When Amazon said in March that most of its 60,000 Seattle-area employees would return to the office by the fall, some employees were furious. A few have threatened to quit for both substantial and other reasons, including one who said post-pandemic rules would cut off his regular kayaking. At the same time, Microsoft in Redmond said employees can work from home, office, or in a hybrid arrangement. Covid has compounded the impression that while Microsoft is often more enlightened, Amazon is harder to drive and more old school. As employers vie for prized workers, the demand for remote or hybrid work is quickly becoming a part of hiring negotiations and compensation packages. Labor flexibility can be even more important than pay.
“I think the job market has changed forever,” said Chris Bloomquist, co-founder of Talent Mine, a tech recruiting startup. Years ago he said he could have counted on one hand the number of potential employees looking for remote work. Now, seven out of 10 applicants mention it up front and many, according to several recruiters, insist on 100% from a distance.
Amazon has clarified its rules, likely due to peer pressure. He now plans to authorize two days of remote work. 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 requested anonymity. “I am jealous of Microsoft. There is an implicit confidence in his policy, this confidence is significant.
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 Amazon’s policy upgrade, a big difference remains. Remote days at Microsoft are determined by employees, those at Amazon, by management. Flexible working at these companies is primarily available to a select group of information workers, software engineers, software architects, data scientists, artificial intelligence specialists, and some salespeople and department employees. client who worked remotely before covid. On-site workers include hardware engineers, for example, and frontline interface workers.
Some small businesses, like Seattle-based real estate website Zillow, have top-notch competitors with their fully flexible workplace policies, a plus for hiring. “That was the deciding factor for me,” said Brecia Young, a recently hired data scientist at Zillow. Young lives in Chicago and did not want to move. She chose Zillow over others 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 there and he 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 it’s a new world of work. Wages are rising in many areas and workers are quitting in large numbers. How do you keep them in post after they have 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 firm belief that this is a really big change … everyone in the world wants more flexible working options,” said Jared Spataro, vice president of Microsoft 365. “Don’t tell me we’re in -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 asked which business connects best with 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” – okay, zoom in on it – is no longer pejorative. It is an increasingly respected feature of the workplace of the future, wherever it is.
Joni Balter is a multimedia journalist and speaker.
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