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Microsoft prepares for its staff to return to Washington sites

Remember to keep the Windows open. We're here all week

Microsoft is preparing to reopen its Washington state worksites at the end of this month.

The news came from chief marketing officer Chris Capossela, perhaps best known for the infamous Blue Screen On Stage incident of the late 1990s rather than the purple hue of Microsoft's final stage of workplace reopening.

In Microsoft's plan for office opening, stage 1 was fully closed, 2 required mandatory working from home, 3 "strongly encouraged" working from home, 4 was a soft open, 5 was "open with restrictions", and 6 is the final phase, with everything fully open to employees and guests.

A year ago, when Microsoft defined its six stages, it said: "In Stage 6, COVID-19 is no longer a significant burden on the local community and presents itself more like an endemic virus such as the seasonal flu."

The tech giants have all fiddled with return-to-work dates over the past 12 months as the various COVID-19 variants popped up. Google, for example, pushed back a planned 10 January 2022 return to campuses as 2021 drew to a close and the Omicron variant spread around the globe. CEO Sundar Pichai told workers in July that the company also expected them to be vaccinated before entering the hallowed halls of the Chocolate Factory.

High vaccination rates have also been a factor in Microsoft's decision. Citing the 83.8 per cent of King County residents that have completed their vaccination series (along with declining hospitalisations and deaths in the state), Capossela set 28 February as the date. "From this date," he said, "employees will have 30 days to make adjustments to their routines and adopt the working preferences they've agreed upon with their managers."

Microsoft is not alone in its reopening plans. Meta (*cough* Facebook *cough*) has mandated COVID-19 booster shots for employees returning to the office and set 28 March as a full reopening date (although staffers can opt for remote work). Apple also tweaked its plans as 2021 ground on.

The Windows giant is also planning to open its Bay Area sites in California "and we anticipate many of our other US locations will follow suit as conditions allow."

The Register asked the company what this meant for its UK and EMEA locations and, while it has yet to respond, it has historically followed local guidance.

However, as the last few years have demonstrated, it might not be all plain sailing ahead, and the company warned: "We're maintaining a close watch on local health data in every area where Microsoft has a physical presence, and we'll adjust our course if necessary." ®


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