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Hello, this is the Co-op Digital newsletter - it looks at what's happening in the internet/digital world and how it's relevant to the Co-op, to retail businesses, and most importantly to people, communities and society. Thank you for reading - send ideas and feedback to @rod on Twitter. Please tell a friend about it!

The first Covid vaccinations in the UK started today. And Brexit teeters on the brink of no deal. 2021 may be as eventful as 2020.


Retail news

Topshop owner Arcadia goes into administration. 13,000 jobs at risk, but no immediate redundancies. Debenhams is to be liquidated, unless Mike Ashley’s group Frasers steps in at the last minute. 12,000 jobs on the line. Fashion chain Bonmarché is back into administration

The common threads seem to be changing shopper need and behaviour, retailers sometimes failing to respond to change, and the coronavirus accelerating change and exposing companies that aren’t resilient.

Elsewhere: shops can stay open 24/7 to “recoup covid losses” in the run up to Christmas, but some shop staff are petitioning for fewer hours open

Modern careers: parcel courier army

Actors, pilots, oil workers... thousands from Covid-blighted jobs join parcel courier army. This article has plenty of interesting numbers about what an Amazon economy looks like.

“Online groceries sales now account for 13% of all food sales, up from 7.4% in March. [...] Analysis by Metapack, which provides software linking most of the country’s high-street brands, including John Lewis and M&S, with hundreds of delivery firms, reveals the parcel volumes going through its systems last week are 70% higher than the corresponding week in 2019.

DPD is recruiting 3,500 new drivers and Hermes is taking on 9,000 new self-employed couriers [...] Recruitment agency, Manpower, has placed 3,000 new drivers in the last few months, with an estimated 30% turning to driving because of the pandemic. [...] Delivery firm Yodel has recruited 2,950 drivers and seen a 200% increase in applications for its seasonal jobs.

Eventually everyone will work for online companies and couriers, delivering endless parcels from fleets of delivery vehicles, their hand-free Zoom calls on in the background.


Big Tech is tracking you, office worker

Google illegally spied on workers before firing them, US labor board alleges.

Amazon’s surveillance of labor and environmental groups.

When your business is collecting, sifting and remixing data to create insight that you can sell, it is easy for everything to look like data or a useful source of data. If you watch things, systems and even people closely enough, you’ll get data. If you’re used to collecting personal data to construct profiles you can sell adverts against, then maybe it feels like a natural and small step to instrument your workforce as well. All data is good data, right? Perhaps this attitude partly explains the stories above, but also why Microsoft’s new ‘productivity score’ lets your boss monitor how often you use email and attend video meetings:

“The tech giant decided to include data on individual employees by default because it can help diagnose specific technical problems or identify people having trouble with Microsoft applications. An employer, for example, could see that a particular employee is attaching files to emails rather than sending a link via OneDrive."

Do Microsoft measure the productivity of their own employees like this, or is this just for customers? Imagine the meeting. “What if we track what our customers’ employees are doing so that their bosses can make things more efficient? Can anyone see any unintended consequences with that?” “Nope, let’s launch!” 

These approaches suggest several things. First, that on the ground “data on individual employees” is going to feel like Big Brother, so trust will be eroded. Instrumenting the employees will also create significant incentives for workers to “game” the system, performing for the metrics. Second, that there will be more regulation, on personal data and consumer privacy (eg EU’s GDPR, California’s CCPA), or anti-competition law (eg EU vs Amazon or UK to impose new rules to limit tech giants' power), or employment law.

Of course, this is only new for employees in offices - employees in factories have often been tracked like this.


Remote work, offices and in between

Remote work mindset:

“Thinking remote means being able to distill our interactions and reflect on what we value. What aspects of being in an office do we care about the most?”

Of course, remote office work has some well-documented disadvantages: a grinding life in an endless Zoom call, more social distance between co-workers, higher communication costs. And it also has advantages: less commuting time and cost, more time with family, more flexibility, better quality of life, more focus, etc). 

But! These advantages aren’t distributed equally. If you have plenty of space and freedom at home where you can perform uninterrupted, focused work, then remote is great. But not everyone has these things, and for them remote work might feel like a lack of personal space, or loneliness, or like the worker funding their own office space. Another way the virus has accelerated things and had uneven effects on people.

What happens to offices in future? Perhaps head offices get smaller, and more regional hubs spring up. Perhaps offices become “corporate centers specifically meant to spur innovation and connection”. That piece has a good bit about how Starbucks noticed how everyone works in its shops, and will make its head office feel more like a coffee shop.

Most US office workers want a hybrid office-and-remote working life (pdf). But “hybrid” has critics: will it be the worst of both worlds?


Various things

Salesforce is buying Slack - and useful analysis about what each side gets out of it.

This is us, working in the open - Defra Future Farming Blog.

Singapore approves lab-grown 'chicken' meat. Related: the lab-grown meat industry is racing to ditch its reliance on foetal blood ooof.

First undersea... roundabout.


Co-op news and events

Co-op makes a stand against racism with Channel 4 and other major UK supermarkets.

Co-op sells insurance underwriting business and starts new partnership with Markerstudy - selling the underwriting part of the insurance business. 

Free events at Federation House:


Thank you for reading

Thank you friends, readers and contributors. Please continue to send ideas, questions, corrections, improvements, etc to @rod on Twitter. If you have enjoyed reading, please tell a friend! If you want to find out more about Co-op Digital, follow us @CoopDigital on Twitter and read the Co-op Digital Blog. Previous newsletters.

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