Amazon to Require Employees in the Office Three Days Per Week

Posted on June 10, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Amazon with 34 Comments

An internal Amazon memo says that employees will be required to come to the office at least three days each week as the pandemic winds down.

“We’ve been thinking about how to balance our desire to provide flexibility to work from home with our belief that we invent best for customers when we are together in the office,” the memo, which was viewed by Geekwire, reads.

Previously, Amazon had told employees it expected a “return to an office-centric culture,” so this change is a bit of a reversal. But it also matches Apple’s recently-revised plan for the return of employees to its offices, and that plan was met by outrage by some of Apple’s employees.

Amazon, meanwhile, says it is “learning and evolving as [it goes],” and that employees who would like to work remotely more than two days each week can apply for an exception. Employees that work three or more days from outside of the office each week are considered remote workers, and they will lose their private office space and be required to use a non-dedicated workspace when they do come into the office.

These new rules obviously don’t apply to most of Amazon’s employees, the 1.3 million folks who work in fulfillment centers around the world and can’t work remotely. Instead, they apply only to the 85,000 Amazon employees who work in the firm’s 18 North American office locations; 50,000 of them work at its Seattle-area headquarters.

Amazon is still eyeing the fall for the return to the workplace, but it hasn’t specified a date yet.

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Comments (34)

34 responses to “Amazon to Require Employees in the Office Three Days Per Week”

  1. bluvg

    I'll say what I said re: Apple's similar policy: In all these announcements, there's little mention of the adverse impact of requiring all gathering in the same place regardless of need. Yes, it can be more productive in person, for some things. But you can't simplistically weigh that in a vacuum against output from WFH, hour-for-hour only. You must also take into account the time, fuel costs, additional vehicle expense and maintenance, and environmental impact of commuting; buying meals away from home (or additional prep for bringing food with you); differences in office building rent, operational costs, maintenance; etc. etc. Whatever productivity is gained must outweigh those things, and I very much doubt they're considered.

    The mandate for certain days also seems perhaps well-intentioned but a non sequitur from the argument. Why not just require in-office meetings case-by-case, when it's obvious in-person will be much more productive (outweighing the downsides)? It seems to reflect a lack of trust that teams can decide for themselves what's efficient and what's not, based on a storied fantasy of "watercooler chats" that launch the next $1B opportunity can't possibly happen without this watercooler everyone supposedly frequents.

    • bettyblue

      Or you can find a job some other place.

      I have a team of 9 people. We have returned to the office, per my bosses request. The two people that have a problem with it....are the two people that are late or always burn a sick day once earned, or have some reason to work from home.

      They are also the two people that I hope quit....but I know they wont. Just because we had this pandemic and you could work from home, does not mean you can demand to keep this new way of working now that it's over.

      • chronocidal

        I think this all needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis. When working in person is a large benefit to both productivity and interpersonal relationships on the team? Yeah, there are very good reasons to require office attendance.

        On the other hand, this pandemic made me realize that due to the nature of my cross-country task team, all of my work is telework, whether I'm in the office or not, and the times that I need to do something in person are very few and far between when dealing with local activities.

        I know I'm not the norm, but a fair number of folks in my workplace got more productive during the pandemic, because they could be working flexible hours for international customers more readily, and it made long-distance time zone differences less of an issue. People got more work done because they weren't clocking out at a set time. In my case, not having to tag a commute onto my morning routine on the way to a 5 am teleconference is just a huge quality of life improvement.

      • cnc123

        Do you not have anyone on your team who'd like to spend time with their children instead of commuting, or is everyone who wants to stay home automatically a deadbeat?

        • bbennett40

          Unless time allowed to spend with your children during work hours was agreed upon when accepting the job, then yeah, deadbeats. snark for snark

          • lvthunder

            That's not always true. It takes me 40 minutes one way to get to work. So the days I work from home it's like getting an hour and twenty minutes a day extra.

      • wright_is

        We have always been flexible. You work in the office, unless there are good reasons to work from home.

        Child sick? School cancelled? Large delivery at home? Plumber, electrician etc. coming? You can use up your overtime or you can work from home - back office staff, obviously, those in the production areas have to take time off, either overtime or holiday.

      • Paul Thurrott

        "Or you can find a job [at] some other place." See? Simple!
        • bsobotta

          Currently I am required to be on site two or three days a week. I come on site three days because I am the new guy and want to make sure I am available when needed. Hopefully after a while I can spend a bit more time at home if permitted.

    • wright_is

      Planning. It all comes down to planning. If you know people are in the office on certain days, you can plan. If you first have to find out, whether they are even in town that week, you waste a lot of time.

