. Recent pilots undertaken by Sanofi, where I serve as CEO, along with partners, shed light on how we can retain the lessons of the pandemic and build on its successes.

Work we’ve done in China has given us deep insights into how to tackle these issues – which many areas across the world also face. Here’s more on several efforts we have worked on in China that have yielded significant results:

Reaching those without access

Our first observation was the indisputable need to reach marginalized populations. It is well documented that minorities, and those in remote areas, have been most heavily impacted by COVID as well as other chronic diseases. These populations suffer from high rates of diseases such as diabetes and may live where healthcare providers and proper therapies are inaccessible. In China, like many parts of the world, the best doctors and specialists are often in large hospitals in urban areas like Shanghai and Beijing.

China, however, is taking measures to increase access to these specialists in rural parts of the country. China’s Healthy China plan is working to increase healthcare capacity while extending its reach to more of the population. Nearly 64% of China’s population live in counties many kilometers from the nearest hospital. The challenge is how to reach this remote population. One effective strategy has been to integrate with what China calls its “internet hospital” system. It offers a closed loop, using digital technology, from consultation to prescription to payment to medicine delivery. Now, internet hospitals are emerging as a new channel with significant potential. In 2020 alone, nearly 49 million Chinese used them for online diagnosis and treatment.

The urgency of extending healthcare access is especially clear when managing chronic illnesses. Such illnesses are on the rise worldwide, due to an aging population and changes in societal behavior. Now, approximately 33% of Chinese citizens over the age of 50 suffer from a chronic illness. For example, diabetes affects over 129 million people there, accounting for about 11% of Chinese adults. In response, one chronic disease care project launched last October was designed to build a coordinated management system for chronic diseases targeting ordinary situations and emergencies, provide patients with full-life-cycle health care and medical support, and ultimately improve comprehensive chronic disease management in China. In a first step, six county-level hospitals followed standards and processes for chronic disease management formulated by experts and obtained front-line data as well as management experience. This will serve as a pilot, to be rolled out to county-level hospital clusters. As an important milestone, an analysis report is expected to be published at the end of this year, focusing on the current situation of chronic disease diagnosis and treatment in county-level hospitals in China.

AI and IoT can enable better healthcare outcomes

The rapid adoption of new technology tools has also had a strong impact in improving health outcomes. By using an artificial intelligence (AI)- and internet of things (IoT)-enabled app, we established a standardized process for out-of-hospital management of diabetic patients. It included systemic implementation of a management/care concept through a smart three-party interaction system–including a physician, nurse, and patient. Patients were guided through a personalized treatment journey, with different intervention frequencies, methods, and contents. Over the past 7 years this system has been used by more than 500 hospitals, reaching 780,000 diabetic patients. Within three months it raised adherence to treatment regimens from 49% to 78-82%.

Unorthodox collaborations

It is deeply important to think of an effective healthcare system as an integrated closed loop. This means linking local doctors and clinics, specialty hospitals and experts, families and patients, and insurers into one service for patients. It is imperative to connect in-hospital medical treatment, out-of-hospital management, and payment scenarios, so that the system works seamlessly. To close existing gaps between these players, partnerships between stakeholders from various industries are key. That will enable us to improve diagnosis, treatment norms and standards through large-scale medical education and training, as well as to explore various forms of commercial insurance innovation.

One example is a Sanofi partnership with Ping An Smart City to develop and provide innovative solutions for patients and healthcare professionals in diabetes management. Another is a strategic partnership with Atman, a pioneering company in medical language intelligence, which creates a bilingual (English and Chinese) medical information platform. With the help of AI and natural language processing, the platform becomes a medical communication engine. Most recently, Sanofi announced a strategic partnership with JD Health, one of the largest digital healthcare platforms in China. The two companies will leverage complementary strengths to promote a full range of strategic initiatives in five areas – prescription drugs, vaccines, consumer health product, medical services, and commercial insurance. This will cover a full-service cycle–before, during, and after diagnosis. The companies will also together explore innovative payment methods, aiming to improve the patient journey through online consultation, drug prescription, purchase, delivery, and disease management.

Pandemic key learnings

During the pandemic, we witnessed how people struggled with COVID even as many simultaneously sought help for preexisting conditions and chronic illnesses. By closely examining where we could innovate and move quickly, we gleaned learnings that have the potential to benefit other industries as well as transform healthcare in many parts of the world.

Digital technology in healthcare will ultimately lead to medical care that’s faster, less expensive, and offers greater access. People living in rural areas and disadvantaged populations will be able to get equal access to quality medical treatment as digital solutions cut time spent traveling to doctors and obtaining prescriptions. An integrated closed-loop system that allows for a streamlined diagnosis, treatment, and commercial insurance pathways appeals to both patients and physicians. By forming unexpected partnerships, we can help break out of old ways of operating and speed up innovation. These strategies will help us address many underlying challenges that the pandemic made painfully apparent.

Paul Hudson is CEO of global pharmaceutical company Sanofi.

