Microsoft cancels October office return as it ponders "great reshuffle"

CEO Satya Nadella voices concerns over the complexity of the "hybrid work paradox"

Microsoft has cancelled its plans to bring employees back into the office indefinitely due to the increased spread of COVID-19 across the US.

The firm was set to welcome staff back on 4 October, but will now wait for new public health advice regarding the Delta variant before setting a new date.

The decision shows more caution compared to announcements from Apple and Google, which have both rescheduled returns for January 2022, with the latter having changed its return date three times due to the spread of the Delta variant.

This note of caution is also apparent in Microsoft's approach to hybrid work; unlike Salesforce, which has fully embraced hybrid and remote work, Microsoft is concerned about maintaining team building and corporate culture with a dispersed workforce. The new normal, according to Satya Nadella, will impact the company's ability to constantly come together because it will "ebb and flow".

"Our new data shows there is no one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid work, as employee expectations continue to change," Nadella said in a blog post. "The only way for organisations to solve this complexity is to embrace flexibility across their entire operating model, including the ways people work, the places they inhabit and how they approach business process."

Microsoft has seen a positive impact on employees over the course of the pandemic; the company's own figures state that 160,000 people worked from home and 25,000 new employees remotely on-boarded during 2020, but the share of people who reported feeling included at Microsoft was at an all-time high of 90%.

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But the tech giant doesn't see any guarantee that these positive trends will continue, and it expects more challenges around work-life balance and team connection. At LinkedIn, which Microsoft acquired in 2016, this hybrid work paradox is being referred to as "the great reshuffle".

"While we hope hybrid work will help us improve in these areas, finding the balance will be complex," Jared Spataro, Microsoft's corporate VP for modern work, wrote in a blog post. "Our ongoing research shows employees crave more in-person time with their team but wish to keep the flexibility of remote work. And every person is different - 58% of employees who plan to spend the most and least time in-office are doing it for the same reason: more focused work.

"And there are gaps to fill - managers plan to spend a higher share of their time in-office than non-managerial employees (45% vs 39%)," added Spataro. "Moreover, employees surveyed plan to go into the office more than managers expect. This complexity is what Satya [Nadella] calls the hybrid work paradox."

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