Sars Cov-2
Sars Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. | Source: NIAID-RML

Microsoft, like all other companies, reacted to the COVID-19 outbreak in March by allowing employees to work from home. As the crisis around the virus escalated, the company extended its work-from-home measures through the summer. Now, Microsoft says its work-from-home policy will likely remain until the end of the year.

While there are signs of improvement around COVID-19 in some regions of the U.S., others are experiencing second waves. It’s looking increasingly likely the virus won’t just disappear. Microsoft’s initial plan of having workers back in the office by October has been scrapped.

Now, the company says its work at home policy is in place until at least 19 January 2021. Considering the ongoing problems with COVID-19, it is likely even this date may be too optimistic.

Microsoft is implementing a 6-phase plan for workers to return to the office. However, this will only happen when the restrictions around the pandemic have eased. Below is the plan in full:

Stage 1: closed
Stage 2: mandatory working from home
Stage 3: working from home strongly encouraged
Stage 4: soft opening
Stage 5: open with restrictions
Stage 6: open

Getting It Right

Microsoft has been operating on Stage 2, allowing employees to complete their work from home without a choice of coming into the office. This phase will remain in place for the remainder of the year. It’s worth pointing out Microsoft says reaching Stage 6 on 19 January is the best case scenario.

“In the United States, we have established that the earliest possible date for Stage 6 is now January 19, 2021,” says Kurt DelBene, Microsoft’s head of corporate strategy. “Our goal for Stage 6 is to return to normal operations while being prepared to back off to an earlier stage, if a significant resurgence in the virus occurs.”

Microsoft’s position comes despite CEO Satya Nadella saying he ultimately prefers employees in the office. While Nadella was not dismissing the need for work at home policies, he says he does not envision working form home to become a long-term trend beyond COVID-19.

“What does burnout look like? What does mental health look like? What does that connectivity and the community building look like?” Nadella said. “One of the things I feel is, hey, maybe we are burning some of the social capital we built up in this phase where we are all working remote. What’s the measure for that?”