With California set to end its color-tiered reopening system on June 15 as COVID-19 infections decrease and vaccination supplies increase, some of Silicon Valley's largest tech companies are slowly reopening their campuses.
Google started welcoming back employees to some of its U.S. campuses on a voluntary basis since April, a company spokesperson wrote in an email to this news organization, though a decision has not yet been made on the reopening timeframe for its Bay Area offices. Facebook plans to reopen its Menlo Park headquarters at 10% capacity starting on May 10.
SAP, which has a Palo Alto location, opened its offices this week at less than 5% daily capacity for "employees who choose to return to the office for business critical needs," a spokesperson said. Intuit also recently announced its plans to cautiously reopen.
"We intend to be deliberate and data-driven in our approach. ... We don't know all the answers yet," the Mountain View financial software company announced in a blog post on April 20.
Tech companies were among the first to ask employees to work from home during the COVID-19 outbreak, and now their reopening plans could provide a glimpse as to what office life might look like post-pandemic.
Most local tech companies that have announced reopening plans are welcoming employees back to the office on a voluntary basis for the remainder of 2021, and many indicated that they are looking to adopt a hybrid work model that will maintain some aspects of remote work indefinitely after the health crisis.
Google said its employees will not be required to return to the office until September, and when they do come back, the company plans to pilot a "flexible hybrid work week model," where teams can work in the office some days and work from home on others, according to the spokesperson.
The work week entails at least three days in the office, according to a New York Times report that cited an email from Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google's parent company, Alphabet, to staff. Capacity of Google offices will be dependent on various factors including vaccine availability and lower COVID-19 cases, a spokesperson said.
Similarly, HP expects to implement a hybrid model, "where the role of the office evolves to focus more on collaboration," a spokesperson wrote in an email.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said last September in an interview during The Atlantic Festival that there were "some things that actually work really well virtually" and the company would not "return to the way we were," though he didn't provide specific details.
VMware will be offering employees the choice to permanently work from home as part of the company's digital-first approach, a company spokesperson wrote in an email to this news organization. Under the program, the company will allow employees to work "from any location that accelerates their productivity and advances their personal and professional goals during and after the pandemic," the spokesperson said.
Currently, VMware prohibits meetings and events of more than 10 people at the office — a policy that will remain in effect until at least July 30. Few employees are currently working at the office, according to the company.
In a companywide survey, Intuit found that 80% of its employees prefer a "hybrid workplace model," while only 14% of employees preferred completely remote work. As a result, the company will be implementing a hybrid work model that requires employees to work on-site only two to three days a week, according to a company blog post. Intuit announced that it plans to reopen at 40% capacity on a voluntary basis, but did not provide a reopening date.
Many companies have indicated that they are not implementing vaccine mandates at this time.
"Google is not requiring vaccinations for employees to return to the office, but we are strongly encouraging it," according to the spokesperson.
Amazon, which has a 200,000-square-foot-office on University Avenue in East Palo Alto, announced in a company blog that it will continue to allow employees to work from home through June 30 and will not require vaccines for employees or contractors. VMware and Facebook also have indicated that they will not require employees to be vaccinated before returning to the office.
And when employees do return to their tech campuses, they can expect the office arrangement to be different.
At VMware, the workspaces will be redesigned with "reservable, unassigned seating" for employees who will work from home and at the office, according to a company spokesperson. Google is adopting a similar approach with reservable desks for employees and outdoor spaces for larger gatherings.
Even as companies prepare to reopen, they all have signaled that their future plans remain flexible.
"We continue to closely follow the science and the vast majority of our Bay Area employees continue to work remotely," an HP spokesperson said in an email. "When we believe conditions allow, employees will have the option to return by following safety protocols that adhere to government and public health standards. We are taking a very methodical approach to mitigate risk and keep people safe."
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.