Amazon employees staged a protest this week over the company’s return-to-office mandate. The tech giant doesn’t seem too bothered by it.
“We’re always listening and will continue to do so, but we’re happy with how the first month of having more people back in the office has been,” Amazon spokesperson Brad Glasser told Fortune.
In February, CEO Andy Jassy sent a memo saying remote workers should return to the office on May 1. “We should go back to being in the office together the majority of the time (at least three days per week),” he wrote.
Pamela Hayter, an employee, told workers gathered at the Wednesday walkout that her “heart just dropped” when she read the announcement “because I knew immediately the negative impact that this would have on my family.”
Working from home, she explained, had allowed her to spend more time with her family than she thought was possible before the pandemic.
“We don’t have to spend hours of our lives in traffic, hours of our lives at an office building,” she told those gathered on Wednesday.
Glasser told Fortune that since the return-to-office mandate went into effect “there’s more energy, collaboration, and connections happening, and we’ve heard this from lots of employees and the businesses that surround our offices.”
Earlier this year, Hayter started an internal Slack channel where workers could voice their support for remote work. She described the channel as the largest concrete expression of employee dissatisfaction in Amazon’s history during her speech.
Former Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield recently commented on such “Slacktivism” while speaking to Bloomberg’s Odd Lots podcast. “The super power in people’s ability to have conversations at work will include conversations that sometimes managers wish they didn’t,” he said.
But, he added, amid large tech layoffs and economic uncertainty people are now “more worried about job security so there’s less—and I’m not saying this is a good thing, necessarily—but there’s less labor organizing happening on Slack than there would have been two years ago.”
Amazon downplayed the attendance at the headquarters walkout, estimating the crowd to be 300 people (organizers put the number higher) and noting it has 65,000 corporate and tech employees in the Puget Sound region, and 350,000 globally. Employees protesting the company’s environmental impact and recent layoffs were also part of the walkout.
Jassy is not alone in demanding employees start working in the office again. Bob Iger at Disney, Howard Schultz at Starbucks, and Robert Thomson at News Corp are among the many others. Last month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk called working from home morally wrong, arguing the “laptop class” were unfair in demanding privileges that other people, like service workers or factory employees, couldn’t enjoy.
And OpenAI CEO Sam Altman told a Stripe conference last month: “I think definitely one of the tech industry’s worst mistakes in a long time was that everybody could go full remote forever…I would say that the experiment on that is over.”
Meanwhile at Uber rival Lyft, new CEO David Risher recently ordered remote workers back to the office one day after laying off more than 1,000 employees, or about 26% of the workforce.
In March, Amazon announced 9,000 employees would be let go, adding to the 18,000 jobs cuts that took place earlier this year and last November.
Despite the return-to-office mandates, swaths of office blocks across the country are still lying partially empty. Shark Tank star and real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran agreed with Musk’s warning this week that “commercial real estate is melting down fast.”
“No one really believes it’s going to turn the corner. People are staying home,” Corcoran told Fox Business’s The Claman Countdown.
Many remote workers contend that working from home is just fine in terms of productivity. In a recent Pew Research survey, 56% of respondents said working from home helps them get work done and meet deadlines, while 37% said it neither helps nor hurts.
“We can be productive, customer obsessed, we can do our good work, we can make a difference, and it does not have to be in an office building,” Hayter said at this week’s walkout.
Amazon, however, is sticking with its mandate.
“We understand that it’s going to take time to adjust back to being in the office more,” said Glasser. “There are a lot of teams at the company working hard to make this transition as smooth as possible for employees.”