The Week in Business: The End of the Office as We Know It

Holiday weekends seem a little strange when Saturdays feel the same as Tuesdays and you can’t really go anywhere, but have a good Memorial Day all the same! Here’s what you need to know in business and tech for the short week ahead.

Before March, you’d never look at 2.4 million workers filing for jobless benefits in the previous week and think, “Hey, not the worst.” But here we are. Even as most states are allowing some businesses to reopen, new applications for unemployment insurance continue at a record-breaking pace (albeit a slowing one), adding up to 38.6 million in nine weeks. And while the majority of laid-off workers expect to get hired back, many economists warn that a lot of those jobs may be gone for good as the economy reshapes itself in the pandemic’s aftermath.

Even when it may be safe to return to the office, employers have seen the light: Cubicles are overrated, and working from home … well, it works. It also saves companies a lot of money. Many large corporations, including Facebook and Twitter, are allowing employees to work remotely for the foreseeable future and will cut back their real-estate footprints. That has many upsides, but it will also destroy maintenance and administrative jobs, as well as businesses that depend on commuters and office workers, like lunch spots and coffee shops. And what will become of the office buildings themselves? There are already concerns that bacteria is building up in their plumbing systems, which were never designed to be left unused for this long, leading to risks like Legionnaires’ disease. Gross.

If you’re one of the lucky people who still has a job, great. But someone may be collecting unemployment benefits on your behalf. A network of international hackers has been using stolen Social Security numbers to file claims for American citizens who have not actually been laid off and then siphon the money into their own pockets. In Washington State alone, impostors have used this tactic to steal hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the head of the state’s Employment Security Department. Federal investigators say that all states are vulnerable and that they are working to identify the thieves.

The New York Stock Exchange will partially reopen its trading floor to a small number of brokers this coming Tuesday. Anyone who enters the building will be required to wear a mask, follow social-distancing rules, undergo temperature checks and abstain from using public transit. And if they can’t meet those requirements, fine; no one will be required to come in, and traders and other employees can continue to work remotely, said Stacey Cunningham, president of the stock exchange.

Apple and Google released new software this past week that allows public health officials around the world to create their own contact tracing apps. It uses Bluetooth to detect people in your vicinity and keep track of who you may have interacted with. Then, if one of those people tests positive for the coronavirus and shares that information with the app, other users who were near them in the last 14 days will be notified. Sure beats cold-calling strangers on the phone all day, the way actual contact tracers do their jobs, right? Maybe not, according to critics, who say the apps pose serious privacy problems. Several states and countries are looking to harness the technology, but it’s unclear how many will actually create apps, or how many people will use them.

Remember Carlos Ghosn, the former chief of Nissan who was relieved of his duties after being accused of financial fraud? The saga continues. Two Americans, a former Green Beret and his son, have been accused of helping to smuggle Mr. Ghosn out of Japan back in December. At the time, Mr. Ghosn was under house arrest and awaiting trial in Tokyo, but then managed to escape on a private jet (hidden in a large box) and flee to Lebanon. The two men, who were arrested in Massachusetts, are expected to be extradited to Japan to face trial. Mr. Ghosn remains at large in Beirut.

Britain’s flour suppliers are struggling to keep up with the surge in baking during the pandemic lockdown. (How’s your sourdough starter going?) Facebook is starting Facebook Shops, an e-commerce feature that allows users to buy things directly from businesses through the Facebook and Instagram platforms. And for the first time in almost a decade, American astronauts will ride an American-made rocket into space. This one is made by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and is scheduled for takeoff this Wednesday. (No spectators allowed.)

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