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Amazon employees are furious as the company rolls back remote work arrangements, with some threatening to quit and others drafting petitions in reaction to a recent announcement that they must report to the office at least three times per week.
Amazon CEO Andy Jassy wrote in a memo to employees on Friday that the company believes “teams tend to find ways to work through hard and complex trade-offs faster” when they are in the same physical location. Shortly after the announcement, hundreds of Amazon staffers started joining an internal Slack channel called Remote Advocacy; there were more than 14,000 members of the channel as of Tuesday, according to a report from Business Insider.
Nearly 80% of workers in the channel claimed they would start to look for another job because of the new policy. “This is going to be absolute chaos and make everyone’s work distracted for probably a quarter, maybe longer,” one disgruntled employee wrote. “It’s hard to be productive with so much uncertainty injected into our lives.”
The shift toward more traditional work arrangements, however, comes as Amazon seeks to downsize amid macroeconomic tumult and a decline in consumer demand that followed the lockdown-induced recession. Amazon dismissed some 18,000 employees over the past several months and implemented a freeze on incremental hires in the corporate workforce.
Employees in the Slack channel nevertheless drafted petitions against the return to office policy. “We, the undersigned Amazonians, are responding by petitioning for the right to choose where to work, including remote locations,” an early version of the document said, according to Business Insider. The petition included survey data which found 56% of Amazon employees desire “monthly sync-ups in the office,” while 31% want to work in the office one or two days per week.
Employees tend to prefer remote work arrangements because of time savings from avoided commutes, as well as flexibility to balance work and personal matters, according to a poll from Gallup. The costs for employers, however, can outweigh the benefits of attracting and retaining talent sometimes produced through virtual work policies: 85% of managers believe the shift to hybrid work “has made it challenging to have confidence that employees are being productive,” according to a study from Microsoft.
Jassy and other executives said the lockdowns affirmed the importance of creating meaningful relationships between team members. “It’s easier to learn, model, practice, and strengthen our culture when we’re in the office together most of the time and surrounded by our colleagues,” he wrote to employees. “When you’re in-person, people tend to be more engaged, observant, and attuned to what’s happening in the meetings and the cultural clues being communicated.”
Other companies, such as Walmart and Disney, have likewise pivoted away from their virtual work arrangements in recent weeks. Employees of the former company must work at least twice per week from physical offices, while employees at the latter must work from offices four days per week, preferably between Monday and Thursday.
Many firms have included carveouts that allow top performers to continue working from home. Walmart will permit some employees to remain full-time remote staff members even as they force others to relocate while technology hubs across the nation are shuttered; Tesla CEO Elon Musk, a leading skeptic of virtual work arrangements, has said that he would consider allowing “particularly exceptional contributors” at the automaker to work remotely.