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Amazon, Microsoft delay office reopening over COVID resurgence

A resurgence in COVID-19 infections has forced more big-tech firms to defer reopening their offices. Amazon and Microsoft are the latest to join the ranks.

Amazon and Microsoft have joined Google and other tech firms in delaying the opening of offices amid a COVID-19 surge fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant.

Amazon and Microsoft said this week they would push back the reopening of offices to January and October, respectively. Microsoft went a step further by planning to allow only vaccinated employees to return. Amazon has not said whether it will require vaccinations.

Last week, Google announced its retreat to October and said it would require vaccinations for all returning employees. The three tech giants had planned to welcome employees back in September.

"Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead," Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in a blog post.

Meanwhile, this week, video conferencing company Zoom said it will not open offices until masks and social distancing are no longer necessary. Twitter, which had started reopening offices in July, shuttered them without saying when employees could return.

An upswing in coronavirus cases is responsible for the growing list of tech companies changing their reopening plans. The CDC reported 92,282 new cases of COVID-19 Aug. 4, up from 12,836 on July 4. Because of the easily transmissible Delta variant, the CDC has recommended even vaccinated people wear masks indoors in certain circumstances.

The pandemic resurgence adds more uncertainty as companies alter their work environments to support employees splitting their work weeks between the office and home. A 451 Research study of 500 respondents found that 75% of the businesses whose operations had significantly changed because of the pandemic said they would be much more reliant on remote work in the future. About 69% of respondents said they believe they will depend more on technology for collaboration.

"This is a once-in-a-hundred-year event, and people are going to see massive, major changes in how they go about their day-to-day lives," said Willem Bagchus, a messaging and collaborations specialist at United Bank. "For the first time in my lifetime, an event happened that was so significant that it caused people to reconsider things they considered basics or givens."

But companies have yet to set standards for hybrid work. A recent PwC survey of 133 executives and 1,200 office workers revealed a disconnect between employees and management. Fifty-five percent of workers said they preferred to be remote at least three days a week. However, 68% of executives believed employees should be in the office that amount of time.

There's no consensus in the tech world on that issue, either. Google and Microsoft have said they want employees in the office for at least half of the week. However, Cisco said last week it would have no requirement for how many days its employees are in the office once COVID-19 recedes.

"We are going to leave it up to teams to determine how they'll work best in this new hybrid world," Francine Katsoudas, executive vice president and chief people officer at Cisco, said in a blog post.

Forrester Research analyst Andrew Hewitt said other large companies competing with tech firms for workers would watch how Cisco and Microsoft approach hybrid work.

"They need to build some flexibility into hybrid work and embrace some of the benefits of tech companies if they want to remain competitive in the talent market," he said.

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily NewsWalpole TimesSharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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