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Microsoft paying vendors full wages during coronavirus regardless of need

Microsoft campus. (Photo by Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

King County Public Health is recommending that workplaces enact measures to allow employees to work from home if possible, to reduce the chances of coronavirus contact and minimize illness. Microsoft President Brad Smith joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss how one of the region’s largest employers is handling this.

“We have 4,500 people who work in our buildings across Puget Sound. They’re hourly workers, and they typically work for vendors. They’re the people who serve the food in our cafes. They check people in at the reception desk, they drive shuttles,” Smith said.

“As we told our employees to work from home if they can, obviously we don’t need as many of those people on campus. But we also appreciate that these are some of the people who can least afford the drop in income, so we’ve said that whether they’re needed or not, whether they work or not, we will provide their regular pay for as long as we’re working in this reduced on-site way.”

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Smith said they’ve had two employee cases now in the Puget Sound, one on their campus and another with a LinkedIn employee who works remotely. They decided to take these steps under the guidance of the King County health authorities, and have seen a significant reduction in employees on-site at their campuses, though they don’t have exact numbers.

“We are trying to estimate this as best we can, and our best tool is to measure the number of the people who show up in the cafes at lunch. What we would have said yesterday is we were down to about 20 percent of our people being on campus; most days we’re about 80 percent.”

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Part of the issue is making an effort to try and minimize the economic impact for the company, which means not necessarily doing less work, but changing how the company operates.

“It’s not about do trying to do less, we’re trying to just work differently, … we’ve to get work done or we are going to see a real economic slowdown,” he said. “We’ve been managing since January our supply chain, whether it’s an Xbox or a Surface, these are manufactured in China. We have to worry about our ability to conclude new sales deals with customers.”

“We have to think about all of the critical technology services we provide to the world today out of our data centers in the United States and around the world. If you turn off digital technology, the world sort of stops moving, at least the way we’re accustomed to it.”

Does he feel that Microsoft and maybe others have become too dependent on relationships with China, which can be jeopardized when something like this happens?

“We live in a world where we all, to some really important degree, depend on each other. It always raises questions about the diversity of our supply chains and that type of thing,” Smith said. “But the reality is that it started in China. It seems likely that ultimately it will touch every country.”

“For this particular question, it’s more about how do you navigate something like this when it comes up? How do you prioritize the health of your people? How do you take care of your hourly workers? How do you ensure that people can still work together and stay connected and supportive of each other?”

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