Microsoft edges back to ‘normal’ with workplace reopening plan

Microsoft on Monday became the latest company to announce it will begin requiring some workers to come back to the office — at least part time — amid a drop in coronavirus cases in the US.

microsoft headquarters

With COVID-19 infections dropping in the US, Microsoft on Monday announced it is solidifying its hybrid workforce plans and will begin bringing employees back into offices by the end of the month.

Beginning Feb. 28, its headquarters in Washington state and other locations will open, marking the final stage of the hybrid workplace model the company has developed. From that point on, employees will have 30 days to shift their routines and adopt the working preferences they’ve agreed upon with their managers — whether it’s working from home part time, full time, or not at all.

Microsoft said it would be reopening its Redmond headquarters due to high COVID-19 vaccination rates in King County, where most of the company’s Washington-based employees live, as well as declining hospitalizations and deaths in the state.

Like many other companies, Microsoft postponed office reopenings several times due to surges in coronavirus cases from new variants taking hold. After planning to reopen its US offices in October, Microsoft announced in September it would indefinitely postpone those plans.

sept 9 chart picture1 Microsoft

A chart by Microsoft shows reasons its employees cite for working in-person and at home. Some cite work-life balance, focus time, and collaboration as reasons to go into the office; others cite those same things for staying home.

That decision to delay a return to office followed similar moves by other major tech companies. Facebook and Amazon also delayed plans to reopen offices and require some form of in-person work.

Google pushed back its office reopening plans several times; had delayed a voluntary return to office until Jan. 10, and gave employees 30 days to make plans to resume in-person work.

“It’s heartening to see Googlers starting to come back to more offices globally,” Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and parent company Alphabet, wrote in an August blog. “The ability to reconnect in person has been re-energizing for many of us, and will make us even more effective in the weeks and months ahead.”

In December, after already delaying plans several times, Apple again put the kibosh on reopening plans for early 2022 due to the surging Omicron variant. Apple has yet to publicize a new timeline for its office openings.

Apple CEO Tim Cook told employees they would receive another $1,000 each to help furnish home offices with equipment they needed to work remotely.

Last April, Facebook told employees they could request to work from home permanently. Google, Apple, and Microsoft have all announced hybrid plans, where some employees can split time between working from home and in an office.

Microsoft said it would consider several factors in determining whether a work site is ready to fully open, including the incidence of COVID-19 in the area and community vaccination rates.

“Throughout the pandemic, our employees have adapted to many new ways of working while helping our customers and partners navigate their own challenges,” Chris Capossela, Microsoft’s chief marketing officer, wrote in a blog. “We know there’s not a singular solution to how people work best, which is why we believe flexibility should be at the forefront of our evolving hybrid workplace.”

Microsoft will embrace schedule flexibility as its standard for most roles and provide employees with the opportunity to determine how and where they work best, Capossela said.

“We’ve committed to empowering our managers with tools and resources to provide employees with the level of care they need during this transition, which includes the ability to approve requests to adjust their work site, location or hours,” he said.

With the rise of both the hybrid workplace and fully remote workers, enterprises now face growing demands for a new work-life balance — and the prospect of losing employees if they don’t offer more workplace flexibility.

More specifically, companies that decide to go back to a fully on-site arrangement could lose up to 39% of their workforce, according to the 2021 Gartner Hybrid Work Employee Survey of 2,400 knowledge workers.

As a result, employers need to practice “radical” work environment flexibility, the survey indicated, allowing employee performance to be determined not by how many hours they clock in, or when they’re in the office, but by their accomplishments.

“Did I get to the outcome you needed? Yes? Then allow me the autonomy I want instead of prescribing the amount of time I need to be in a chair,” said Adam Preset, vice president analyst for Employee Experience Technologies at research firm Gartner.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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