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Robin’s Rules of Order: New Models for the Workplace

Right now, companies are fumbling. It’s time to apply a new set of metrics to how work is measured, how it’s compensated, and how much of it can be done remotely.

Now that we’ve bitten into the forbidden fruit of the work-from-home apple we have, as the biblical tale goes, seen each other naked.  And once you’ve seen the makeupless faces, the shoddy t-shirts, the adorable/annoying pets and kids, and that big reveal–the inside of a co-workers home–there’s no going back. Plucking people out of their natural habitat, gussying them up, and sticking them in a context-less office chair seems downright abnormal.

As we wrestle with how to return some sense of normalcy to the workplace, we’re not likely to forget all we’ve learned from our year and a half of working from anywhere. It’s time to apply a new set of metrics to how work is measured, how it’s compensated, and how much of it can be done remotely. And it’s also time to put a new set of metrics in place to allow workers to grow their careers while balancing their lives.

Historians will look back on this post-pandemic reconstruction as something as monumental as the Industrial Revolution.  That historic shift demanded that we leave our homes and head to factories and offices. The post-pandemic era will similarly demand a reassessment of work and how and where it’s done. Dawn Pratt, who runs Tech Up for Women and does corporate human resources training, told me that HR folks are pulling their hair out trying to come up with equitable, out-of-the-box solutions that make sense of work.

It’s time for new bold models. The major impetus for the change stems from technology.  Cloud-based applications, video conferencing, shared documents, and whiteboards are just a few of the technologies rendering those old gatherings in conference rooms as anachronistic as a two-martini lunch. (Though granted, plenty of big deals were signed during two-martini lunches.)

Right now, companies are fumbling. They give lip service to the concept of valuing what workers accomplish, not where they accomplish it. But they are struggling to make those words functional. Facebook and Google are both allowing employees to work remotely for the foreseeable future. Facebook is even encouraging workers to consider working from remote places, even other countries. In May, Google announced that some 60 percent of Googlers will spend a few days per week in the office, 20 percent will work in new office locations and another 20 percent will work from home under an expected future hybrid-work model.

Amazon has one of the most specific return to work policies, spelling out a hybrid arrangement even once workers come back in January 2022:

“Our new baseline will be three days a week in the office (with the specific days being determined by your leadership team), leaving you flexibility to work remotely up to two days a week.If you would like to work in the office less than three days a week and are still able to commute into your assigned office as needed, you can apply for an exception from your VP. If the exception is approved, you will be considered primarily a remote worker, and will have an agile workspace (not a dedicated one) that provides space to collaborate with your team. Separately, corporate employees (for whom working away from the office is an effective option) will have the choice to work up to four weeks per year fully remote from a domestic location (without the expectation that you will commute into an office during that time).”

Some companies like Virbela in the US and Chargebee in India have never had a physical office. According to Global Workplace Analytics, just 3.6% of the US workforce worked from home in 2018. Now, they report, “Our best estimate is that 25-30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.”  The data is followed by a list of companies that are touting “remote-first,” including Quora, Dropbox, Hubspot and Pinterest, along with quotes from their management on reasoning behind those decisions.

How do you get started on the re-invention? I’ve created a blueprint — let’s call it Robin’s Rules of Order.

Step 1:  Task analysis

Dissect your team’s workflow and responsibilities, identifying which tasks are best done alone, and which ones rely on group think.  And which group think activities will be more successful in person rather than virtually?

Step 2: Identify the Office’s Uniqueness.

If you’re going to ask an employee to leave home and come to the office,  what will they want to see in the office?  A gym?  A 3D printer?  A recording studio producing high-end audio and video? A daycare area? Maybe even a token foosball table?  The office needs to have benefits beyond the water cooler and the Keurig.

Step 3:  Step up your virtual meeting strategy. 

We’ve had nearly two years of remote meetings, but they can become more effective.  Engage the more silent members of the group with direct engagement.  “I haven’t heard much from Susan but I know when she speaks it’s important.”  “Sally, you’re the youngest member of the team, attuned to what’s happening with a new generation, what do you think we should do?”  And make meetings shorter — way shorter.

Step 4:  Identify talents you learned about your team members during pandemic

“John, did you paint that photo that hangs in your Zoom background?  Maybe we should think about putting those artistic skills to work for the team.”

Step 5: Set deliverable metrics.  

More than ever before work is more than just showing up. Specific tasks and timetables need to be established.

Step 6: Break down the silos.

For too long marketing, sales, engineering, and HR each had their own hierarchical fiefdoms, often unresponsive to group goals at large. Think less about having a meeting and more about who are the right people from across the organization to be there.

Step 7: Set the Stage

A good manager will cultivate a knack for involving the whole group and demanding attention. Cameras on with mobile phones out of reach are two basic rules that help. Articulate standards for other distractions like private chat channels, too. A meeting leader needs to have the same skills as a classroom teacher–a bit of showmanship and a talent for engaging the students.

Step 8: Assign New Roles.

Identify new talents and roles to meet the occasion–running spotlight features, Googling for more information about a topic you’re discussing, operating the whiteboard, monitoring chats, even providing a fun interlude. The rise of virtual work will mean new jobs and job functions. 

