The Technology 202: Here’s how Silicon Valley is planning its return to the office16 April, 2021 / Articles
Silicon Valley companies were among the first in the country to send workers home at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Now as millions of Americans become vaccinated, some of the top tech companies are sharing their plans to head back to the office.
The plans of some of the large employers could have far-reaching consequences beyond the tech industry, and also influence the return to work initiatives of smaller companies.
After all, tech giants have already experienced reopening offices and launching hybrid workspaces in other countries, where the rate of coronavirus infections was never as high as in the United States. Salesforce, Microsoft and others have reopened dozens of offices and work sites around the world, gleaning insights that will shape the future of U.S. workplaces.
The plans also signal that the very companies powering the remote work revolution expect their employees will return to physical offices, likely in a hybrid work model where they split time between home and the office.
Earlier this year, Microsoft released a study on the future of work, where it concluded employees want the best of both worlds. More than 70 percent of workers want flexible remote work options to continue, while more than 65 percent want more in-person time with their teams. The company said 66 percent of business decision makers are considering redesigning physical spaces to better accommodate hybrid plans.
The company announced it plans to reopen its San Francisco headquarters on May 1, and then its Palo Alto and Irvine, Calif., offices. Salesforce says it will begin with groups of vaccinated volunteers, who will return in groups of 100 or fewer. It will test these employees for coronavirus infections at least twice a week.
Based on local health guidance and the number of coronavirus cases, the company will then increase capacity incrementally. Salesforce employees will have the option of working from home until the end of the year.
Salesforce said in a blog post that office reopenings in other countries are revealing key insights applicable at home:
In the company’s Sydney office, Thursday is the most popular day to come to the office. People tend to work remotely in the beginning of the week, and only about 50 percent of the office collaboration spaces are used. But by Wednesday and Thursday, that jumps to about 80 percent capacity.
Employees are going to the office primarily to collaborate with each other. In the Sydney office, 64 percent of collaboration spaces like lounges and conference rooms were utilized; whereas only 24 percent of desk space was used.
Microsoft began bringing more workers back to its Redmond, Wash., office in late March, and it’s continuing to increase capacity based on local coronavirus cases. It too is planning for a hybrid work future. The tech giant created a dial that signifying how many people can be working on site at its offices, which it plans to move up and down based on coronavirus cases and other local regulations.
“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,” the company said in a blog post.
Google is accelerating some plans to bring back workers ahead of a Sept. 1 return to the office deadline, as CNBC has reported. The company is advising employees to get vaccinated, but is not making shots mandatory.
The company is preparing for a broad reopening in September, when employees will be expected to return to work about three days a week, in a departure from other tech companies where employees can work remotely until the end of the year or indefinitely.
The company said it would consider upgrading its office services, exploring ways to offer perks like food and other amenities when possible.
Facebook is targeting a return date of May 10 for its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters, with ten percent capacity. It will reopen offices in in Fremont and Sunnyvale later in May, and its San Francisco office in June.
Facebook plans to allow some employees to work from anywhere after the pandemic, but those workers could face a pay cut. CEO Mark Zuckerberg predicted last year the company could have 50 percent of its 45,000-person workforce toiling remotely in the next five to 10 years, as my colleagues reported.
“Suppose that the punishment when you have successfully robbed a bank is that your bank robbery tools are confiscated and there is a public notice in a newspaper that says, ‘We caught this person robbing a bank. They shouldn’t do that,’” said Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook data scientist who was fired in September 2020. “That’s essentially what’s going on at Facebook. And so what’s happened is that multiple national presidents have made the decision that this risk is enough for them to engage in it.”
“We fundamentally disagree with Ms. Zhang’s characterization of our priorities and efforts to root out abuse on our platform,” Facebook spokeswoman Liz Bourgeois said, later noting “combating coordinated inauthentic behavior is our priority.” The company did not dispute factual claims Zhang made about her time at Facebook.
Biden used the meeting to make the case that semiconductors should be treated as infrastructure, the Wall Street Journal’s Alex Leary reports. The Biden administration’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan includes $50 billion for U.S. chip production, with the White House convening industry executives as the U.S. government grapples with a global semiconductor shortage caused by an unprecedented surge in demand.
The Semiconductor Industry Association quickly praised the meeting, with President and CEO John Neuffer commending the Biden administration for funding semiconductor initiatives in its infrastructure package.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the meeting with chip executives wasn’t one “where we expect a decision or an announcement to come out,” but was more of a listening session to hear about the impacts of the shortage and what would help most.
The deal is worth $16 billion and is Microsoft’s second-largest deal since 2016, the Associated Press’s Matt O’Brien and Michelle Chapman report. It represents a push by Microsoft to dominate the health-care industry, where Nuance’s technology automatically writes up conversations between doctors and patients. It also played a “fundamental” role in Apple’s Siri voice assistant, the company’s then-CEO, Paul Ricci, said in 2013.
“AI is technology’s most important priority, and health care is its most urgent application,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said.
The deal needs to be approved by regulators and shareholders of Nuance, which had more than 7,000 employees as of September.