Hot on the heels of the likes of Apple, Google, and Amazon pushing back their US office return first from September to October and then to 2022, Microsoft has announced it will also delay its return to office plans because of the surge in COVID-19 cases in the US.
However, unlike Google and Amazon, but along the same vein as Apple, Microsoft has decided to not attach a new date to the reopening yet.
According to the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the US has been reporting around 140,000 new cases a day over the past week or so – and the situation is pretty bad in Seattle, where Microsoft is headquartered.
In a blog post, Microsoft corporate vice-president for modern work Jared Spataro wrote that “the evolving Delta variant is compelling many of us to adjust plans for reopening worksites. It’s a stark reminder that this is the new normal. Our ability to come together will ebb and flow.”
Spataro added: “We had planned for Oct. 4 to be the first possible date to fully reopen Microsoft’s own Redmond headquarters, and many other worksites in the US. But as we shared with our employees today, we’ve shifted those plans.
“Given the uncertainty of COVID-19, we’ve decided against attempting to forecast a new date for a full reopening of our US work sites in favor of opening US work sites as soon as we’re able to do so safely based on public health guidance.”
Once Microsoft decides on the new re-opening date, “we’ll communicate a 30-day transition period that provides time for employees to prepare while allowing us to continue to be agile and flexible as we look to the data and make choices to protect employee health, safety and well-being,” according to Spataro.
In light of its decision to continue to ask employees to work remotely, Microsoft has also announced new updates to Its Microsoft Teams product. Video conferencing tools like Teams and Zoom have enabled many organizations’ employees to successfully working from home over the past 18 months.
Microsoft is going to roll out a new wave of Teams’ Rooms, which include AI-enabled cameras to help better detect who is speaking and then zoom in on them.
In addition, the tech giant has launched new hybrid meeting features to support those users who are returning to their offices. This includes ‘speaker coach’ where Teams relies on AI to share guidance to presenters on their presentation style (such as pace), as well as reminds them to check in with the audience from time to time.