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Microsoft expands work from home options, giving some option to do so permanently

The software giant will give workers the option to do their jobs from home for half their work hours, or seek manager approval to work remotely full time.

The visitor center on the Redmond, Wash., campus of Microsoft, which is moving to make it easier for its employees to work from home permanently. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
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SEATTLE — Microsoft was among the first corporate giants to send workers home at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, it’s taking steps to let many of those employees work remotely permanently.

The company’s head of human resources, Kathleen Hogan, sent guidelines to managers Sunday, laying out new instructions to let employees do their jobs from home for half their work hours. And the new guidelines lay out considerations for managers for employees who want to work remotely more than half the time.

It is now the expectation at Microsoft that workers will be remote for up to half of their hours.

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As the coronavirus first spread in the United States up the West Coast, Microsoft moved in March largely to shut down its offices and require most of its staff to work from home. In May, it extended the work-from-home mandate to October, though it allowed some of its 163,000 workers around the globe to voluntarily return to their offices in stages.

At the time, Microsoft president Brad Smith said in an interview the company expects to bring back employees “more slowly rather than more quickly because, economically, we can serve the economy with more remote work than people in many industries can.”

And in July, the company said it wouldn’t fully reopen its offices until January 2021 at the earliest.

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The move to make work from home permanent isn’t without precedent. In May, Twitter told its workers whose jobs didn’t require them to be on site that they could continue working remotely forever. A month later, Slack offered its workers a similar option.

The new Microsoft guidelines, first reported by the Verge, won’t apply to employees whose jobs require them to be on site. The company didn’t disclose how many workers it expected to adopt the new rules.

Hogan told managers that the company has created a step-by-step guide to help those who might want to take advantage of the new hybrid model in different scenarios, including a request of a work location change or flexibility in when they work. It includes guidance on things like office space, salaries and local laws.

The company now expects most workers to work from home less than half of the time. Clear expectations from managers and agreed upon team meeting times can help with that flexibility.

Anything more than half time requires a manager to approve the request. And a request to change locations will be met with accommodation where possible, although continuing to build Microsoft’s culture and its business needs are also important.