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Microsoft indefinitely postpones return to U.S. offices as Covid cases surge

Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp., speaks during the Microsoft Developers Build Conference in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Monday, May 7, 2018. The Build conference, marking its second consecutive year in Seattle, is expected to put emphasis on the company’s cloud technologies and the artificial intelligence features within those services. Photographer: Grant Hindsley/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Grant Hindsley | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Microsoft said Thursday it will indefinitely delay the reopening of its headquarters in Redmond, Washington, and its other U.S. offices as the coronavirus continues to proliferate in the country. The software and hardware maker did not provide a new date to replace the Oct. 4 target it had announced in early August.

The decision, which will affect more than 103,000 Microsoft employees in the U.S., reflects the cautious approach large technology companies are taking to bringing employees back to facilities following a rise in hospitalizations and deaths tied to Covid.

In August, with cases of the virus’ delta variant mounting, Amazon said corporate workers in the U.S. and some other countries will start returning to offices in January 2022. Around that time Microsoft said it had pushed back its reopening plan from Sept. 7 to Oct. 4. Now Microsoft is being less specific.

“Given the uncertainty of Covid-19, we’ve decided against attempting to forecast a new date for a full reopening of our U.S. work sites in favor of opening U.S. work sites as soon as we’re able to do so safely based on public health guidance,” Jared Spataro, a Microsoft corporate vice president, wrote in a blog post.

Once the company is ready to welcome employees back, it will announce a monthlong transition period so workers can get ready, Spataro wrote.

Facebook and Google followed Amazon in saying they would allow workers to come back to U.S. offices in 2022, meaning that many employees will have worked remotely for almost two years.

Like Facebook and Google, Microsoft offers software that companies can rely on to hold virtual meetings. Microsoft wants to make sure its Teams communication app works well for people in remote settings, and on Thursday the company announced enhancements. Starting in early 2022, Teams will be able to tell meeting speakers when they’re interrupting colleagues, and a camera feed from a speaker during a Teams meeting will be visible alongside a presentation in PowerPoint.

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