Comment: Amazon and Microsoft show separation in attitude to remote work

By Joni Balter / Bloomberg Notice

When Amazon announced in March that most of its 60,000 Seattle-area corporate employees would be returning to the office by the fall, some employees were furious. A few have threatened to quit for both substantial and less consequential reasons, including one who said post-pandemic rules would cut off his regular kayaking.

At the same time, Microsoft, headquartered near Redmond, said employees can work from home, office, or in a hybrid arrangement.

In the Seattle-area’s rarefied world of popular high-tech workers, the comparison is sometimes inevitable. Covid-19 has compounded the impression that Microsoft is often more enlightened, Amazon tougher behind the wheel and old school.

As companies compete for some elite workers, the demand for remote or hybrid work is quickly becoming a major part of hiring negotiations and compensation packages. Over time, flexible arrangements will become more prevalent. They can be more important than the salary.

“I think the job market has changed forever,” said Chris Bloomquist, co-founder of Talent Mine, a Seattle-based tech recruiting startup.

Years ago, Bloomquist said he could have counted on one hand the number of potential employees looking for remote work. Now, 7 out of 10 candidates mention it straight away. And many, according to several recruiters, insist on a 100% remote control.

A few weeks ago, Amazon clarified its rules, probably humiliated by pressure from companies, especially Microsoft. Amazon now plans to allow two days of remote work. Obviously, this beats its previous “desktop-centric culture as a baseline,” but maybe not enough.

“People can be courted by other companies,” said an Amazon software engineer, who, like many employees, requested anonymity to speak openly. “I am jealous of Microsoft. There is an implicit trust in Microsoft’s policy, this trust is significant.

A self-described introvert, she feels the office is reducing her productivity, which has thrived by stay-at-home rules, in part because she said she had refueled after a daily nap.

As of now, Microsoft says that when offices fully open in September, employees will be able to work from home half the time, no questions asked. Additional time can be arranged with a manager, which is also true at Amazon.

Even after upgrading Amazon’s policy, one important difference remains. Remote days at Microsoft are determined by employees, those at Amazon, by management.

So who is kayaking?

The flexible working arrangements in these types of companies are mainly available to a privileged group of information workers, software engineers, software architects, data scientists, artificial intelligence specialists and some. salespeople and customer service employees who worked remotely before covid.

On-site workers include hardware engineers, for example, people who work on computer hardware and other equipment, and front-line workers, for example, building receptionists.

Some small businesses, like Seattle-based real estate website Zillow, outperformed many competitors with its fully flexible policy on where employees could work, a benefit to hiring.

“In the end, that was the deciding factor for me,” said Brecia Young, a recently hired senior data scientist at Zillow. Young lives in Chicago and did not want to move. She chose Zillow over other possible employers because other companies were less specific to remote working.

To be clear, remote work is not available to Zillow home appraisers and, for regulatory reasons, some who work in home loans.

After a year of working remotely, many workers have naturally gotten used to it. A financial analyst whose work at Amazon was linked to a fulfillment center, Grigory Lukin, left in May because he said Amazon wanted him to return to the center and couldn’t cope with the commute home -job. He now lives in Canada.

You might be able to explain Amazon’s approach by taking a quick look at its many new office buildings; the company has invested heavily in real estate.

But this is an entirely new world of work. Wages are increasing in many industries. Workers are resigning in large numbers. How do you keep them on the farm – or off the farm – after they’ve experienced the freedom of remote or hybrid work?

A Microsoft study found that 73% of 30,000 people in 31 countries want to keep working flexible and remotely. Ironically, 67% also want more time in person. The companies most likely to win the war for talent will therefore offer a mix.

“There’s a pretty strong belief that this is a really big change… everyone in the world wants more flexible work options,” said Jared Spataro, vice president of Microsoft 365. office culture . We just did. I hear anecdotally, “Dude, for the first time in my career, I’m having breakfast with my kids. I didn’t know what I was missing. ‘”

The rivalry between Amazon and Microsoft is not new: both see themselves as pioneers in the workplace. Amazon, remember, allows workers to bring a half kennel to the office. And for many years, locals have wondered which business is closest to the community? What is the most philanthropic? More socially responsible?

The cultural change of the past 16 months is bigger than any business or class of worker. Even some terminologies have changed. The expression “phone” – OK, zoom – is no longer pejorative. It is an increasingly respected feature of the workplace of the future, wherever it is.

Joni Balter is a longtime Seattle columnist and writer who contributes to local NPR and PBS affiliates.

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