Are you ever going back to the office?

Social media companies Twitter Inc and Facebook Inc on Monday outlined plans for placing warning labels on posts from U.S. election candidates and campaigns that claim victory in advance of official results.

The moves come as social network platforms brace for what has been an unusual election cycle due to a high number of mail-in ballots that may cause a delay in final results.

Beginning on election night through the inauguration, Twitter said it would place warning labels such as “official sources called this election differently”, or “official sources may not have called the race when this was tweeted”.

Facebook will add specific information in news feed notifications in its apps and in the labels on posts if a candidate or a party declares premature victory, and will continue to show the latest results in its Voting Information Center, it said in a separate statement.

Facebook said it will also monitor a range of issues in real-time on Election Day, including reports of voter suppression content, and will remove any attempts to suppress participation or intimidate voters.

U.S.-based accounts with over 100,000 followers and a significant engagement will also be considered for labeling, Twitter said.

Social media companies are under pressure to combat election-related misinformation and prepare for the possibility of violence or poll place intimidation around the November vote.

In an updated blog, Twitter said it would consider state election officials and national news outlets such as ABC News, Associated Press, CNN, and Fox News that have independent election decision desks as official sources for results.

Their official Twitter accounts will be exempted from labeling, the company said.

America’s fight over masks has reached a new front: polling places.

On Election Day, voters across the country will face varying rules about mask-wearing when they cast a ballot as officials try to balance public safety precautions amid a global pandemic with the constitutional right to vote.

Most states, even ones with broad mask mandates, are stopping short of forcing voters to use a face covering. Instead, they’re opting for recommendations to wear them while providing options for voters who refuse.

“We are asking everyone at the polls to observe social distancing inside and outside of polling places, and not to create disturbances about wearing or not wearing face coverings,” said Meagan Wolfe, chief elections official in Wisconsin, where a state mask mandate applies to poll workers but not voters.

During the early voting period, disagreements over masks occasionally led to long voting lines and had election officials clearing polling sites for the mask-less or directing them to stations away from other machines.

Still, due to the decentralized nature of the country’s voting systems, rules are different depending on where ballots are cast. Some places are taking harder stances than others.

In one case that caught national attention, a Maryland man was arrested after refusing to wear a mask while trying to vote last month. He has since sued his local election board over the incident.

In Texas, the issue has wound up in court.

First, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott carved out an exception for voting locations in his statewide mask mandate issued earlier this year. Then, in response to a challenge from voting rights groups, a federal judge ordered that masks must be worn inside polling sites. That decision was quickly reversed by an appeals court.

Despite the legal back and forth, at least some Texas elections administrators had chosen not to enforce the short-lived polling station mask mandate.

Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said governments should be able to require masks at polling places during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Despite the few attempts to challenge mask requirements in court, there is no question that it is well within the legal authority of states and localities to require masks to be worn at polling places — both as a matter of public health and as a reasonable regulation of the election process,” she said.

With Election Day looming, most places have settled on a strategy of strongly encouraging voters to wear masks. Their message is that abiding by widely accepted health guidelines will protect poll workers and other voters.

In Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over the weekend signed an extension of measures designed to limit the spread of the virus, including a mask mandate in the city. But her order specifically says “no individual shall be denied ingress or egress to or from a polling place for failure to wear a facial covering or mask.”

Gabriel Sterling, statewide voting system implementation manager for the secretary of state’s office, said during a news conference Monday that individual poll managers will have to decide how to accommodate people who have tested positive or are in quarantine. He suggested that one way to handle them might be pulling them aside and having them vote a hand-marked paper ballot away from everyone else, rather than having them use one of the touchscreen voting machines.

But he stressed that no additional barriers to voting can be put in place.

“You can’t turn away somebody because they’re not wearing a mask,” Sterling said.

