Blue Origin tells staff to catch next rocket back to their desks

Face colleagues five days a week, Jeff Bezos' space firm says

Blue Origin, the off-planet enterprise owned by Jeff Bezos, has told staff to get back to the office for a five-day week – a move which sees the twilight of flexible WFH arrangements at the company.

According to reports, executives recently reminded the great unwashed about the new policy dictating a return to the corporate workspace. A company-wide email said that for offices in Denver, El Segundo, Woodland Hills, Phoenix, and Reston, employees with a named desk should stick to the rules because "desk occupancy rates need to improve."

However, offices in the Seattle area, Florida, Texas, and Huntsville, Alabama, are either full or trying to figure out parking constraints.

"As you know, Blue is a work-from-work company. We are stronger as a team when we are collaborating with our co-workers in person and close to our projects and hardware," the company missive reportedly said.

Strong or not, the move is another step towards refusing the work-from-home trend necessitated during the pandemic, and later assumed to be an element of the post-pandemic "new normal."

Together with Blue Origin, other firms reverting to the old normal include stablemates Amazon, the world-beating online retailer which benefited dramatically from the COVID-19 outbreak.

In February, the megacorp said the "majority" of its 300,000-strong corporate workforce – those not in warehouses etc. – would need to spend "at least" three days on site in the traditional office.

Amazon boss Andy Jassy said: "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."

More recently, the company told workers it is considering relocating to main offices concentrated in bigger cities, ramping up plans to limit working from home, according to the Wall Street Journal.

That means those located in smaller offices or remote working may be asked to relocate to one of the "main hubs" in Seattle, where the company is based, or offices in New York or San Francisco.

Time limits are being set on getting employees to move to their boss's or team's main hubs, even if they live near other Amazon offices. Decisions are said to be made on a team-by-team basis.

The policy seems at odds with an earlier strategy from the global box shifter. In October 2021, Amazon said team leaders will determine when white-collar workers return to the office and how many days would be expected to attend.

Amazon's new hub strategy is reminiscent of a move pulled by IBM in 2017. Big Blue said it expected marketing staff, engineers, and other staffers in America and Europe to relocate to a handful of regional hubs.

The "move or leave" program came with a 30-day deadline and was said to disproportionately affect older workers who have already put down roots with a home and family in a specific area. At the same time, it favored younger workers and recruits on lower salaries, observers pointed out. IBM declined to comment at the time.

The WFH movement seems to be faltering across the IT industry, with Salesforce encouraging staff back in to the office, Google bemoaning the "ghost town" that some offices became, and Meta also telling engineers they work better when together.

This is despite warnings that companies face losing key workers by mandating a return to the traditional workplace, and research has found that these policies are bad for staff morale and can stifle innovation. ®

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