Microsoft will open up its US headquarters to more employees by the end of the month as it embraces a hybrid workplace

Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington.
Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

  • Microsoft will open up its US headquarters to more employees beginning on March 29.
  • Employees will be able to return to the office some or all the time, or continue working remotely.
  • Microsoft is one of several major tech companies considering a hybrid schedule for employees.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Microsoft will open up its US headquarters to more employees by the end of this month, the company announced Monday.

Beginning March 29, Microsoft employees who typically work at the company’s Redmond, Washington, headquarters or nearby offices will have the option to return to those campuses some or all of the time. Employees will also be allowed to continue working remotely if they wish, Microsoft said in a blog post announcing the update.

“We’ve been closely monitoring local health data for months and have determined that the campus can safely accommodate more employees on-site while staying aligned to Washington state capacity limits,” Kurt DelBene, Microsoft’s head of corporate strategy, wrote.

Microsoft offices in 21 countries around the world have also added additional workers, with about 20% of its global workforce working at an office, according to the blog post.

“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 wrote.

Microsoft said in October that it would extend its work-from-home policy until July 6, 2021 “at the earliest.” The company also announced that month that its policy going forward will allow most employees to work remotely at least half of the time – employees who wish to work remotely full time or relocate may do so with manager approval.

According to a survey Microsoft conducted among those who have already returned to the office, it seems many employees currently prefer some sort of hybrid work schedule: About half of those who have gone back to the office are spending 25% of their time there, DelBene wrote in the blog post.

Read more: Internal documents show how Microsoft’s flexible work-from-home plan will work, including getting approval from a manager to work remotely over 50% of the time or relocate

Microsoft joins many major tech companies in planning for a hybrid workforce. Salesforce announced last month that it will provide employees three new ways to work going forward. Most employees will adopt a “flex” schedule where they’ll report to the office up to three days each week for tasks that are more challenging to do over video calls, like team collaboration, customer meetings, and presentations.

Andy Jassy, the current CEO of Amazon Web Services who will take over as Amazon’s chief executive in the third quarter of this year, told CNBC in December that he predicts most people will adopt a hybrid work model. Jassy said he expects the future of work to be “hot offices” where employees decide when to come in and then reserve a desk.

Google appears likely to take some sort of hybrid approach as well: CEO Sundar Pichai said previously that he doesn’t think “the future is just 100% remote.”

“We firmly believe that in-person, being together, having that sense of community, is super important for whenever you have to solve hard problems, you have to create something new,” he said.

Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, said last year that he believes most employees still want a desk at a physical office versus working from home on a permanent basis.

“In the Seattle region, where we have sent a lot of people home,” Nadella said, “we’re realizing people would rather have workspace at work once the COVID-19 crisis goes away.”

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‘Hybrid work’ is going to cleave America in yet another way

Woman in front of her computer
Who gets to work from home?

  • Two new studies detail work-from-home trends during the pandemic and employees’ expectations for 2022.
  • As many as 1 in 3 college-educated Americans expect to work partially from home post-COVID.
  • But those with less education won’t get to work remotely in nearly the same numbers.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Since COVID-19 first sent vast swaths of US office workers home last spring, one of the biggest questions has been whether they’ll get to keep doing their jobs remotely after the crisis recedes. Two new studies by economists suggest that many will, mostly through a hybrid arrangement in which employees divide their weeks between the office and home. 

The findings are some of the strongest indications yet that the country’s newfound embrace of remote work will outlast the pandemic. Potentially tens of millions of professionals could benefit. But the studies also show that the new work-from-home perks will be largely limited to the most privileged in the workforce.

In one of these papers, Alexander Bick at Arizona State University, Adam Blandin at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Karel Mertens at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas started tracking the prevalence of remote work in May. In December, they asked respondents an additional question in their survey: In 2022 and later, how many days do you expect to commute to work? 

Bick, Blandin, and Mertens found that a striking number of people – almost half of college-educated Americans – were preparing to keep working from home in some capacity after the pandemic. If those expectations bear out, that would mark a sea change from pre-pandemic times, as the chart below shows. 

But respondents also expected to work from home with less intensity in the future than they are right now. Throughout the crisis, more college-educated workers have been working a fully remote schedule than a hybrid one. In 2022 and beyond, it will likely be far more common to adopt a hybrid workweek: 32% said they expected to be partially remote and 14% said they’ll be remote full time, per the data on workers with a Bachelor’s degree that Bick and his co-authors provided to Insider. 

The findings echo the growing popularity of the hybrid model especially within tech circles, with Salesforce announcing earlier this month that most of its staff will soon adopt a partial work-from-home schedule. Spotify, Zillow, and VMware have pledged to create a hybrid option, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai has hinted at such a change, too. 

By having employees divide their weeks between the home and office, these businesses are hoping to get the best of both worlds. They want their staff to have the flexibility and productivity that they have enjoyed in their remote setups, but they also don’t want to sacrifice too many opportunities for the kind of collaboration that happens more easily in person. 

A less rosy future for workers with low pay 

But only a certain subset of workers will have access to such an option. That unequal future featured prominently in Bick’s survey, which showed that people who are highly educated, highly paid, and white expect to work from home in 2022 far more than their low-paid, less educated and Hispanic counterparts. A separate study by economists from Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago released in January showed similar disparities. 

That paper – written by Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, and Steven Davis – was also based on surveys of workers’ schedules throughout the pandemic, as well as their expectations for the future (their college-educated respondents had post-COVID expectations that were broadly in line with those in Bick’s survey, although with slightly fewer expecting to work from home). Barrero and his co-authors added an extra twist by asking respondents not only how often they expected to work remotely in the future but also how often they would prefer to. 

Making that distinction revealed interesting results. For example, people of all income levels said they would like to work from home for about half the week after the pandemic. But only the most highly paid workers said their employers’ plans came close to what they hoped. As the chart below shows, the less people earned, the greater the gap between what they wanted and what they would get. 


The pandemic’s work-from-home disparities

Those disparities have already played out in the pandemic. 

Consider the different trajectories for respondents in Bick’s study with varying levels of education. In the early months of the crisis, college-educated Americans switched to remote work en masse (see the navy bar on the far right of the chart below). And even as many businesses across the country reopened in the summer and fall, many of those workers stayed remote through the end of 2020 (see the purple bar on the far right). 

In comparison, people with less schooling didn’t see nearly as much of an increase in remote work last spring. And even those small gains were nearly wiped out by December, as shown in the almost non-existent purple bar on the far left. Similar patterns held for white respondents compared with their Hispanic counterparts.

These big disparities are new: Working from home wasn’t nearly as segregated by class or race before the pandemic. Remote workers did tend to be white, have higher incomes, and more schooling in February 2020, but only slightly so, according to the paper by Bick, Blandin, and Mertens. In other words, the pandemic served to cleave the have- and have-nots in the US labor market in yet another way. And both studies suggest that those disparities will become permanent ones. 

As vaccination accelerates across the US, Bick says he looks forward to seeing if his respondents’ expectations bear out in reality. He and his co-authors are expecting to keep surveying Americans through at least March. 

Andy Kiersz contributed reporting. 

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