Amazon Confirms That Flexible Working Will Continue for Employees at Its Seattle Headquarters

Toby Hazlewood

But Morgan Stanley CEO takes a hardline approach

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The Spheres at Amazon HQ, SeattlePhoto by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash

On June 10th Amazon announced that members of its staff working out of the Seattle, Washington headquarters will likely be expected to work from its offices for three days each week with an option to work remotely for the other two days. Furthermore, a provision will be made for members of the head-office team to apply for an exception and some employees will have the option to work fully remotely up to four weeks out of the year under some circumstances.

The announcement comes as an indication of changing perspectives on what makes for effective working conditions and also takes into consideration that many employees may feel reluctant to go back to the office environment after a prolonged period of home and remote working. It also represents something of an about-face after Geek Wire reported in March that the company was likely to "return to an office-centric culture as [its] baseline".

Morgan Stanley expect staff to return to the office

Meanwhile, James Gorman the Chief Executive of investment bank Morgan Stanley has taken a hardline approach. Referring to whether his staff intend to return to working at the corporate headquarters in New York City, he was quoted as saying:

“If you can go to a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office.”

He went on to say that he would be "very disappointed" if the majority of staff weren't back in the office by September, going as far as to reflect that "If you want to get paid New York rates, you work in New York."

Perhaps it's a reflection of the culture of investment banking?

Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JP Morgan has previously stated that he expects all staff back in the office by July, while head of Goldman Sachs, David Solomon, has described home-working as an “aberration”.

Safety concerns over going back to work

There's a likelihood that some are fearful about whether it's actually safe to return to the workplace in spite of businesses opening up. The vaccine rollout is making good headway in the USA (more than 311 million doses have now been administered) but there are now signs that the rollout and the uptake of the vaccine is slowing down. NPR reports that one in four Americans don't intend on getting vaccinated.

Various state leaders are exploring different incentives to encourage the reluctant to roll-up their sleeves and to get their vaccination - New Jersey breweries are offered a free beer to those who get their shot in May (for example) and California and Ohio have offered state lotteries to those residents who are vaccinated.

However, the declining uptake of vaccinations is giving many a reason to be fearful about returning to workplaces when they run the risk of being amongst those who haven't been protected against the virus.

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Office workers wearing masksPhoto by Cherrydeck on Unsplash

Adapting to new ways of working

Many businesses have confirmed their intent to remain predominantly remote organizations permanently - Brian Armstrong, CEO of cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase has announced that they will be remote-first for good. Twitter announced back in October 2020 that it intends to do the same.

Having proven that businesses can survive and even thrive with employees connecting from home, it seems sensible to at least provide that as an option for jobs that can be done remotely. Other businesses like Amazon are opting for a blended model where employees have a mix of both remote and in-office work.

The businesses who feel they are losing out

Some bosses are less convinced about home working too. In an Op-Ed piece from CEO of Washingtonian Media, Cathy Merrill, she spoke plainly about how she views homeworking.

Obviously keen to encourage people back to the office, she mentioned the concept of invisible labor, and how employers are missing out on getting this work from their staff. Invisible labor is the intangible extra input that employees do besides the job they're paid for - training co-workers, mentoring other staff and doing random tasks that keep businesses running.

While Merrill is concerned that this work isn't being done, she went as far as to quantify it as around 20% of the benefit of paying employees. Her suggestion was that such a proportion of employment costs constitutes a reason to move some employees to contractor status where they no longer receive 401k contributions, healthcare and so-on, and are instead paid just to do their core work.

There's no suggestion of an immediate intent to do this, but it represents a somewhat sinister course of action - to force people back into the office to get more out of them than they're technically paid to do, or to radically change their compensation model.

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People sat by a laptopPhoto by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

The benefits of being back in work

While some companies are happy to remain remote, there are benefits to being in the office. Many need the social environment as a means of protecting their mental-health. Others need an escape from difficult circumstances at home and potentially from abusive spouses. Then there's the benefit of spontaneous conversations generating ideas.

The challenge seems to be in balancing individual fears over safety and the inevitable benefits of home-working that not having to commute and more time around family actually represent.

Getting back to a new normal

Just as some office workers will be keen to work in offices, others will be happy to carry on working at home - gradually a new point of equilibrium will be reached of course. Organisations who insist their staff return to the office may find over time that employees who've grown accustomed to home-working or feel that it offers a better work-life balance, take steps to find other jobs.

Now that home and remote-working has become more acceptable and proven feasible for many businesses, it may just become a differentiator and the kind of benefit that job-seekers look for in new employers.

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