CUPERTINO, California: In a shift from its previous policy that employees would need to be in company offices at three days a week, Amazon announced this week it would allow many tech and corporate workers to continue working remotely indefinitely, as long as they are able to commute to the office when necessary.
Monday's message, signed by Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, explains that Amazon directors would have the option to allow teams under their purview to continue working remotely.
"We expect that there will be teams that continue working mostly remotely, others that will work some combination of remotely and in the office, and still others that will decide that customers are best served having the team work mostly in the office," Jassy wrote.
The company's newest policy twist could affect restaurants, coffee shops, hair salons, gyms and other ground-floor businesses around Amazon's South Lake Union campus, which had been hoping that foot traffic and revenues would increase once Amazon fully reopened its offices in the neighborhood next year.
"We've definitely been seeing the return of workers to those towers as the light at the end of tunnel," said Jeremy Price, co-owner of the Sea Creatures restaurant group.
Restaurants and shops once dependent on a lunchtime rush of badge-wearing Amazon employees say they are now seeking customers who live in the neighborhood, construction workers and a few Amazon workers who are already back in the office.
Amazon's move on remote work also adds uncertainty to attempts to forecast future demand for office space in downtown cores.
The amount of vacant office space across the region has jumped this year amid many companies' reluctance to mandate a return to offices during a surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the delta variant.
Commercial real estate brokers, though, have remained bullish, pointing to under-construction Amazon office projects on the Eastside as a sign that the company expects offices to remain relevant in the long term.
With new office construction on the Eastside for Amazon, "I just can't believe they're going to commit to all these lease rates and not fill it," said Brian Hatcher, president of the commercial brokerage Kidder Mathews, as quoted by the Seattle Times. Hatcher predicts an eventual shift back to office work.
If Amazon's move does signal a longer-term policy, the move could also cement pandemic-era trends in the housing market.
Amazon employees looking to buy homes "can look now farther out," said Windermere Chief Economist Matthew Gardner. "They can move out farther," he told the Seattle Times
Amazon employees appeared hesitant to conclude that the new policy was a significant relaxation of the company's previous stance on remote work.
The new policy "doesn't feel very meaningful to me," an Amazon office employee in Seattle, who asked not to be named, said in an interview Monday. "The assumption previously was basically that a director wouldn't approve individual remote work without a very good reason, so I'm not very optimistic that will change."