Meanwhile, election officials across the country have scrambled to shore up polling place safety precautions to make it easier to recruit poll workers. Many of them have traditionally been older retirees — the type of people who are at greater risk of getting a severe case of the coronavirus.

The idea of staffing a polling place where voters aren’t wearing masks was one reason Richard Baus decided to break over a decade of tradition and not work the election in his hometown of Dublin, Pennsylvania, this year. Even at 90-years-old during a global pandemic, Baus said he was considering returning as a poll worker but ultimately decided against it.

“Being a poll worker, you do come into contact with people, very close contact,” he said. “I would have been more inclined to work if they had a mask mandate.”

Virginia Elections Commissioner Chris Piper said voters who walk into polling places without wearing face coverings will be offered masks by poll workers. If they refuse to wear them, the voters will be asked to return to their cars and vote curbside. If they refuse to do that, they will be allowed to vote inside the polling location.

“Obviously, the goal is to mitigate that, to encourage the health and safety of everybody,” Piper said. “But certainly if they refuse, they have to be offered a ballot.”

In Florida’s Broward County, where there is a mask ordinance, elections spokesman Steve Vancore said just four out of 364,000 early voters refused to wear masks. They were allowed to cast ballots after they were separated from other voters.

“We tell them ’Sir or ma’am – it is mostly sir – you are not supposed to be in here without a mask. There is a county ordinance,” he said. “They mostly obey.”

China’s Lenovo Group, the world’s biggest PC maker, posted a better than expected quarterly profit on Tuesday and said it is continuing to benefit from “new normal” remote working after COVID-19.

Lenovo reported a 53% jump in net profit for the quarter ended September to $310 million, beating an average $224 million estimate of eight analysts, according to Refinitiv data.

Revenue increased by 7% to $14.5 billion.

US business leaders are calling for calm following Tuesday's election even as they brace for potential trouble on the streets and inside their companies in case of a disputed result.

The fears were highlighted in many US cities where retail stores were being boarded up, as some key executives expressed concerns about public reaction.

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg last week warned of the potential for civil unrest as votes are tallied in a US election that will be "a test" for the social network.

Zuckerberg expressed his concern recently while describing safeguards against misinformation and voter suppression at the leading social network that are intended to avoid the kinds of deception and abuse that played out four years ago.

"I'm worried that with our nation so divided and election results potentially taking days or weeks to be finalized there is a risk of civil unrest," said Zuckerberg.

American companies are striving to maintain the appearance of political neutrality while they ramp up security and watch for clashes between employees with conflicting political views in an election so hotly fought it is at a flashpoint.

The risk appears heightened amid concerns that President Donald Trump may challenge the validity of the results of the race against Democrat Joe Biden.

"This has been a difficult election for a lot of companies to navigate," Control Risks associate director Allison Wood told AFP.

The business risk consulting firm has seen an uptick in requests for additional security, both armed and unarmed.

While retailers have been most interested in the potential of looting or rioting, operations with around-the-clock shift workers are worried about trouble in the streets preventing employees from showing up, according to Wood.

Companies are also worried that polarizing political themes fueling conflict in the streets will ignite clashes on factory floors or in other facilities.

"At manufacturing facilities or other essential operations with people on-site, that is certainly something businesses are thinking about," Wood said.

"For a lot of companies, that potential is mitigated because people are still working from home."

- Armed with Intelligence? -

Requests from clients at risk consulting firm Allied Universal include guards; executive protection, and "proactive intelligence" gathering, according to senior vice president Joshua Skule.

"Intelligence support during a time of unrest will allow local operations or security managers to have a near real-time overview of the local climate and operating environment should tension rapidly escalate," Skule said in a post.

Large rallies and demonstrations are expected in cities across the country no matter the outcome of the US election.

The potential for violence will depend on an array of factors, including the winning candidate; delay in election results, and social media disinformation, according to Skule.

"This is clearly an election in which there is a lot of tension on both sides of the political spectrum," Wood said.

