Amazon’s Disruption Just Gets Worse

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As if Amazon CEO Andy Jassy’s migraine isn’t big enough with the challenge of redefining Amazon’s entire business Jassy to Employees: Redefine Amazon, he now has 14,000 of his employees (so far) who joined a Slack channel, called “Remote Advocacy,” intended to share a virulent pushback on Jassy’s surprise mandate that the majority of employees would be required to come into the office “at least three days per week” starting in May. According to Insider magazine, Jassy’s mandate said, “collaborating and inventing is easier and more effective when working in person.”

An internal Amazon survey from last year, found that 93 percent of respondents said their ability to focus when working from home was good, compared with only 68 percent saying the same about the office…and 80 percent of respondents said they would look for another job if Jassy’s mandate prevailed.

Of course, that’s what Jassy believes. However, a comment on the Slack channel reads, “Let’s prove that you do not have to be in-person to do good work!” Is Amazon’s “every day is day-one” and “out-of-the-box” innovative culture a leading example of a massive workplace shift emerging throughout all of commerce? Are the “worker bees” going to dictate when and where they will work? This is a great example of hubris when a leader is clearly out of touch with his employees. The popular top-down, command-and-control leadership style of the past doesn’t cut it with today’s multi-generational, inclusive workforce.

Is Commercial Real Estate the Canary in the Coal Mine?

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, “Office landlord defaults are escalating as lenders brace for more distress. The growing number of distressed office buildings reflects a recognition by owners and lenders that the robust return to office they had hoped for isn’t likely ever to materialize.”

The article goes on to say “hardly anyone is suggesting that office usage will return to its pre-pandemic rate. In a soon to be released report, commercial real estate services firm, Cushman & Wakefield PLC is projecting that the U.S. will end the decade with a record 1.1 billion square-feet of vacant space, compared with 688 million square-feet in 2019.” Empty office space is indeed a bellwether of a huge shift in how and where we work. It is a nightmare for both the organization and the landlord and an enormous financial burden for both. The canary may be the collapse of the workplace as we knew it. At the end of the day, the increase in empty commercial real estate space is a harbinger of a tsunami-type shift to working at home, and stay tuned, it’s only in its early stages.

Amazon Workers Build a Case

“Remote Advocacy,” according to Insider, was created “to advocate for remote work at Amazon” and seeks “data, anecdotes, and articles about the benefits of remote work.” In fact, Amazonians are creating a petition for the right to choose where they work. And while many of Amazon’s peers, including Apple, Google, and Salesforce, are requiring similar return to office demands, the “Remote Advocacy” does not seem inclined to give up the fight. An earlier version of the petition included a strong commitment statement: “We, the undersigned Amazonians, are responding by petitioning for the right to choose where to work, including remote locations, and presenting the data case against RTO.”

An internal Amazon survey from last year, found that 93 percent of respondents said their ability to focus when working from home was good, compared with only 68 percent saying the same about the office. The petition cited six broad reasons against a return to the office:

  • Remote work increases worker productivity.
  • Workers prefer location choice.
  • Remote work allows for hiring and developing the best.
  • Remote work saves money to Amazon and to Amazonians.
  • Remote work improves work-life balance.
  • In-office work affects parents, minorities, and people with disabilities.

And talk about getting tough, the petition read: “We the undersigned call for Amazon to protect its role and status as a global retail and tech leader by immediately cancelling the RTO policy and issuing a new policy that allows employees to work remotely or more flexibly, if they choose to do so, as their team and job role permits. We ask Amazon leadership to uphold Amazon’s mission to be the Earth’s Best Employer by creating working policies that increase equity and inclusion for all employees.”

Back to the Future

An impromptu Amazon survey found that 80 percent of respondents said they would look for another job if Jassy’s mandate prevailed. This was fueled by a lot of anger and confusion about the abrupt and unexpected delivery of the requirement, as well as the lack of clarity.

It’s back to the future for the tech behemoths. Ironically, the digital workforce is beginning to sound like workers during the Industrial Revolution. The coordinated and tenacious pushback by workers of the largest retailer in the world is reminiscent of the activity of the unions in the middle of the last century. The unions prevailed then and won many of the demands they were fighting for. The renaissance of unions is gaining traction, which is yet another headache for Jassy. To be an effective CEO today requires a special breed of charisma, empathy, foresight, critical thinking and a healthy dose of humility to recognize that not everyone thinks the way you do. I for one am fascinated, watching from the sidelines as Amazon trudges forward redefining itself from the inside out.

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