The recent fast-growing trend, especially amongst Big Tech, is to have employees work remotely from home or anywhere. Google and Facebook informed their staff that they may work from home up until next summer. Jack Dorsey, the CEO of both Twitter and Square, said that his team can work remotely “forever” if they’d prefer this option. A wide array of other corporations have also offered similar remote-work options.
It now seems that Amazon is bucking this trend. The Amazon Blog wrote Tuesday, “Today, we’re excited to announce that we’ve unveiled plans to continue investing and to create 3,500 new tech and corporate jobs across six cities in the United States by expanding our Tech Hubs in Dallas, Detroit, Denver, New York (Manhattan), Phoenix, and San Diego. These expansions represent an investment of more than $1.4 billion and will host teams supporting businesses across Amazon.”
According to the blog post, the chosen cities will support an array of Amazon divisions, including Amazon Web Services, Alexa, Amazon Advertising, Amazon Fashion, OpsTech and Amazon Fresh—among others. The online retail giant anticipates hiring “for a variety of roles, from cloud infrastructure architects and software engineers to data scientists, product managers and user experience designers.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, the online retail juggernaut “is expanding its physical offices in six U.S. cities and adding thousands of corporate jobs in those areas, an indication the tech giant is making long-term plans around office work, even as other companies embrace lasting remote employment.” The 3,500 white-collar professionals will work out of 900,000 square feet of office space leased in the designated hubs.
It’s interesting that Amazon is venturing back into New York City. The company plans to create 2,000 new jobs at the old-line, high-end retailer Lord & Taylor’s flagship location. The department store chain had previously sold the historic building to WeWork, which Amazon then purchased.
The last time Amazon shopped around for a second headquarters, it pitted cities against one another. The company was seriously considering selecting a location in Long Island City, Queens, a borough of New York City. A group of Democratic politicians, led by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, pushed too hard and Amazon backed out of the deal. New York lost thousands of new jobs that would have now come in handy, as the city is experiencing tough financial problems as tax revenue has dried up due to business closures and wealthy New Yorkers moving out to the suburbs.
This time around, Amazon said that it will not ask for financial concession and the decisions were not “derived from or linked to any financial incentives from local or state governments.”
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos saw his net worth grow by billions of dollars during the pandemic. The company’s stock price soared, as retailing rivals were ordered to shut down and people did not want to go outside of their homes to shop. Amazon may have elected to keep a low profile this time around and not require any financial incentives to choose locations for the new jobs out of concern for causing a public relations nightmare.
Amazon going across the grain may have something to do with its major rival, Walmart. Recently, the large retailer laid off professionals who focused on its physical locations, but hired people for its digital e-commerce business.
Walmart recently announced that it’s starting a subscription plan similar to Amazon Prime. This new membership program strikes a blow against Amazon’s lucrative subscription model. It could be that Amazon’s looking to attract the best talent from a number of cities to compete against this new emerging threat.
In addition to the online retail giant, social media behemoth Facebook has leased more than 2.2 million square feet of office space in New York that could house thousands of employees. There’s now a budding tech hub in the city, which includes Apple and Google.
The move by Amazon may be a hedge. Right now, the trend is solidly for having workers remain at home. It seems that the companies are hoping that a vaccine can be found before people are asked to return safely to the office.
It’s likely that even if there’s a vaccine, a significant percentage of workers will be leery of returning to their old offices. They’ll be concerned about contracting the virus during the round-trip commutes or while at work. Potential massive legal liabilities will force management to allow people who are either at risk or overly anxious to remain at home.
Corporate executives may also be weighing the risks of having a 100% remote staff. They’ll be anxious about the adverse impact on the company and the productivity of employees. Management will cite that recruiting, on-boarding and training new hires will be challenging. Important projects may take longer without everyone at the same location. There could be a loss of corporate culture and lack of camaraderie. Without spontaneous meetings, lunches taken together by co-workers and drinks after work, the attachment and connection with the company diminishes.
Smart, young talented people may elect only to work at companies that require people to be at the office. For Generation-Z and younger Millennials, it is socially important to be around other people. They desire a social life with their co-workers, need mentors and to feel a part of something. It would be disheartening to them to get a new job with a great company only to sit in front of a computer in a small apartment or their parent’s home every day.
Laszlo Bock, chief executive of human-resources tech-startup Humu and the former HR chief at Google said, “There’s sort of an emerging sense behind the scenes of executives saying, ‘This is not going to be sustainable.’” Healthcare and medical device giant Johnson & Johnson informed employees, “When it is safe to do so, we want you to return to the workplace. We believe collaboration and innovation is fueled in large part by the connections of people.”
The moves by Amazon and Facebook may indicate that the remote work might not be for everyone. It’s reasonable to see a blended approach, where some people may work in the traditional manner at the office and others remotely. It could also be that workers will choose to do a combination of both.
One of the lessons learned from the pandemic is that people and companies have to be open-minded, fluid, innovative, creative and tailor their actions to the ever-changing, new Covid-19 pandemic landscape.