BIZ-AMAZON-2021-SE

A lone person leaves an Amazon building in South Lake Union on Oct. 21. Amazon announced this week that it will transition away from remote work, meaning most employees will return to the office by fall.

SEATTLE — Amazon told employees Tuesday in a companywide announcement that it is planning a “return to an office-centric culture as our baseline,” signaling that the Seattle-based commerce giant does not intend to embrace a hybrid workplace.

The transition away from remote work is expected to wrap up by autumn, according to the announcement. Working in offices, the note said, “enables us to invent, collaborate, and learn together most effectively.”

Amazon had previously given its return-to-office date as June 30, but questions remained as to whether the company would allow some of its 60,000 Seattle-area office employees to continue working from home part time.

It had seemed unlikely Amazon would allow employees to stay away from the office permanently. Amazon continued to expand its office footprint during the pandemic, and executives preach a culture of in-person collaboration within “two-pizza teams” — groups small enough to be fed with two pizzas.

Other major technology companies have said the experience of working remotely during the pandemic had convinced them that employees did not need to be in the office full time in order to work effectively.

Google announced Wednesday that its employees will begin trickling back to offices in April. The company has said it will pilot a hybrid workplace model in which employees are expected to be in the office three days a week starting in September.

In a blog post last week announcing the reopening of Microsoft’s Redmond campus, executive vice president Kurt DelBene wrote that the company’s “goal is to give employees further flexibility, allowing people to work where they feel most productive and comfortable, while also encouraging employees to work from home as the virus and related variants remain concerning.”

Other companies have gone further: Seattle-headquartered Zillow announced last summer that it will give its roughly 5,400 employees nationwide the option to work remotely for good. Salesforce, which owns Seattle’s Tableau, has given its workers the same flexibility.

Amazon will not require office workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine before they head back to their desks, but the company is encouraging employees and contractors to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible, according to Amazon spokesperson Jose Negrete.

Amazonians’ reactions to the news were mixed, with many employees on social media saying they had hoped the company would follow the lead of Microsoft or Salesforce and continue allowing them a greater degree of flexibility in their work arrangements.

If forced to come into the office five days a week, “I’d want to leave the company,” said a Seattle-area Amazon Web Services (AWS) employee, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely about his future plans, in an interview. “When I used to be in the office, it felt like everyone was already watching you clock in and out. Now, my work is getting done and that’s what matters.”

His performance ratings have drastically improved, he’s getting better sleep and he often finds time to go hiking or kayaking during the workday, he said. While his direct manager seems open to the idea of letting employees keep working from home part time, division leadership has insisted workers return to the office, leaving him, for now, “in limbo,” he said. Meanwhile, his partner, also an Amazon employee and a fan of remote work, is “definitely going to quit the company because they told her that they’re going to be a strict five-days-a-week-in-the-office team,” he said.

Businesses around Amazon’s expansive South Lake Union campus rejoiced after hearing that the tech giant’s workers would be heading back to the office.

Amazon’s decision “speaks to what we see as the continued strong relevance of the office and the desire of workers to have access to great arts, culture, sports, walkability, public events and nightlife before, during and after their workday,” said Downtown Seattle Association president Jon Scholes, in a statement.

At Assembly Barbershop in the Belltown neighborhood, business has recently been “bleak,” said owner Bryan Essick — down well over 50% since the start of the pandemic, though it has started to pick up again in recent months. Essick said he’s unsure what portion of his clientele works at Amazon, but he expects business to pick up significantly as Amazon workers return to the office. “The more foot traffic there is downtown, the better it is for business,” he said.