Coronavirus update for business: Woolies invests in telehealth, more job cuts at Uber, and Ardern backs a four-day week

New Zealand coronavirus stimulus package

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Woolworths backs telehealth

Brand-building startup Eucalyptus has bagged $8 million in Series A funding, including from Blackbird Ventures and Woolworths’ newly formed investment arm W23.

The business builds digital consumer products, and currently operates two telehealth brands — one tailored to men’s health and one to women’s. The platforms are designed to create frictionless, and contactless, experiences while improving engagement with the medical system.

The founders are reportedly also looking into remote health solutions in the skincare and elderly healthcare sectors.

“We know there is a lot to learn from innovators like [Eucalyptus] who are disrupting the market,” W23 director Ingrid Maes told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Bank of Shopify

Shopify has launched its own range of financial products for small businesses, including a balance account, debit card and buy-now-pay-later capabilities.

The ‘Shopify Balance’ account will offer merchants an overview of their cashflow and expenses and even pay bills, while physical and virtual cards will be issued, which can be used for spending, and for withdrawing cash at ATMs.

The e-commerce tech company is also the latest to jump on the BNPL bandwagon, giving retailers the option to allow customers to pay in four instalments, interest-free.

Both Shopify Balance and Shop Pay Installments will initially be available to US merchants. It’s unclear when the feature will be rolled out in Australia, or what the terms and conditions will look like.

At its inaugural online Reunite event, Shopify also unveiled a new local delivery product, its own fulfilment network, and measures to improve online stores.

Less work, more play

Across the ditch in New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has urged employers to consider implementing a four-day workweek as a way to stimulate the economy and encourage more domestic tourism post-COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the mass move to working from home has shown some of the virtues of flexible work, the Kiwi leader said. At the same time, however, the closure of international borders and domestic travel restrictions mean the region’s all-important tourism industry has suffered.

“I hear lots of people suggesting we should have a four-day workweek,” Ardern said.

“Ultimately, that really sits between employers and employees. But as I’ve said, there’s just so much we’ve learnt about COVID-19 and that flexibility of people working from home, the productivity that can be driven out of that,” she added.

“I’d really encourage people to think about that if you’re an employer and in a position to do so.

To think about if that’s something that would work for your workplace because it certainly would help tourism all around the country.”

Fetch

In slightly less wholesome New Zealand news, Boston Dynamics — purveyor of the stuff-of-nightmares robot dog Spot — has partnered up with Kiwi robotics software platform Rocos, to help improve Spot’s remote control capabilities.

The software provider will allow for Spot’s missions to be updated and edited from afar, while data collected by the robot will be accessible by remote teams.

During the pandemic, the importance of autonomous robots in minimising human contact has been realised, Rocos said in a statement.

“The age of autonomous robots is upon us,” chief David Inggs said.

“Our customers are augmenting their human workforces to automate physical processes that are often dull, dirty, or dangerous,” he added.

Uber job cuts soar

Elsewhere, COVID-19 struggles continue for ride-sharing giant Uber, which is reportedly laying off another 3,000 staff, closing or consolidating 45 offices around the world, and reducing investments in ‘non-core’ products.

The news brings total job cuts at Uber to 6,700 this month alone.

In an email to staff, Uber chief Dara Khosrowshahi reportedly said the tech company is seeing “some signs of recovery”.

“But it comes off of a deep hole, with limited visibility as to its speed and shape,” he said.

It’s unclear at this time whether Aussie Uber employees will be affected by the latest round of cuts. It is understood that at least 100 Australian employees were affected in the previous round earlier this month.

“You’ve heard me say it before: hope is not a strategy,” Khosrowshahi said in the email.

“While that’s easy to say, the truth is that this is a decision I struggled with.

“Our balance sheet is strong, Eats is doing great, Rides looks a little better, maybe we can wait this damn virus out … I wanted there to be a different answer.”

Cisco’s day off

But, it’s not all doom and gloom.

Another tech giant, enterprise network company Cisco, is giving its US employees a free day off “to unplug” from the stresses of balancing remote work with home life and other emotional demands.

Staff have been given Friday off, meaning they have a four-day memorial day holiday weekend.

“It might feel like there are so many reasons not to take a day off,” Chief People Officer Francine Katsoudas said in an email to staff.

“There are few places to go, people need us, and we enjoy our work. Our weeks and weekends are blurring together. Yet there is one reason to unplug: ourselves.”

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