      That said, for us it is moot. We are a manufacturing company, so a majority of our workforce was on site throughout all the lockdowns (we produce chemicals used in paper, medical and cosmetic production).

      The sales teams etc. worked in home office on a rotating basis, but the one in the office spent most of their time running around collecting printouts from the others etc. or scanning incoming mail and faxes and sending it to the ones in home office. I think, a majority of people here will be glad to get back to normal.

      • lvthunder

        There is a difference though between working from home and working from the road.

  2. red.radar

    The WFH activists are not considering the burden they place onsite employees. I was deemed essential and had to come into the office during the pandamic. Which was fine. It was nice to work in a largely empty building. However my team would routinely have to do small tasks for remote workers because they couldn’t do a task that had an on-site component. Could be a simple restart a test, can I have an on-site update, or can you get someone’s attention… etc…

    As an Design Engineer, I have become convinced that it’s impossible to be completely remote. Sure you can be productive offsite but that isn’t the issue. Can you divorce yourself from all on premises responsibilities? No. So someone has to do the work and this breads a culture that isn’t equitable. And it adds overhead to employ on-site employees to be the interface for off site.

    I 100% support the move to 3 days a week in the office. It gives the balance between both approaches.

    • mattbg

      Good points. I think most people are only thinking about their own role when they give a strong opinion on WFH. The fact is, there are lots of different roles and lots of different extents to which WFH works or doesn't work.

      Some guy sitting at home mostly alone servicing a call center queue, or some backlog of support tickets, is in quite a different situation that someone who designs hardware or production lines where lots of rapid, cross-discipline feedback is required.

      On top of that, you have different work cultures with different levels of trust in different countries with different technological capabilities for functioning remotely... and even different qualities of broadband access. There must be plenty of people out there in rural areas that have terrible Internet service at home and really can't function at the same level as people with reliable broadband.

      It should be obvious that this is the case - grocery store workers are not going to be working from home, for example - but I guess it's easy to get wrapped up in the minutiae of your own experience.

  3. wright_is

    It is ironic, throughout the pandemic, we've been rotating in home office and using the phone at home was a pain, office line redirected to the company smartphone, annoying, but okay. But making calls meant making calls from the smartphone, which is a pain in comparison (we aren't allowed to use biometric unlock, we have to use a complex PIN (alpha numeric, minimum 8 digits, with at least 2 special symbols and upper case and lower case)).

    Now that the end is in sight, we have finally got the new telephone system installed, which is a 100% software solution, so we can call using the PC and headset...

  4. winner

    And they ought to require vaccinations, too.

  5. jimchamplin

    Not entirely sure what the benefits of an office setting are, as someone who's never suffered office work.

    To me it just looks like a bunch of people crunching numbers in spreadsheets, and things that don't really requre any coordination at all. Maybe some middle managers need to get together to figure out how to shift their paradigms and boost the synergies of business processes...

    ... Do we still believe in that garbage?

    • bbennett40

      It's really hard for some people to see past their own little bubble.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Yes. We do. Having worked remotely for over 25 years, I see very clearly what the benefits of an office are: In-person interactions lead to actual work getting done, whereas virtual meetings do not. There is something about being face to face with people that gets things done. This is what Apple and Amazon have seen, and they're right to require some amount of in-person work. We can quibble over the details---number of days in the office, etc.---but this need is very real.
      • wright_is

        I agree.

        I worked as a consultant for one of the large IT consulting houses for 15 years. Most of my colleagues were based in an office and went out to clients on projects now and then, but they had years of working in a company office with colleagues.

        I was pushed from one off-site project to another. I rarely had any contact with other employees, or at least just a few who I saw on one project and never saw again. I saw my boss for a couple of hours every 6 or 12 months for an appraisal.

        Things went fine, until there was an economic slow-down and I was told to use my "network" to find another project. The team that had done the networking for me for the previous 15 years was gone, I didn't know anyone at the company, certainly not well enough to be "networked" with them.

        They did a downsizing and I took voluntary redundancy and ran and started again in a new country.

        Since then, I've worked in smaller groups with people, mainly face-to-face and it leads to feeling part of the team and to actually having colleagues and people I can talk to.

        • mattbg

          That type of thing is really important. Imagine what it's like for someone just out of school starting their first job remotely. It's one thing to run off the fumes of the momentum and ties you'd established before the pandemic, but what if you never had any fumes?

          I suspect a lot of companies found that the momentum could be sustained for a few months based off what was already on the go, but that the newer stuff was not happening as quickly, wasn't as high quality, or wasn't as well-developed. "I'm just as productive as home"... productivity is about more than just finding enough work to fill your day. It has to be at the same level. There are clear cost-savings for companies to go mostly remote, so it can't be an accident that many companies are walking back earlier ideas about remote work to encourage people back to the office at least part-time. The ones that require most people to be in the office on the same weekdays have thought it through... not sure about the others.

