Microsoft is giving Seattle area employees the opportunity to return to their offices; ripple effects could spread to other employers | Business

SEATTLE – For the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic more than a year ago, Microsoft is allowing its Seattle-area staff to return to the office.

Microsoft’s approximately 57,000 employees in Redmond, Bellevue and Seattle will have the option to return to the office on March 29, the company said Monday in a blog post written by Microsoft executive vice president Kurt DelBene.

“We have been closely monitoring local health data for months and have determined that the campus can safely accommodate more employees on-site while remaining aligned with Washington state capacity limits,” said DelBene in the blog post. Washington eased coronavirus restrictions on Monday, allowing indoor spaces to increase capacity by 25% to 50%.

Microsoft is the first major local employer to announce a general return to the office. The Redmond tech giant has been allowing a limited number of employees to work from the office for months.

When the first cases of coronavirus were discovered in the United States a year ago this month, Microsoft was one of the first companies to fire workers home, an announcement that precipitated remote work policies similar from other local businesses.

Microsoft’s decision to allow employees to return to the office could have a similar ripple effect, said Joe Fain, director of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, signaling to other employers that it is prudent to start bringing workers back. people in the office.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Fain said. But “companies have learned a lot over the past year” about how to keep their employees safe on the job, he said.

Redmond employees are still encouraged to work remotely, DelBene said, and the company has capped the number of people allowed in shared spaces at any time. Microsoft hopes to stay well within Washington’s capacity limits, according to a Microsoft spokesperson, but the company will monitor entry badge data and prioritize critical workers if capacity becomes an issue.

Starting next week, Microsoft employees will have the option to work from home, office, or a combination of the two, DelBene said in his blog post, titled “The Philosophy and Practice of Our Hybrid Workplace.” . Data from the company’s other offices around the world, many of which have already reopened in limited capacity, indicates that most employees still choose to spend less than 25% of their working time in the office.

Microsoft has linked the announcement of its return to the workplace with the release of a report showing that for many, the end of full remote working cannot come soon enough.

The report, which surveyed more than 30,000 office workers in 31 countries and analyzed “billions of productivity and workforce signals in Microsoft 365 and LinkedIn,” found that 65% feel like spending time face-to-face with their teams. Remote workers also reported being overworked and exhausted – though managers said their teams were more productive than ever.

However, the Microsoft report indicates that 70% of workers want the ability to work remotely, a future Microsoft is not alone in dubbing a “hybrid workplace”.

Microsoft and other large local tech employers say they don’t expect a wider return to the office until this summer, once the majority of employees are more likely to have been vaccinated. Even so, many will continue to give employees more flexibility in working from home.

Microsoft’s blog post did not say whether it will require workers returning to the office to be vaccinated, and a spokesperson did not immediately respond to the question.

Facebook, which employs around 5,000 people in the Seattle area, will reopen its local offices at 10% capacity next month for employees who struggle to work effectively from home, spokesperson Tracy Clayton confirmed on Monday. Amazon is also allowing its 60,000 employees at the Seattle-area headquarters to return to the office on a case-by-case basis. Both companies are planning a fuller return to the office in early July.

Google, which employs nearly 6,000 workers in the Seattle area, will allow employees to work remotely until September. Meanwhile, Seattle-based real estate technology company Zillow announced last summer that it would give its roughly 5,400 employees nationwide the ability to work remotely for good.

At Microsoft, workers have already started returning to the office, said senior software engineer Bob Goodwin, who has been back on campus for “some time” because a health issue prevented him from working. remotely.

As more and more people get vaccinated, Goodwin said, Microsoft’s parking lots get fuller and he’s more likely to see coworkers walking around his floor. But the biggest change has been in people’s much more relaxed attitude to sharing the same space: “Two or three weeks ago, people would have waited patiently to avoid getting into the same elevator,” he said. -he declares. “Now people ride two at a time.”

Yet Microsoft’s own research suggests that many of its workers are probably unwilling to forgo some of the benefits of remote working altogether.

Laurie Kriesel-Roth, a program manager in Microsoft’s research division, said she spends up to three hours a day commuting between Redmond and her home in Rainier Beach.

“My original plan was not to go back at all,” she said. She and his wife, Christa Kriesel-Roth, turned their guest room into a home office ?? a gesture that Christa, an artist, said, made her feel more easily “not having to go to work with Laurie every day” ?? and Laurie has established routines to stay in touch with her team at work. Laurie’s coworkers walk in and out of an always-open video chat room called “hallway chats,” for example, to make up for some of the informal office chatter that many workers report missing in remote work.

Ultimately, however, Laurie says, she’ll likely be back in the office a day or two a week.

“There’s FOMO, you know, the fear of missing out,” she says. “People get together and go out for lunch. Birthday cakes. I think I’ll be okay to come in if necessary.

The reopening of the Redmond campus will certainly be a boon to many surrounding businesses that have suffered a pandemic in the past year.

At the Piroshky restaurant in the food court of the Crossroads Bellevue mall, “at least 60% of our business came from the Microsoft campus,” said Amadeus Oreshkin, whose family owns the pie stand. “There are at least 200 faces of regulars that we haven’t seen in the past year.”

Oreshkin said his family opened Piroshky at Crossroads largely to serve the needs of Microsoft employees and their families. The restaurant was closed for three months after the start of the pandemic. His first week back in business, they only sold $ 70 worth of food.

Business has picked up recently, Oreshkin said, and Piroshky is now making about $ 1,000 a week. But getting business from Microsoft employees “will definitely be important to this mall,” he said.

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