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Microsoft To Allow More Workers At HQ, Puts ‘Hybrid Workplace Into Practice’

The company reports that it’s making progress on its multi-stage plan of returning to the office, while continuing to allow some amount of work-from-home for many employees.

Microsoft says it will open its Redmond, Wash., headquarters and nearby campuses to more workers starting March 29, while continuing to emphasize a hybrid work approach going forward.

Employees can choose to return to those work sites, continue to work remotely or do a mix, said Kurt DelBene, Microsoft’s executive vice president in charge of COVID-19 response efforts, in a blog post Monday. The company, which has about 160,000 employees, had originally required remote working for all work sites except essential on-site workers starting in March 2020.

[Related: Microsoft’s WFH Policy Will Spread, But Data Security ‘Needs To Be Addressed’ By Employers]

“As some employees return to our global work sites and others prefer or need to work remotely, we are finding additional ways of putting our hybrid workplace into practice,” DelBene said in the post. “At each of our global work sites, the hybrid workplace model strikes a balance, providing limited additional services on campus for those who choose to return, while supporting those who need to work remotely or feel more comfortable doing so.”

Microsoft, he added, has “never stopped monitoring local health data and tracking government requirements to determine when our campuses could safely accommodate additional workers onsite.”

The company has operated off a six-phase reopening plan instead of a timeline, with headquarters moving from the “work from home strongly encouraged” third phase to the “soft open” fourth phase of the plan.

On the sixth phase, when COVID-19 is less of a burden, most work sites will drop pandemic-specific requirements and prevention measures and nearly all campus services will return, DelBene said.

The measures include social distancing of workspaces, face coverings, extensive cleaning procedures, daily health attestations and more. Microsoft has provided employees and external staff with disinfectant wipes and face coverings while on site. The company has also limited conference room and transportation services capacity, added hand sanitizer dispensers throughout its buildings and posted signs in common areas and cafeterias to encourage social distancing.

“Thousands” of employees have already returned to a Microsoft work site “in some capacity,” DelBene said. According to a Microsoft survey, 54 percent of employees spend less than a quarter of their time at a work site, and 69 percent spend half their time or less on site.

Ultimately, Microsoft’s goal is “is to give employees further flexibility, allowing people to work where they feel most productive and comfortable, while also encouraging employees to work from home as the virus and related variants remain concerning,” DelBene said.

The tech giant will not go fully remote permanently any time soon. DelBene said Microsoft wants physical offices worldwide for innovation labs, sales centers and customer and partner interactions.

Microsoft is testing meeting spaces at its Redmond and U.K. campuses with multiple screens, cameras and mixed-reality elements to allow for teams with some workers on site and others remote. “It’s still early days, but we’ve explored solutions that range from simply reconfiguring existing technologies to designing exciting new Microsoft Teams innovations for hybrid work,” DelBene said.

The company expects a new standard after COVID-19 of some employees working less than half the time from home, if their managers and teams agree.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s investments in its collaboration tools and cloud infrastructure to embrace the trend of hybrid work include Teams’ “Together Mode” and Teams Rooms devices.

Various tech vendors have wrestled with allowing employees to return to the office despite the ongoing burden of COVID-19, with most choosing to extend work-from-home policies. In February, Salesforce announced a new policy to allow most of its employees to work part- or full-time at home on a permanent basis.

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