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Amazon exec says it’s time for to RTO: ‘I don’t have data to back it up, but I know it’s better’



Amazon’s senior leadership is losing patience with remote work, even if they don’t have a good reason.

Mike Hopkins, senior vice president of Amazon Video and Studios, reportedly told members in an internal meeting that when it comes to returning to the office: “It’s time to disagree and commit. We’re here, we’re back—it’s working,” he said. “I don’t have data to back it up, but I know it’s better.”

Hopkins was referring to Amazon’s leadership principles instructing employees to “have [a] backbone, disagree, and commit,” Business Insider’s Eugene Kim, who viewed a recording of the Amazon meeting, reported. In other words, once any company decision is made, workers are expected to fall in line, even if they disagree with it (many do).

Nonetheless, Hopkins added, a return to the office is important because it’s the personal belief of CEO Andy Jassy and other top brass that “we just do our best work when we’re together.”

Disgruntled Amazon workers likely saw this coming. This time last year, Jassy said Amazon had no plans for a compulsory office return and instead intended to “proceed adaptively.” That sentiment didn’t last, and Jassy soon joined peers Elon Musk and Sundar Pichai in their pro-office enthusiasm, mandating an office return earlier this year (the company does have an exception request process that’s considered on a case-by-case basis).

“The energy and riffing on one another’s ideas happen more freely, and many of the best Amazon inventions have had their breakthrough moments from people staying behind after a meeting and working through ideas on a whiteboard, or continuing the conversation on the walk back from a meeting, or just popping by a teammate’s office later that day with another thought,” he wrote in an April 2023 shareholder letter. “Serendipitous interactions help it, and there are more of those in-person than virtually.”

Amazon spokesperson Rob Munoz told Fortune that they’ve been happy with how the return to office has gone since it Amazon mandated it earlier this year: “There’s more energy, collaboration, and connections happening, and we’ve heard this from lots of employees and the businesses that surround our offices.”

The battle for flexibility

While recent studies have found remote work to be less productive than in-office work, the vast majority of workers nonetheless prefer the flexibility of remote-first jobs and jump at the chance to work at companies that offer it. It’s no wonder why; flexible work means more time for errands, shared moments with loved ones, and saved money. Even as remote job postings dwindle, they remain extremely popular among applicants. Indeed, recent data finds that companies who staunchly refuse to entertain more flexible options that workers ask for are the ones who disproportionately struggle with retention and churn.

That’s to say nothing of the “serendipity” and “spontaneity” bosses like Jassy and JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon insist make in-person work worthwhile. But Annie Dean, the VP of Team Anywhere at Atlassian and Meta’s former Director of Remote Work, told Fortune the whole idea is a misnomer. “The idea that office attendance will drive creativity is predicated on the idea that the right people are in the office at the right time,” she said. “But if people are more than 30 feet away from you, it’s like they’re not in the same building.” 

Fully flexible arrangements, on the other hand, “just appear to be a healthier, happier way to live,” she said. (Not to mention it can be much more efficient—particularly if you aren’t on the hook for attracting and training new talent every quarter.) 

Any bosses expecting office presence by itself (rather than a full cultural overhaul) to solve existing problems of productivity, innovation, or creativity will be sorely disappointed. “Those are all how to work problems, not where to work problems,” Dean said. “The office won’t solve these problems. New ways of working will.”

Granted, the office can be enormously valuable for learning the ropes. Opportunities for mentorship, communication, and learning by osmosis are difficult to replicate over Zoom, particularly for early-career workers or recent hires, a wide swath of research has found.

Perhaps that’s why Amazon wants workers back at their desks; it’s working, Hopkins insisted—even though he had “no data either way” on the comparative effectiveness of in-person work.

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