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FirstFT: Video software group Zoom demands return to the office

Zoom, the video conferencing software firm, has become the latest company to require employees to show up in person at the office.

The company that became synonymous with working from home during the coronavirus pandemic yesterday told employees who live within 50 miles of one of its locations that they must come to the office at least two days a week.

Zoom, which saw its valuation soar during the pandemic, has not been able to replicate the success of its video software as white-collar workers return to the office. Zoom Rooms — which is designed to improve the experience of online meetings involving people who are in the office with others working remotely — has not caught on.

Many companies in the US are becoming increasingly firm with their staff, ordering them to return to the office following the coronavirus pandemic.

Finance executives have been some of the most aggressive advocates for a post-pandemic return to the office. Jamie Dimon last month declared himself a work-from-home “sceptic” in an interview with the Economist. In April JPMorgan asked its managing directors to be in the office five days a week.

Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were among the earliest businesses to order a return to the office.

In other sectors, too, white-collar workers have been told they must spend some of their time in the office as hybrid working practices are adopted across business and the labour market slackens.

Senior managers argue that having staff in the office improves collaboration and reinforces workplace culture for new and existing workers by fostering collaboration. There is also the financial cost to having vast offices empty or under used.

A recent survey by real estate company Knight Frank found that up to a fifth of executives in charge of property at 350 global companies were planning to reduce office space.

But many commercial buildings are not designed for the demands of hybrid working and white-collar workers have resisted a return to the office in the face of a cost of living crisis.

Staff at Amazon, Google and Disney have all campaigned this year to retain some of the benefits of working from home.

Here’s what I’m keeping tabs on today:

  • Economic data: US government data is expected to show that the trade deficit narrowed to $65bn in June from $69bn in May.

  • Results: Eli Lilly, UPS, Under Armour, Warner Music, Fox Corporation, Rivian, AMC Entertainment, Duolingo, Lyft and Bumble all report earnings today.

  • Donald Trump rally: The former president holds his first public rally since last week’s court appearance.

  • Amazon rainforest: The leaders of eight Amazon rainforest countries meet in Belém, Brazil to discuss the future of the rainforest.

Five more top stories

1. Italy’s rightwing coalition has surprised investors with the announcement of a 40 per cent “windfall” tax on banks. Shares in the country’s biggest lenders fell sharply this morning after the government of Giorgia Meloni outlined plans for a relief fund for families hit by high interest rates to be funded by a one-off tax on banks. Read more on the plan.

2. China’s trade slumped in July, with exports and imports falling more sharply than economists forecast, adding to concerns about growth prospects in the world’s second-biggest economy more than six months after Beijing eased pandemic restrictions. Read more on the latest disappointing economic data from China.

3. Tesla shares are expected to open lower later today after chief financial officer Zach Kirkhorn announced his departure from the electric vehicle company. Kirkhorn was one of Elon Musk’s closest lieutenants and had overseen a period of rare stability at the company since becoming CFO in 2019. Read more on Kirkhorn’s sudden departure.

4. Meta has axed a team that used artificial intelligence to predict protein structures in a sign that it is shifting away from scientific projects in favour of building moneymaking AI products. About a dozen scientists worked on ESMFold, a project that was disbanded this spring in a previously unreported move. Here’s more on the AI project that was lauded by those involved in the development of new drugs and treatments.

5. S&P Global has stopped scoring corporate borrowers on ESG criteria after having graded companies from one to five for each element of environmental, social and governance risks since 2021. The debt rating agency reversed course last week and said it would only use text and not numerical scores for analysing companies’ ESG matters, putting it at odds with rival Moody’s. Here’s why S&P is making the U-turn.

The Big Read

© FT montage/Bloomberg

From the Democratic Republic of Congo to Indonesia, the handful of countries that dominate the production of metals critical to the green transition are seeing their fortunes transform. As the world moves from an energy system built on fossil fuels to one powered by renewables, the global demand for materials such as copper, cobalt, nickel and lithium is only going to grow.

We’re also reading . . . 

  • Religion and politics: Across Europe, a conservative brand of Catholic identity politics coupled with nativist and “sovereigntist” populism has emerged, writes Jonathan Derbyshire.

  • Why Joe Biden is the heir to Trump: The current administration has come to share many of Trump’s basic assumptions — including rivalry with China, writes Gideon Rachman.

  • Disney: Bob Iger’s comeback has been hampered by TV woes and box office flops, leading to questions about the company’s “core” business.

Chart of the day

Sales of cross-border debt denominated in renminbi have boomed this year, as relatively low yields in China’s bond market boost Beijing’s drive to increase the international footprint of its currency. Issuance of renminbi-denominated “panda” bonds by foreign issuers in China so far this year has already surpassed the full-year record set in 2021.

Take a break from the news

From cornrow updos to colourful peekaboos — here are four brilliant braid styles for Afro-textured hair that look chic for weeks and require lower maintenance in the warmer summer temperatures.

Additional contributions from Tee Zhuo and Benjamin Wilhelm

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Rayna Prime Editor