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The case for a virtual commute when working from home

This is the web version of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

Years after the introduction of the iPhone, Apple started to add safety features that did things such as making it difficult to drive and text. I discussed this with Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, in 2017, as the iPhone was beginning its second decade. “I think that all companies should do that, to really think through how their products are used,” Cook said, of some of Apple’s new features. “Using a product is somewhat like eating healthy food. It’s really great. But you can eat too much of healthy food. And you can use something too much.”

We’re all finding out right now just how much is too much when it comes to technology. Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, for example, has acknowledged that the creators of the free-for-all messaging system simply didn’t envision all the ways its service would be used—and misused. My deep research into the history of the seat belt suggests that it took decades for car manufacturers to figure out they could add a feature to their vehicles to mitigate the danger of motoring.

I thought about all this while reading about Microsoft’s intention to add a “virtual commute” feature to its Teams communications product. At first blush, the idea of scheduling a commute into a work-from-home day seems silly. Think about it for a tick more, and it makes total sense. Using technology to ameliorate the burden of technology surrounding our new remote-working lives is a great example of a grafting on a solution after the fact.

Sure, commuting sucks sometimes. But the ability to pause and focus, or call loved ones, or listen to the radio, or daydream—anything, really, other than endure another Zoom (or Teams) call—helps the remote worker reset their brain.

In old Microsoft fashion, the software maker revealed the feature before launching it. In another era that was called vaporware. At least Microsoft has started a conversation.


Some things, on the other hand, are obvious right from the outset. Reading this week in The New York Times about how fees from The Apprentice, a TV show about fake business situations, kept Donald Trump afloat for years after his actual business enterprises had failed, I recalled an article I wrote in Fortune in 2004. I asked why audiences would want to learn business secrets from someone whose publicly traded business was publicly failing. “It’s clear that taking your business cues from The Donald is far more likely to lead to fame than to fortune,” I wrote.

Enough said.

Adam Lashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.

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