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Microsoft says Washington employees can head back to the office. But a new study from the company suggests many won't want to.

Women and work: Staying in the workforce
Women and work: Staying in the workforce during the pandemic 05:32

Workers at tech giant Microsoft could head back to the office at the end of this month — if they want to. The Fortune 500 company, which employs more than 160,000 people around the world, acknowledged remote work is here to stay as it prepares for the soft reopen of its Redmond, Washington headquarters and nearby campuses.

Employees who work at the headquarters or nearby will have the choice to return to the facilities, continue to work remotely, or do a mix of both.

The announcement comes as Microsoft releases its Work Trend Index on Monday. The study, which examined how the last year has changed the nature of work, found 73% of workers surveyed want flexible remote work options to continue.

A year ago, the company instituted a mandatory work-from-home policy globally, except for essential on-site workers. As progress combatting the virus is being made, several of their work sites have reached a stage that meets or exceeds government requirements to accommodate more workers, while many other employees will continue to work remotely.

"Our goal is to give employees further flexibility, allowing people to work where they feel most productive and comfortable, while also encouraging employees to work from home as the virus and related variants remain concerning," Executive VP Kurt DelBene wrote in a blog post Monday.

With the March 29 reopening, employees will be able to both work from home and have the option to return to the office. More than 57,000 employees work in the Washington area. Before then, company policy allowed for essential employees to be onsite and other employees to access it if they needed, but there were no additional services or visitors allowed.

For the return, Microsoft developed a six-stage "dial" system to help evaluate on-site activity. Different campuses around the world may be in different stages of returning based on conditions in the region. Even when the company reaches the final stage where COVID-19 is no longer a danger and their offices are fully open, working from home part time will be part of Microsoft's standard for most roles. 

Microsoft's Work Trend Index also contained a warning: The world is on the verge of a workplace disruption and heading into what it calls a "new era," business leaders should not see hybrid work as business as usual. The report uncovered seven hybrid work trends including flexible work is here to stay, leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wake-up call, high productivity is masking an exhausted workforce and shrinking networks are endangering innovation.

"The choices you make today will impact your organization for years to come. It's a moment that requires clear vision and a growth mindset," says Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365. "These decisions will impact everything from how you shape culture, to how you attract and retain talent, to how you can better foster collaboration and innovation."

The Work Trend Index included 30,000 people in 31 countries and examined productivity and labor indicators across Microsoft 365 and LinkedIn. As the pandemic dramatically changed the way people work, employees around the world spent more than double the time in meetings and more than 40 billion more emails were delivered in the month of February of this year compared with last year.  

At the same time, 40% of the global workforce is considering leaving their employer this year and 46% are planning to move now that they can work remotely.

"During this pandemic we've observed a swift acceleration of certain pre-COVID trends. But perhaps one of the most exciting trends is this rise in remote work," said Karin Kimbrough, chief economist of LinkedIn. "As opportunity is democratized with remote work and talent movement, we'll see a spread of skills across the country and this is the time for business leaders to take the opportunity to access to different skills and talent not previously available to them." 

The study found job postings on LinkedIn increased more than five times during the pandemic.

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