When Amazon announced in March that most of its 60,000 employees in the greater Seattle area would be returning to the office by the fall, some employees were furious. Some threatened to quit for serious and less momentous reasons, including one who said the post-pandemic rules would disrupt his regularly scheduled kayaking.
At the same time, Microsoft, headquartered in nearby Redmond, said employees could work from home, the office, or in a hybrid arrangement.
In the rare world of esteemed high-tech workers in the Seattle area, the comparison is sometimes inevitable. Covid-19 reinforced the impression that Microsoft is often more enlightened, Amazon, more driving fun and old school.
As companies compete for certain elite workers, the demand for remote or hybrid work is quickly becoming an important part of hiring negotiations and compensation packages. Over time, more flexible regulations will prevail. They can be more important than the pay.
“I think the job market has changed forever,” said Chris Bloomquist, co-founder of Talent Mine, a Seattle-based tech recruiting startup.
Bloomquist said years ago he could have counted the number of potential employees looking for remote work on one hand. Now seven out of 10 candidates mention it from the top. And many, say several recruiters, insist on 100% remote.
A few weeks ago, Amazon clarified its rules, probably pushed into them through peer pressure from companies, including Microsoft. Amazon now plans to allow two days of remote work. This clearly surpasses its earlier “office-centered culture as a base”, but maybe not enough.
“People can be poached by other companies,” said an Amazon software engineer who, like many employees, asked anonymity in order to speak openly. “I’m jealous of Microsoft. There is implicit trust in Microsoft’s guidelines, and that trust makes sense. “
As a self-described introvert, she feels that the office is reducing her productivity, which thrived under the stay-at-home rules, in part because she said she recharged after a daily siesta.
As of now, Microsoft says, when the offices are fully open in September, employees will be able to work from home half the time with no questions asked. Additional time can be arranged with a manager, which also applies to Amazon.
Even after Amazon’s policy upgrade, an important difference remains. Remote days at Microsoft are set by employees, Amazon, management.
So who can kayak?
Flexible working arrangements in this type of company are mostly available to a privileged group of information workers, software engineers, software architects, data scientists, artificial intelligence workers and some sales and customer service reps who worked remotely before Covid.
On-site employees include, for example, hardware engineers, people who work on computer hardware and some other devices, and frontline workers such as building receptionists.
Some smaller companies, like Seattle-based real estate website Zillow, outperformed many competitors with their completely flexible policies of where employees could work, a hiring advantage.
“Ultimately, it was the deciding factor for me,” says Brecia Young, a recently hired senior data scientist at Zillow. Young lives in Chicago and didn’t want to move. She preferred Zillow to other potential employers because the other companies were less specific about remote work.
To be clear, remote working 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 understandably got used to it. A financial analyst whose Amazon work was tied to a fulfillment center, Grigory Lukin, walked away in May because he said Amazon wanted him back at the center and he couldn’t face the commute. He now lives in Canada.
Perhaps you can explain Amazon’s approach by taking a quick look at the many new office buildings. The company has invested heavily in real estate.
But this is a whole new universe of work. Wages are rising in many industries. Large numbers of workers quit. How do you keep them under control on the farm – or off the farm – after experiencing the freedom of remote or hybrid work?
A Microsoft study found that 73% of 30,000 people in 31 countries want flexible working from a distance. Paradoxically, 67% also want more personal time. The companies that are most likely to win the talent war will therefore offer a mix.
“There’s a pretty strong belief that this is a very big change … everyone around the world wants more flexible work options,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365. “Don’t tell me we’re an in-office culture . We just did that. Anecdotally I hear: ‘Man, for the first time in my career I’m having breakfast with my kids. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. ‘”
The rivalry between Amazon and Microsoft is not new: Both see themselves as workplace pioneers. Amazon, don’t forget, has workers bring half a kennel to the office. And for many years, locals have been asking which company connects better with the community? What’s more philanthropic? More socially responsible?
The cultural change of the past 16 months is greater than in any company or any working class. Even some terminology has turned upside down. The phrase “Call” – OK, enlarge it – is no longer derogatory. It’s an increasingly respected feature of the workplace of the future, wherever it may be.
This column does not necessarily represent the views of the editors or Bloomberg LP or their owners.
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at [email protected]
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