Microsoft is going to start bringing some of its Seattle-area employees back to the office next week, just over a year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a radical shift to remote work. The Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant revealed more plans Monday for its hybrid workplace model as well as learnings from an extensive study on the trends around such a work style.
Microsoft said in a blog post that work sites in 21 countries have been able to accommodate additional workers in the company’s facilities — representing around 20% of Microsoft’s employee population of 160,000. Microsoft Executive VP Kurt DelBene said that shift will also happen on March 29 in Redmond and other Puget Sound-area campuses, where Microsoft employees 57,000 people.
“Our goal 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.
Microsoft said it has determined that its HQ campus — virtually emptied by the pandemic — can safely accommodate more employees on-site while staying aligned to Washington state capacity limits. The state moved to Phase 3 of its COVID-19 “Roadmap to Recovery” on Monday.
“As we watch for progress against the virus in the region and continue to evaluate our guidance, employees who work at Redmond work sites or nearby campuses have the choice to return to those facilities or to continue working remotely, and also have the flexibility to do a mixture of both,” DelBene said.
That mixture, or hybrid workplace, was first mentioned back in October and the evolving plan now has a “Hybrid Workplace Dial” (above) tied to defined stages rather than timelines, allowing the company and its work sites to adjust to current health conditions and guidance.
Microsoft said it surveyed thousands of employees who have returned to work sites in some capacity, and flexibility between the office and home remains important. Data shows 54% of survey respondents who have chosen to return in Stage 4 are spending less than 25% of their time in an office, and 69% are spending 50% or less time on-site.
Those numbers are likely to shift, the company believes, in areas where vaccines ramp up and schools reopen.
Microsoft offered up more data and insights on Monday in its 2021 Work Trend Index, a research effort tied to better understanding hybrid work, which it calls “the next great disruption.”
The study of 30,000 people in 31 countries includes analysis of trillions of productivity and labor signals across Microsoft 365 and LinkedIn, as well as expert perspective on collaboration, social capital, and space design at work. Some of the observed trends include:
- Flexible work is here to stay: Over 70% of workers want flexible remote work options to continue, while over 65 percent are craving more in-person time with their teams.
- Leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wake-up call: 61% of leaders say they are “thriving” right now — 23 percentage points higher than those without decision-making authority.
- High productivity is masking an exhausted workforce: One in five respondents say their employer doesn’t care about their work-life balance, with 54% feeling overworked, and 39% feeling exhausted.
The study also revealed that the last year has been especially challenging for Gen Z and that shrinking networks are endangering innovation, with teams more siloed in a digital world.
Microsoft said that one of the bright sides of the shift to remote work has been the expanded talent marketplace. Remote job postings on LinkedIn increased more than five times during the pandemic, and 46% of remote workers surveyed are planning to move to a new location this year because they can now work remotely.
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In its prior hybrid work guidance, Microsoft said employees can move across country for remote work, but compensation and benefits will change and vary depending on the company’s own geopay scale.
Elsewhere in the Seattle area, Amazon, for example, has said corporate office employees could continue to do their jobs from home through June 30. Those plans could be re-evaluated based on case numbers or vaccine roll-out or other government guidance, the company previously said.
Facebook, which employs more than 5,000 people in the Seattle area, said recently that it will open offices in the region at 10% capacity to provide an alternative to workers struggling with remote work. Voluntary work from home is scheduled to continue globally until July 2.
Axios reported Monday that the vast majority of workers have still not returned to offices, as many employers and employees wait for safer conditions. Axios pointed at a study by Kastle Systems showing office occupancy at just 25% in 10 major U.S. cities.
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