By Jon Swartz
It’s back to the office for some tech employees this month.
Apple Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL +3.32% and Juniper Networks Inc. /zigman2/quotes/207361368/composite JNPR -0.35% , for example, are allowing small pools of employees to return in what is expected to be a series of gradual phases, though companies are reluctant to talk. (Apple is reopening more stores, though the company temporarily closed some around the country in the wake of widespread protests and looting.) Google parent Alphabet Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL +1.80% /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG +1.78% , meanwhile, is giving pockets of workers the option of using the office, beginning July 6, CEO Sundar Pichai said in a note to employees last week.
Select engineers and other workers began trickling back to Apple Park in Cupertino, Calif., in May, with the option of a nasal-swab test for COVID-19; requirements to wear masks and take temperature checks; limited weekly schedules onsite; and closed kitchens, according to a report by Bloomberg on Friday.
Juniper is taking a measured approach. “As of June 1, we have moved to the next phase of occupancy in our offices in California and Massachusetts (and many other locations around the world) by allowing up to 20% of workers to voluntarily return for short-term tasks or those tasks that cannot be carried out effectively from home,” Brad Minnis, vice president of environmental health & safety at Juniper, said in a statement to MarketWatch. “We have implemented significant safety arrangements to prevent exposure to COVID-19 in our offices and are practicing strict physical distancing in compliance with local regulations, CDC, OSHA and our own guidelines.”
The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based provider of critical internet infrastructure equipment has maintained about 5% of its staff onsite to support customers, as well as maintain IT and other critical systems and applications, he added.
“Our process is incredibly gradual,” Appian Corp. /zigman2/quotes/203658597/composite APPN +4.69% CEO Matt Calkins told MarketWatch in a phone interview Monday. His McLean, Va.-based business-software company is easing back 10% of its 1,000 employees to offices worldwide, including Virginia in mid-June. “The return is small so we can learn about restrictions, like bottlenecks on elevators, and keeping people safe.” Company software is being used to ensure employees are properly spaced at work.
See also: Google plans to begin reopening of some offices on July 6
Slowly, Americans are migrating back to a very different world — offices designed to accommodate social distancing, staggered schedules, temperature checks, daily deep cleanings, contact tracing and potential testing.
On Monday, Santa Clara County (Calif.) announced the reopening of manufacturing operations in the heart of Silicon Valley, a key economic engine of the region. Manufacturing accounted for 172,400 jobs in Santa Clara County as of April, or more than 15% of all civilian jobs.
Last week, MGM Resorts International /zigman2/quotes/209932643/composite MGM -1.72% and Wynn Resorts Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/208845907/composite WYNN -2.82% said they are reopening their Las Vegas properties on June 4. Disney’s /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS +1.00% Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., is expected to open in mid-July. Some NBA players are expected to go back to their teams as early as this week as the league preps for a return to the hardwood on July 31. Some Lucasfilm Ltd. employees trickled back to work Monday. Assembly workers at Tesla Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203558040/composite TSLA +13.12% are already back at its Fremont, Calif., facility.
Overstock.com Inc. /zigman2/quotes/200022359/composite OSTK -3.34% may allow a “very limited stage of reentry” at its Salt Lake City headquarters as soon as June 15. “This first stage would only be for those that feel it necessary to return to work due to difficulties working from home and who have received approval to do so,” Overstock CEO Jonathan Johnson told MarketWatch in an email.
See also: Elon Musk vs. Bay Area officials: These emails show what happened behind the scenes in the Tesla factory fight
Their return comes at a time when most tech employers are in no hurry to uproot their work-from-home workforces. Employees at Facebook Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB +1.47% , Alphabet /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL +1.80% /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG +1.78% , Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. /zigman2/quotes/201998588/composite HPE -0.20% , Visa Inc. /zigman2/quotes/204223983/delayed AT:VISA -1.00% , Discover Financial Services /zigman2/quotes/208747867/composite DFS -2.28% and others have the option of working at home through 2020. Twitter Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR +0.43% is making the move for all workers permanent.
Indeed, tech is the industry least likely to go back to the office. Data compiled by S&P Global Market Intelligence reveals that 45% of software and IT services employees are likely to continue to work from home, compared to just 31% for health-care workers and 28% in manufacturing jobs.
“This is sort of like a traffic jam. You slow down, and then gradually regain speed,” VMware Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209864107/composite VMW -0.11% Chief Operating Officer Sanjay Poonen told MarketWatch in a phone interview, highlighting the ambiguity many companies face as they comply with guidance from state and local health officials. The company plans to bring back essential workers to its Palo Alto, Calif., headquarter by the end of June.
Employees returning to the office face uncertainty, but many may choose to return after months of working at home with children or alone in a cramped apartment.