A small group of Amazon employees are rallying behind Andy Jassy’s return-to-office ultimatum while their coworkers protest

February 28, 2023, 10:36 PM UTC
Amazon CEO Andrew Jassy
Andy Jassy’s RTO memo has created splintered Slack channels at Amazon.
F. Carter Smith—Bloomberg/Getty Images

A line has been drawn in the sand, or rather in Slack. On Feb. 17, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, citing the importance of in-person collaboration, announced that employees were expected to return to the office three days a week starting in May. The plan was received with mixed emotions by Amazonians, who like most of America don’t see eye to eye on the issue of remote vs. hybrid vs. in-office work.

After Jassy’s announcement, around 28,000 employees joined a Slack channel named “Remote Advocacy,” according to information obtained from Insider. Shortly after, a separate, albeit much smaller, group of Amazonians formed a rival Slack channel called “Think Big,” which supports Jassy’s RTO plan, reports Insider

With only 750 people in the “Think Big” Slack channel so far, it’s not so much a war as a David and Goliath story, if David was backed by a billionaire CEO. Peeking inside the channel through screenshots, Insider found that one of the very first messages was a link to a 2021 Harvard Business Review article that reads very close to Jassy’s blog post announcing the new RTO plan, as it speaks to the purported benefits of in-person work such as culture, collaboration, and purpose. 

Some employees who are a part of “Think Big” talked about how working in the office was exciting, and they enjoyed seeing their coworkers. Another said that a RTO potentially would make everyone more productive, while also suggesting a four-day workweek.

After a couple of rough quarters and a round of layoffs, Amazon isn’t quite the Goliath it once was. An employee in favor of RTO connected the company’s difficult times to the rise of remote work, noting that Amazon’s stock price increase during the three years before the pandemic was higher than it is now while people work from home. While there’s arguably no direct correlation between Amazon’s current situation and its employees working from home, Jassy is likely feeling pressure to improve share prices and regain control.

When asked for comment, an Amazon spokesperson directed Fortune to a memo Jassy shared with employees last week, acknowledging the challenges of return to office. “It’s not simple to bring many thousands of employees back to our offices around the world, so we’re going to give the teams that need to do that work some time to develop a plan,” he said.

Meanwhile, the “Remote Advocacy” channel is making waves. An internal poll in the channel showed that a majority (80%) would look for a new job if the new hybrid policy goes through, as members cited problems like having to make a long commute after moving away during the remote-work era, and predicting things would be chaotic at Amazon as plans are implemented.

There’s also an employee petition to let teams decide for themselves where they want to work. The signers pushed back on Jassy’s claims presenting six counterpoints. They noted that remote work increases worker productivity; employees prefer location flexibility; and in-office work affects parents, minorities, and individuals with disabilities. The petition also argues that remote work improves hiring and development, would allow the company to cut down on costs, and improve employees’ work-life balance.

Admittedly Jassy acknowledged in his memo that the RTO “wouldn’t be perfect at first.” Many companies have struggled to get their employees back to the office on even a hybrid schedule, but there’s been a steady uptick since January, with occupancy hovering around 50%, according to Kastle Systems.

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