Amazon adjusts return-to-office guidance, says employees can work two days a week remotely

A lone dog walker is seen on the Amazon headquarters campus in Seattle during the COVID-19 pandemic when tens of thousands of employees retreated to work from home. (GeekWire File Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Amazon has adjusted its return-to-work plans for corporate employees, issuing new guidance on Thursday that will allow for a mix of remote and in-person work. The Seattle-based tech giant said that it is “learning and evolving as we go” as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the new plan backs away from communication in March which touted a “return to an office-centric culture” as its baseline.

Amazon told employees in an internal posting that its new baseline will be three days a week in the office and the option to work remotely up to two days a week. The specific days would be determined by an employee’s leadership team.

Those who would like to work less than three days a week in the office can apply for an exception. If that exception is approved, Amazon said, that employee would then be considered primarily a remote worker, and would have a non-dedicated workspace to allow for team collaboration when they did come in.

Corporate employees who do not work in the company’s sprawling network of distribution jobs will also have the option to work fully remotely from a domestic location up to four weeks per year. Any expectation of commuting to the office would not apply during those weeks.

Amazon said in March that after more than a year of pandemic-induced remote work that a return to the office in the fall would enable its workers to “invent, collaborate, and learn together most effectively.” And incoming CEO Andy Jassy previously echoed that sentiment, saying in December that “invention” is hard to do virtually compared to people brainstorming together in person.

“You just don’t riff the same way,” said Jassy, the current CEO of Amazon Web Services who will take over for Jeff Bezos. “So it’s really changed the way that we’ve had to think about how we drive innovation, and how we solicit information from our builders and the types of meetings that we run.”

An adjusted street sign in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle where Amazon has multiple office buildings. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Amazon has more than 50,000 corporate and tech employees in its Puget Sound headquarters and more than 35,000 across 18 North American locations. The bulk of the company’s 1.3 million global workforce is employed in fulfillment centers — and there’s no work from home or hybrid approach for them.

“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 company memo said Thursday.

The company said it expects employees and teams to begin returning regularly to the office in the United States, United Kingdom, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates the week of Sept. 7.

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It said those who want to work in the office more than three days a week are welcome to do so.

As remote work took hold and tech workers and their employers learned to make the adjustment, expectations became greatly altered for where and how people might do their jobs after the pandemic. As the crisis has eased in many places and vaccination rates have increased, companies are grappling with how to once again fill office space without alienating workers who have adopted new remote life and work styles.

Zillow has previously announced plans to embrace a hybrid approach and Microsoft started bringing some of its workforce back to its Redmond, Wash., campus at the end of March.

Facebook, which employs 7,000 people in the Seattle area as part of a large engineering hub, said that as of June 15 it is opening up remote work to all levels across the company, and anyone whose role can be done remotely can request remote work. Its guidance is for employees to be in the office at least half the time and said it’s on track to open most of its U.S. offices at 50% capacity by early September.

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