On March 6, Mountain View-based Google gave employees as its Bay Area offices the option to work from home as local counties report more cases of COVID-19. Voice file photo.
Google, Facebook, Amazon, SAP and Palantir Technologies. In droves, leading Silicon Valley-based tech companies weathering the brewing storm of the new coronavirus have given their employees the same message: work from home.
“It’s pretty bare here,” said Elizabeth Somerville, the Bay Area director of communications for SAP, which has offices in Palo Alto. “People are taking the encouragement pretty seriously.”
With 48 cases of the new coronavirus, including one death, in Santa Clara County as of Thursday morning, corporate giants with offices based in the Midpeninsula are observing the warning signs from public health officials and their peers by implementing work-from-home protocols. (Or what employees more commonly shorten to “WFH.”)
Tech giant Facebook — Menlo Park’s largest employer with nearly 15,000 workers — recommended a large portion of its workforce begin working from home as of March 6.
Google, SAP, Palantir, Amazon, VMware and Varian Medical Systems, all of which have offices on the Midpeninsula, have confirmed over the past week that they have encouraged, though not mandated, employees to work from home. Workers are continuing to receive their regular compensation.
“We’re monitoring the situation very closely,” said Mark Plungy, Varian’s public relations director. “If somebody is uncomfortable, then they have the option to work from home. If they have somebody they need to take care of, they can also work from home.”
Employees’ nonessential business travel has also been limited.
“We’re restricting travel in areas where there’s an outbreak,” Plungy said of the Palo Alto-based company. “If they did travel, whether it’s personal or business, we’re encouraging (them) to self quarantine.”
Cloud computing software company VMware had to take more drastic measures when an employee at the Creekside F building of its Palo Alto campus at Stanford Research Park notified the company last week that their spouse came into contact with someone with the COVID-19 virus.
“The employee is now in self-isolation for 14 days,” a VMware spokesperson said via email. “Out of an abundance of caution, we began an immediate deep clean and disinfection of Creekside F. As such, we temporarily closed that office.”
The building reopened Monday morning after a four-day closure, but the company has since recommended employees to work from home.
However, that option doesn’t always apply to workers across the board. Upkeep and other essential services have kept some employees at the office out of necessity.
“We’ve increased some of our janitorial services to make sure we’re following CDC guidelines in keeping our office clean and sanitized,” Somerville said, adding that food services have been cut back and hourly workers who do not need to come in will still be compensated fairly.
Amazon, which has an office in East Palo Alto, said it will continue to pay all hourly workers who service its buildings usually occupied by employees advised to work from home.
And since March 6, neighboring tech companies including Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google have publicly announced that they are committed to regularly compensating hourly and subcontracted workers if they can’t come to the office.
The situation remains a mystery at Palantir in Palo Alto.
“I don’t know,” a company spokesperson said when asked if nontechnical and hourly paid staff were also encouraged to work at home.
Whereas the anxiety of the new coronavirus continues to markedly impact retailers and restaurants, many large companies, particularly in the tech sector, seem to be quietly adapting to the situation with no obvious disruption of the daily workflow.
Varian’s Plungy said his company is moving forward with subtle changes, such as extra hand sanitizer stations and to-go items at its cafeteria’s salad bar and deli stations.
“It seems fairly normal here,” Plungy said. “We still are able to function normally with people working from home. It’s pretty standard now with laptops, internet and email.”
As more tech employees use their homes as offices, commuters have at least found one small cause for relief within the darkening situation: a huge dent in traffic that’s cut commute time in half for some drivers.
“Definitely enjoyed the Corona Light traffic the past two days,” wrote a Menlo Park resident on Palo Alto Online’s Town Square on Tuesday. “Hoping this work from home thing sticks permanently.”
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula’s response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and Almanac here.