Amazon employees return to office, boosting Seattle businesses

May 3, 2023, 10:36 AM | Updated: 10:54 am

return to office...

Hundreds of busy people chatting on street corners, jaywalking, lining up at the Starbucks – downtown Seattle felt so safe, according to Dave Ross (Photo from Kate Stone/KIRO Newsradio)

(Photo from Kate Stone/KIRO Newsradio)

Amazon workers are returning the office this week, boosting business for nearby restaurants and shops, with streets along the Spheres buzzing with activity again.

Monday was the deadline for workers to return to the office at least three days per week, as dictated by a new policy from C-Suite executives at the company, including CEO Andy Jassy.

Amazon employees return to the office beginning May 1

Seattle business leaders and politicians have stated they hope this return to the office will help kickstart the downtown recovery. Lindsey Long of South Lake Union Bouquet says they have received more customers, especially those shopping for plants to decorate their desks now that they are back in the office.

“Just the sheer amount of people out and about, it’s refreshing to see. And now the sun is out, it was just perfect timing,” Long said. “Just much more foot traffic, we’ve had tons more people in the store.”

While the Amazon offices are open — an internal memo to employees says some of the buildings are not “verified” — most workplaces in the Puget Sound area won’t be ready until later this month.

Others are less happy with the mandate, with one employee who asked not to be identified saying that they feel like they are being forced unnecessarily to come back and don’t believe they will be any more productive.

“It just feels a little bit like corporate overreach, frankly,” one employee told KIRO Newsradio. “If you were doing your work and you were productive doing it in your previous working situation, to now being told to do your work in this specific space three times a week.”

In 2021, 70% of those who worked from home during the pandemic reported virtual meetings are less stressful, and 64% now prefer hybrid meetings, according to a report by Owl Labs, stating studies over the past few months show productivity while working remotely from home is better than working in an office setting.

“On average, those who work from home spend 10 minutes less a day being unproductive, work one more day a week, and are 47% more productive,” the report read.

Despite the pandemic slowing most industries down, Amazon posted $8.1 billion in profit in 2021, an increase of 220% from the same period in 2020, according to The New York Times. In a 2023 report, the net income for the company was $3.2 billion last quarter, a remarkable swing from the $3.8 billion loss reported in the same quarter in 2022.

In the announcement of the return Jassy said that people returning to the office would be able to reach new levels of productivity and creativity, a spark he said was lost during the transition to remote work.

“It’s easier to learn, model, practice, and strengthen our culture when we’re in the office together most of the time and surrounded by our colleagues,” Jassy wrote. “It’s especially true for new people (and we’ve hired a lot of people in the pandemic), but it’s also true for people of all tenures at Amazon. When you’re in-person, people tend to be more engaged, observant, and attuned to what’s happening in the meetings and the cultural clues being communicated.”

Amazon leaving Seattle’s West 8th tower after more than a decade

Jacob Noti-Victor, an economist with the University of Washington, Evans School of Public Policy, stated if workers really preferred to go to the office, companies wouldn’t have to force them with in-office mandates.

A balance between flexibility for employees, desks being filled in offices, and businesses receiving foot traffic in downtown is still in the process of being reached as everyone adjusts to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

KIRO Newsradio’s Kate Stone contributed to this reporting

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Amazon employees return to office, boosting Seattle businesses