"People are viewing the election in existential terms, and that could turn to violence and looting quickly."

Walmart last week reversed course after it said it would keep guns and ammunition stored off of sales floors, out of easy reach by customers.

The retail giant cited unrest in Philadelphia when it announced the security measure, but put weaponry back on the sales floors after a day.

The Business Roundtable association representing a whos-who list of top US companies put out a call for people to support the voting process, even if counting takes longer than usual due to a shift to mail-in ballots because of the pandemic.

"Even under normal circumstances, it can take time to finalize results," a joint statement read.

"We urge all Americans to support the process set out in our federal and state laws and to remain confident in our country’s long tradition of peaceful and fair elections."

 Maybe it’s the recent statements from federal-employee-of-the-year Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said last week things wouldn’t return to “normal” until the end of 2021 or 2022.

Or the comments a few agency officials made last week when they said their leadership was considering 100% telework positions for the future.

But you have to wonder at this point in the pandemic — yes, more than seven months in — will you ever go back to the office?

There are, of course, plenty of feds who never really left their work sites. Their offices are a Veterans Affairs hospital, a border checkpoint, or an IRS mailroom.

Some employees may go into the office once or twice a week to accomplish a specific task, or just for a change in scenery.

We last surveyed our readers at Federal News Network back in June about their expectations for an eventual return to the office. The majority of teleworkers and those who had returned to their office said they didn’t want a mass workforce recall until there’s a vaccine.

Three-quarters of federal employees and contractors still teleworking in June expressed some degree of discomfort with the prospects of returning to the office.

Putting the pandemic aside, other surveys and reports suggest the future of remote work is here to stay, even after it’s safe to pack a stadium or a movie theater again.

According to a recent SAIC survey of federal executives, 70% of respondents said they expect to telework three-to-four days a week in the future.

Employees went from teleworking two days a week on average before the pandemic, to 4.72 days a week today. Some public health agencies have their employees working more than five days a week remotely, according to SAIC.

Before the pandemic, 39% of those surveyed said they rarely teleworked. Today, just 1% said they rarely telework now.

A recent report from the IBM Center for the Business of Government suggested agencies could be a turning point when it comes to telework — or “distance work,” as the authors called it.

Other studies have shown a strong business case for adopting telework on a more permanent basis.

According to OPM’s most recent report to Congress on federal telework, just shy of 906,000 employees were deemed eligible for the program — in 2018.

The numbers are likely higher today, as many agencies have found ways to transfer certain in-person workloads to telework.

Even the usually strict agencies with classified workloads have realized they could get more creative with remote work during the pandemic.

Lewis Monroe, director of human resources at the National Nuclear Security Administration, said employees at his agency have realized they actually spend far less time using classified systems than they initially thought.

“We have been kidding ourselves for a long time about how much we are actually connected to classified systems during the day or the workweek,” he said last week during a virtual workforce summit produced by Government Executive. “There’s a very, very small portion who spend all of their time on classified systems. The vast majority of the workforce only spends 8-to-10% a week accessing classified material. You can do most of your work on the low-side at home from a regular desktop or a laptop, and you come into the facility to do whatever classified activity you have to do.”

Global Workplace Analytics, a research and consulting firm, the estimated government could save a whopping $11 billion a year if the 906,000 federal employees who were eligible to telework in 2018 worked remotely part-time. Specifically, agencies could save $13,000 a year for each half-time teleworker, according to that analysis.

It also assumed the government would see a 25% reduction in federal real estate if eligible teleworkers spent half of their weeks working from home.

It almost sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

Where are you at this point with telework? Tired of it? Love it? Hoping your agency makes it permanent whenever “normal” returns?

In Australia, registering to vote and submitting your ballot is required by law for any citizen above the age of 18. Failure to do so can result in a modest fine or even potentially a day in court. Unsurprisingly, the country regularly boasts some of the highest civic participation numbers in the world.

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