Newly installed Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, who replaced Jeff Bezos in July, made a potentially game-changing decision Monday. Jassy said in a companywide memo, white-collar professional office workers could work remotely, choose to work in an office setting or come in two or three days a week via a hybrid model. The decision on work arrangements will be decentralized—made by team leaders and signed off by director-level executives.
In a corporate blog post, the online giant’s CEO said, “As we start to think about the future, we’ve all been asking questions like, ‘When are we really going back to the office, what will that really be like, how will I allocate my time between the office and home, how will others do it, do we need to be working in person together every day to collaborate and invent best, and how do we build connections and culture best?’”
Similar to other large organizations, the decisions to return to an office were pushed back several times due to the sudden surge of the Delta variant. At first, Amazon employees were told to come back to the office in September 2021, then it was moved back to January 2022.
Jassy is aware that employees have questions, such as, “Who decides which days, does the team need to be on the same days [and] are there certain functions or teams that can work more effectively at home vs. the office?”
The chief executive reasonably said, “There is no one-size-fits-all approach for how every team works best. We’re going to be in a stage of experimenting, learning and adjusting for a while, as we emerge from this pandemic.”
The decisions will be decentralized down to the team leaders. Remote, hybrid and other work styles will be left up to individual teams, with the final call made at the director level.
It’s anticipated that people will choose options that best fit their lifestyle. Some may desire to continue working remotely, others may seek out a hybrid of both in-office and at-home. There may be folks who are worn out from being home and would look forward to going into headquarters full time.
There is one caveat. Jassy wants to ensure whatever decision is made, it should keep the customers’ interests in mind.
The policy is “intentionally not prescribing” specificity over the number of days mandated to be in an office or which days are allowed to work remotely on. Concerns could be raised about the decentralized decision-making process. A manager with an “old-school” mindset may be biased against remote work and default to a knee-jerk, in-office decree.
With remote work, many people relocated from expensive cities to lower cost locations. When this occurred, some companies downgraded the payscale commensurate with what employees earn in the location. The retailer will continue to permit people to work remotely from various locations. There will also be an option to work up to four weeks per year fully remote from any location within your country of employment.
Jassy added, “Most of our people are close enough to their core team,” so that they can travel back to the office for meetings or important events on short notice. The undercurrent may be that he’d like people to be in close proximity to the office, in case there is another reversal in the future that would require a large percentage or everyone to return en masse.
The new flexibility of choices is well-timed, as the company needs to aggressively hire around 40,000 corporate-level professionals. This is not an easy task in the current competitive job market. Potential applicants will appreciate the flexibility and host of choices. By offering a variety of work options, this policy turns into a recruiting tool to attract top talent. It’s also a great way to retain existing personnel and keep them from joining the “Great Resignation” trend.
There is, however, a downside. Surrounding large office buildings in major urban cities, there exists a thriving ecosystem of restaurants, gyms, bars, movie theaters, nail salons and mom-and-pop shops that earn their livelihoods from the workers who commute into the large office buildings. With potentially fewer in-office workers, these small businesses could be in big trouble.
Amazon is one one of the most esteemed companies in the world. Businesses look up to the online retailer for guidance. Once they see Amazon offering remote, hybrid and in-office options, it’s reasonable to conclude that other companies will follow its lead. Many will feel pressured to offer the same or similar programs. If they don’t, Amazon could steal away top talent by giving them the work style they desire, while their current employer is much more rigid and unyielding.
Recognizing that the last two years have been marked by unexpected twists and turns, Jassy said in the memo, “We will continue to adjust as we keep learning what makes most sense for our customers and teams.”