Microsoft has asked its staff in the Seattle region near its headquarters and the San Francisco Bay Area to work from home for most of this month.

The move comes in response to cases of the coronavirus near its Seattle headquarters and in California.

The outbreak is triggering other responses from the tech industry. Facebook this week announced it will provide free online adverts to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to battle the coronavirus outbreak.

Coronavirus. Image may be subject to copyright

Working from home

Microsoft’s decision to ask its staff in those regions to work from home is mirrored at a growing number of US companies.

Redmond has asked its staff to work from home, if possible, until 25 March.

“Consistent with King County guidance (where the Redmond area campuses are located), we are recommending all employees who are in a job that can be done from home should do so through March 25,” executive vice president Kurt DelBene told Redmond staffers in a blog post.

“Taking these measures will ensure your safety and also make the workplace safer for those that need to be onsite,” DelBene wrote. “Please let your manager know that you will be working from home, so all our teams remain well coordinated.

“If in your role it is essential to be in the office or other work environments (e.g., data center, retail, etc.), plan to continue to go to your location,” he added. “We will continue to implement the CDC guidelines for cleaning and sanitizing the locations. If you are not sure whether you are in a role that requires you to be onsite, you should speak to your manager.”

But some staff are subject to exceptions, if they are over 60; if they have an underlying health condition (heart disease, diabetes, etc.); if their immune system is compromised; or if they are pregnant.

Microsoft’s DelBene also recommended that Redmond staff limit their interactions with other people in office settings.

“If you will be in the office or other work environments, we recommend limiting prolonged close interactions with people,” he wrote.

And he stressed that if anyone is sick, they must not come into work, and he recommended that people postpone travel to Puget Sound or Bay Area campuses “unless essential for the continuity of Microsoft.”

Tech impact

Microsoft also said employees should cancel non-essential travel to areas with active coronavirus cases – which includes much of Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Earlier this week Amazon told its staff to defer non-essential travel due to the coronavirus outbreak, including travel within the US.

World shares last week registered their biggest weekly drop since the 2008 financial crisis, erasing $5 trillion (£4tn) from shares worldwide, due to the disruption of supply chains, the cancellation of major events, and a reduction in business travel.

Significant tech events including Mobile World Congress and Facebook’s F8 developer conference have been cancelled due to the virus.

As of Thursday morning, the WHO said more than 96,203 people have been infected worldwide, with more than 3,303 deaths (mostly in China, but some in other countries as well).

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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