Step 9: Create a Path Forward.

Your teams need to keep their skills sharpened. Each employee should have an individual education plan as part of their job. Learning is part of the job description now, whether it’s attending a seminar, getting a degree, or getting micro-credentialed…

Step 9: Create a Scout Team.

It should investigate new technologies that your work-from-anywhere team can use, as they arise.  Innovation in remote work technology is rife. Don’t just rely on your IT department to innovate (but do consult with them). Streaming solutions, shared white boards, transcription, and analytics tools — all of these belong in the arsenal for work-from-anywhere productivity.

The brass tacks of the transition will be complicated. Benefits, tax implications, empty real-estate (I’ve written about this for Techonomy before) will all need to be reckoned with. It will fall to product managers and team leaders to write rules of engagement for their teams. And workers will generally choose where they want to work based on the culture that best suits their workstyles, at least in progressive and aware companies. Job titles, salaries, home-office stipends, performance tracking, and methods of managing will all require major overhauls. But the workplace that we all end up with is likely to be far more satisfying, and even more productive, than the one we left behind back in March 2020.

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The Third Dose: What You Need to Know

Wondering if you’ll need a COVID-19 booster shot? You’re not alone. Here are some answers to common questions about who needs a third dose, when, and why.

Even as confusion about third vaccine doses deepened, recent actions by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention increased the likelihood that such booster shots will be inevitable for Americans trying to protect themselves against COVID-19. But questions abound.

Has the third dose decision been finalized?

No. While the CDC has put forth a plan to begin delivering third doses to Americans this fall — recommending that people aim to get another jab eight months after their second dose — the strategy will not be finalized until the FDA conducts its own evaluation and weighs in. (Some reports suggest the CDC might shift to recommending booster shots after six months, but it has not confirmed that.)

Who needs a third dose?

At this point, the only people for whom there is wide agreement that a third dose is necessary are the immunocompromised. That means certain cancer patients, organ transplant recipients, and some people with immune deficiencies. Patients with certain disorders, for example, take drugs to suppress their immune system, and those drugs sometimes also reduce the effectiveness of the vaccines. It’s not uncommon for such patients to produce few or no antibodies to the COVID-19 virus even after two shots. But in a number of studies, immunocompromised patients who previously received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines responded to a third dose by producing significantly higher levels of antibodies. That increase could offer more protection against the virus.

What about people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

Since far fewer Americans received the J&J vaccine, it may take longer for scientists to generate enough information about how their vaccine-induced immunity holds up over time. Those studies are currently being conducted. In announcing the third dose plan, the CDC said that it anticipated that booster shots would likely be necessary for J&J vaccine recipients. The company recently announced that a booster shot six months after the initial dose increased antibody levels nine-fold.

Is the third dose specific to the Delta variant?

At this point, the third doses being administered to people are the same formulation as the first two doses. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines give strong protection against the Delta variant, even though they are based on the genetic code for the original strain of the virus. BioNTech, the company that partnered with Pfizer to create the first COVID-19 vaccine, has now designed a Delta-specific vaccine and is now starting clinical trials to evaluate it. But it’s highly unlikely that Americans getting a third dose in coming months will get anything other than one of the original vaccines.

What’s the scientific evidence behind the third dose recommendation?

Unlike the bulletproof evidence for the first two doses, the science for a third dose is still evolving. Public health officials and scientists have mixed views on whether a third dose is needed, and some critics say the Biden administration jumped the gun on announcing that third doses would be administered. The challenge lies in interpreting real-world data. While clinical trial results are highly controlled and therefore fairly straightforward, real-world data includes a huge number of known and unknown variables. Some experts look at the data and see signals of a worrisome decline in immune protection over time; others reviewing the same data say that the ramp-up of the Delta variant in different populations, as well as other statistical factors, is muddying the waters.

What’s the argument for a third dose, then?

While there is not yet a consensus among scientists about whether a third dose is needed to prevent severe COVID-19 cases, it is clear that waning immunity from the first two doses leads to more patients having cases with mild symptoms. While some public health officials note that the point of vaccines is not to eliminate such mild symptoms, others believe that today’s mild symptoms could be tomorrow’s moderate symptoms and the next day’s severe symptoms. The third dose is being pushed as a way to prevent that deterioration. “Our top priority remains staying ahead of the virus and protecting the American people from COVID-19,” said the CDC in a statement.

What are the ethical implications of a third dose?

This is where things really get thorny. Since nearly everyone in the world needs to get vaccinated and there is a finite supply of vaccines, any third doses given without strong scientific evidence could have instead been given as urgently needed first or second doses to people in countries that have not yet had broad access to the vaccines. While North America and Europe have strong vaccination rates, countries in Africa and the Middle East have so far vaccinated just a tiny fraction of their populations. The World Health Organization’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has for weeks been criticizing Western nations for moving toward a third dose even as much of the world has seen no inoculation. The real challenge is ramping up vaccine production globally so there will be enough doses for all. So far, the world has failed to meet that challenge.

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