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Amazon mandates return to office for 300,000 corporate staff

'Easier to learn, model, practice, and strengthen our culture when we’re in the office together' 3 days a week, says CEO

Amazon boss Andy Jassy is demanding a return to the office for the "majority" of the company's 300,000-strong corporate workforce, with an expectation that employees will spend "at least" three days on site each week.

Various parts of the business have operated under different rules during the pandemic, warehouse staff – for example – work full time in-person, while corporate group employees work remotely or mix it up.

Now a blanket change is incoming for Amazon staff, as it is for other companies, including would-be Microsoft acquisition Activision Blizzard.

In a memo to its 1.6 million employees [PDF] posted in Europe late on Friday, the hard pressed exec – under pressure to steer the web commerce and cloud megacorp in the direction of greater profits – issued the mandate.

"It's easier to learn, model, practice, and strengthen our culture when we're in the office together most of the time and surrounded by our colleagues. It's especially true for new people… but it's also true for people of all tenures at Amazon."

He said "learning from peers is useful and critical" and newer staff would being most disadvantaged by not having "learning and mentorship opportunities."

Amazon isn't alone: other tech giants that recruited heavily during the pandemic have spoken of productivity concerns with hires, Google and Salesforce among them.

Jassy wrote: "When you're in-person, people tend to be more engaged, observant, and attuned to what's happening in the meetings and the cultural clues being communicated."

Equally, leaders can better ascertain if corporate direction are sinking in, as in-person interactions helps people absorb the culture better," the CEO said.

Collaborating and inventing is also "more effective" in-person. "The energy and riffing on one another's ideas happen more freely." Some of the best inventions happen when staff huddle around a whiteboard after a meeting or "blurt out new ideas" in brainstorming sessions.

Jassy added: "This rapid interjecting happens more often in-person because people feel less inhibited about jumping in or even interrupting sometimes. This interjecting happens less frequently in virtual calls because it blocks out all speakers when it transpires.

"Invention is often sloppy. It wanders and meanders and marinates. Serendipitous interactions help it, and there are more of those in-person than virtually."

Working together in the same offie also builds a better bond between co-workers, Amazon's boss said. "There is something about being face-to-face with somebody, looking them in the eye, and seeing they're fully immersed in whatever you're discussing, that bonds people together. Teams tend to find ways to work through hard and complex trade-offs faster when they get together and map it out in a room."

It is for these reasons that Amazon management decided "we should go back to being in the office together the majority of there time (at least three days per week)." There will be some roles granted an exception "but that will be a small minority."

The back to office mandate kicks in from May 1. Teams will be asked to plan that return, and real estate and facilities staff will try to "smooth out the wrinkles" in the meantime.

"I know that for some employees, adjusting again to a new way of working will take some time. But I'm very optimistic about the positive impact this will have on how we serve and invent on behalf of customers, as well as on the growth and success of our employees."

So are employees more effective in the office? Microsoft previously talked of productivity paranoia, in which managers are unsure how effective their remote workforce is being. In research, it found 85 percent of biz leaders professed to having these feelings.

The Reg has yet to find definitive research outlining the impact of remote or hybrid working on businesses' bottom line. Amazon certainly ballooned during the pandemic when the world shifted more and more to buying stuff online and consuming cloud services.

The impact of remote work on individuals is said to be mixed, with some groups working longer hours and suffering from burnout, while others say they enjoy a better work life balance and feel liberated by ditching the daily commute. A fear of loneliness caused by long-term remote work was cited in another survey as a factor.

Amazon calling staff back to the office three days a week shows some flexibility, although it is one more day than the number of days that most Reg readers told us was about right for them. Jassy will hope that returning staff to the office will help reignite the financial engines fueled Amazon growth in recent years, though the outcome of this seems far from guaranteed. ®

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