Amazon Asked Staff to Return to the Office. Will Distributors Follow Suit? - Modern Distribution Management

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Amazon Asked Staff to Return to the Office. Will Distributors Follow Suit?

It may be too early to tell how some return-to-office policies affect productivity, but many workers have voiced opposition to returning even part time.
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Less than two weeks ago, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy reminded corporate employees still working remotely they would have to return to their in-person offices for at least three days per week. The return-to-in-person-work mandate was first announced in February and took effect in May. But many Amazon employees who have been working remotely since the onset of COVID-19 have pushed back since the new policy went into place. Some have argued that the online retail and eCommerce giant hasn’t provided sufficient data that would necessitate a mass migration back to the office.

In recent comments, however, Jassy implied that his patience with the pushback has worn thin. “If you can’t disagree and commit, it’s probably not going to work out for you at Amazon,” Jassy said during a Q&A session, according to a report from the Associated Press. Jassy also reportedly said it wasn’t right for some workers to be at the physical office three days a week while others have refuse to do so.

According to multiple media reports, Amazon also implemented a policy in July requiring some workers in smaller offices to move to larger offices. And although Amazon employs 1.4 million people worldwide, it hasn’t specified how many of those work in offices, the AP reported.

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And it’s not just Amazon putting its foot down when it comes to asking staff to return. Telsa, Google and other companies have begun pushing for workers to come back. Outside of the policies of those specific tech giants, however, one relevant question pokes though: Will industrial distributors and manufacturers follow suit and adopt rigid return-to-office policies? While we don’t have immediate access to data or survey responses in the wake of Amazon’s announcement, a brief look at what distributors said in the past could give us a glimpse of what they might decide in the near future.

Last July, our rotating question in the 2022 2Q Baird/MDM Industrial Distribution Survey asked respondents if they planned to mandate or at least encourage staff to return to the physical office full-time in the next 12 months. The vast majority of respondents were distributors, and nearly half with annual revenues of less than $25 million.

Among the nearly 400 responses:

  • 44% said they’ve already returned to the office full-time.
  • 36% said they planned to remain in a hybrid setup.
  • 13% replied yes.
  • 7% said no.

More than half (57%) said they had already returned to the office full-time or had encouraged staff to return full-time. A little more than a year later, it would be interesting to see where the other 43% stand, especially considering recent news of a new COVID variant.

While some companies think having employees return to work is the best option, forcing some workers to give up their remote or hybrid status could backfire, according to media reports citing recent studies or comments from business experts.

According to a report from media outlet Axios, more rigid return policies could lead to exoduses of top talent and less diverse offices, in part because workers who have disabilities may not be able to return to their actual office.

Perhaps countering that, a new study released in July by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the productivity of workers “randomly assigned to working from home” was 18% lower than those in the physical office.

As with many things, maybe the answer could be somewhere in between? Future-of-work expert Prithwiraj Choudhury from Harvard Business School told Axios that the most productive hybrid model is one where employees spending about 25% of their work time in person. This could mean working together in person for one week out every month or scheduling quarterly retreats instead of coming to the office once a week, Choudhury told Axios.

Again, tech execs and workers at top industrial distributors won’t always fall under the same umbrella when it comes to work mandates — but it will be interesting to see how and when industrial companies solidify new or updated in-office, hybrid or remote policies.

If you’re looking for more discussions about potential return-to-work policies, check out this lively B2BOnline debate session from November 2022, where distribution executives debated remote vs. hybrid vs. in-person work policies.

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