Amazon Expects Remote Employees to Return to ‘Office-Centric’ Culture

Although many companies are allowing employees to work from home on a permanent basis, even after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, Amazon is taking a different approach: It wants employees to embrace an “office-centric culture.”

According to an internal notice (hat tip to The Information for digging it up), the company’s plan is to “return to an office-centric culture as our baseline,” with U.S. employees expected to “start coming into the office through the summer, with most back in the office by early fall.”

A gradual return to offices could prove vital for the communities surrounding some of Amazon’s larger facilities, including Arlington, VA, which is home to the company’s under-construction “HQ2” headquarters. Local businesses around Amazon’s Seattle headquarters are likely also depending on a flood of office workers in order to survive. In New York City, Amazon still plans to move employees into a massive Midtown building once occupied by Lord & Taylor, and it’s already leased more than 335,000 square feet of office space in the ultra-new Hudson Yards complex.

Amazon’s decision to prioritize in-office work stands in stark contrast to the evolving policy at other major tech companies, including Twitter and Facebook, that have decided to let the majority of employees work remotely. Google has also embraced a “flexible workweek” where employees can work from home two days per week. 

In some cases, executives have been reluctant about remote work. In May 2020, for example, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told The New York Times that he believed in-office work was better for teams’ collaboration and employees’ mental health: “What I miss is when you walk into a physical meeting, you are talking to the person that is next to you, you’re able to connect with them for the two minutes before and after.” By October, however, he had acquiesced to allowing Microsoft employees to work from home at least a few days a weekonce the pandemic is over, with the option for all-remote work in some cases. 

Despite that reluctance on the part of some executives, though, it’s clear from numerous surveys that technologists prefer either remote or flexible options. For Amazon, enforcing an “office-centric culture” might be good for executives and managers who want to closely monitor their teams’ performance, but it could compel those technologists who want more flexibility to leave.