Amazon's latest directive: Report to the office 'cos we're watching you

Worker bees protest that they were read the riot act even when they did come in

Amazon has contacted staff it says are not clocking into the office three days a week "even though your assigned building is ready," according to a leaked memo which warns them they're falling short of expectations.

Unhappy recipients forwarded the missive to the Financial Times, while still others sent screenshots of internal Amazon Slack channels to Business Insider.

Unimpressed staff reportedly spoke among themselves on Slack, asking whether the email "is supposed to scare us," while another called the situation "peak absurdity," considering that many who received the warning email claimed they had indeed been coming in for the requisite three days.

Are you pumped? We're pumped

Another employee took a picture of the email on the screen – a good way to avoid being detected taking a screenshot – and sent it to corporate chatboard Blind, where a current poll asking people if they could "feel the surge in energy and collaboration" is at 79 percent in favor of "BS" at the time of publication. The poll refers to the wording of the mail, whose author opines that because of the great return to the office, one can "feel the surge in energy and collaboration happening among Amazonians."

Here's the full text:


We previously shared that employees should work from the office three or more days a week. We now have three months under our belt with a lot more people back in the office, and you can feel the surge in energy and collaboration happening among Amazonians and across teams. We are reaching out as you are not currently meeting our expectation of joining your colleagues in the office at least three days a week, even though your assigned building is ready. We expect you to start coming into the office three or more days a week now. If there is a specific reason prohibiting you from doing so, or you believe you received this email in error, please have a conversation with your manager as soon as possible.

As a reminder, you can find FAQs about working from the office on Inside Amazon News and My HR.

Thank you.

Monitoring and tracking - but how?

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One of the comments on Blind read: "One person on my team hasn't been in once and he didn't get one, but the guy going 2-3 days has," while another quipped: "You left your work laptop in the basement connected to the office Wi-Fi 3 years ago, didn't you?"

The situation raises the question of how exactly Amazon has been monitoring its workers in relation to the memo. Responding to staff complaints over the emails, Amazon reportedly said "there may be instances where we have it wrong," and that it had "taken several steps" to make sure the right people got the email, according to a note seen by the FT.

Workers on the comments board were speculating that perhaps monitoring was not only being done with the badge system and or key card access to its buildings, but also by counting hours worked, perhaps with software on their computers that records their mouse and keyboard activity, or time for tasks, such as Time Doctor or Hubstaff.

We have asked Amazon for comment.

According to a memo leaked to Adweek several days back, French multinational PR firm Publicis plans to track the great Return to the Office – for its US employees, that is – using a "variety of records and information," including visual observations and "facilities data." The memo also reportedly stated that Publicis trusts its employees to adhere to the requirements.

Just this week in the UK, Amazon's testimony to a select committee on the issue of workplace monitoring was that "robotics, machine learning and other technologies" in its fulfillment centers had "reduced the physical burden on employees, reducing walking time and taking on repetitive tasks, and freed them up to focus on more sophisticated tasks beyond the scope of automation."

The report pushes for more protection for employees beyond that available under the Data Protection Act, including consultation on monitoring activity.

In the US, on the other hand, employee monitoring is totally legal – even in the federal law the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, one of the charges you'll often see brought against criminals who break into systems. Under the law, employers are free to electronically monitor employees' communications for "legitimate business purposes."

That said, the use of software to track employees' location and activity has raised some concerns among America's federal and state lawmakers that the monitoring metrics could unfairly disadvantage staff or interfere with union organizing.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is currently collating responses from the public on how automated tools are used by employers to "surveil, monitor, evaluate, and manage workers." The body said the request for information "seeks to advance our understanding of the design, deployment, prevalence, and impacts of these automated technologies."

Back to work with you

Recent research says that forcing people to return to the office, rather than making suggestions, can backfire, with a survey saying orgs lost key workers after getting draconian on the RTO policies.

Amazon's not the only one pushing the return to the office hard. Blue Origin workers were recently told to take the next rocket back to the office in a company-wide email because "desk occupancy rates need to improve." Google took the softer approach, promising starched sheets in a nearby hotel bed you pay it for to ease commute times, while Meta appears not to buy into its own Metaverse vision, and is also asking staffers also to come in three days a week.

But perhaps the most ironic of all is remote collab guru Zoom, whose mandated return to the physical workplace recently involved creating "engagement hubs" where all employees living within 50 miles (80km) of an office must come in. If you're 49 miles away from the Holborn hub in Cambridge, that's a nearly four-hour roundtrip commute – by train or car. ®

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