          • lvthunder

            Well, we just taught everyone in school remote learning is possible. You can't compare it to the past because the tools we had in the past aren't the same as we have now. Yes, this new way of doing things is going to cause older people to learn new skills.

            • wright_is

              And there are serious psychological problems that the children in school over the last year are suffering.

              They are at a crucial age, where being together, making friends and doing things together are really important and this has disrupted the process.

              Psychologists have studies that show that the last year has been extremely detrimental to their psychological welfare and despite the need to be separate to minimise the problems of the pandemic, the children need to get back into classes for their social wellbeing.

              • beckoningeagle

                This, a 1000 times. My experience with 2 kids in high school, and the experience of most of the parents in their friends circle is that the pandemic did prove that remote teaching is possible, however, remote learning is not.

                The teachers can certainly give as many online classes as they want, but the actual learning was at a minimum. Not to mention the cheating in assignments, the constant distractions, the teachers pulling the exams of off the internet (something called quizlet).

                I can't even begin to address the freaking emotional roller coaster children in general are going through, not just mine.

  6. bkkcanuck

    I have not been in the office for a good 10 years (many timezones away now), have worked for the same company (with breaks since going remotely - since it is all 'contract') for the last 20ish years. I can see reasons why you would want to have people in the office, and many reasons why it is not important... IMHO, with programming (if you don't require hardware not yet released) ... the office should be able to function with most if not all the software developers working remotely -- it just requires an investment in hardware, systems and making sure that people meet regularly virtually (face to face). [I often get comments about my office looking like it is a well equipped studio]. The company I am working for has cut the sqft office space in half (in this city) and expect less than half the people that use to work in the office to be working there going forward... since people are still getting the work done. [before this I was the only person that was allowed to work remotely]. Each company and each worker have different environments that work best for them. Some workers have more influence than others - so I expect the 3 days in the office at Amazon/Apple to be flexible depending on who is 'requesting' it. There are lots of software developers, but I find the productivity and worth of those vary much wider than the standard salary ranges (I have easily seen some that are worth 12 times more than others).

  7. jdjan

    This 2020-2021 forced WFH experiment continues to fascinate me. I have learned that I can be more productive working out of my home. I'm not in IT, but my work is pure knowledge work and all I need to be productive is a laptop and a cell phone.

    As a self-employed consultant, I'm pretty much able to do as I choose, but as my clients start going back to offices I am not looking forward to the two, sometimes three days a week I am going to have to commute to a client site.

    In speaking to local companies, it seems opinions are split. Some have built their culture around ivory towers and campus-like facilities. They have invested in these temples of productivity and aren't going to move away from them easily. Others have learned that they have actually increased productivity in the remote world because folks that work from home work earlier and later, with the trade off being that they sometimes take time in the day for life matters.

    The fact is, some people work better in offices and some people work better remotely. Co-workers with 500sqft and young children aren't set up for remote work - and are looking to go back to the office. Those with a decent WFH set-up do better without wasting time/energy on the drive to work.

    Ultimately, business is going to work it out and I suspect that there will be some employee turnover depending on the person and the 'new normal' that each company settles on. It's going to be interesting.

    • lvthunder

      Those remote working businesses are going to be more competitive than the ones that make everyone go into the office. They can charge less because they have less overhead. Less real estate, less to heat/cool, etc.

    • webdev511

      I'm dreading going back to the office. Burn 3 hours of my day to sit in the same office as two out of my five other North American Teammates and we're not on the same projects by any stretch. So 3 hours burned so I can take virtual meetings with people geographically dispersed. I might do two a week in the office & maybe then only to the office that's 40 minutes away instead of an hour and a half each way.

  8. brinel321

    Couple things: this applies to corporate employees not just in North America. In addition to the 2-days a week corporate employees can work from home, they'll also have opportunity to work up to 4 weeks from per year fully remote from a domestic location.

    @bluvg, I guarantee that Amazon considered all that, along with much more, before arriving at their WFH policy.

    • brinel321

      Blah, typos

    • mikegalos

      I'd guarantee it. Amazon corporate may be a tough place to work but they know how to think through the details.

      • jimchamplin

        I don't think Amazon and thinking are things that work together in the same sentence. Amazon and "squeeze people to their breaking point" do work together.

        Long story short, maybe this is a time that we should hold corporate concepts of productivity to the fire and see if they match with society's actual needs.

        The shareholders should NOT run our culture. They should be subservient to it. Their profits should NEVER be held above the wellbeing of the people.

  9. octafish

    Does this apply to their warehouse staff? Bastard employer for them.