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Interview: Amazon’s RTO walkout indicates a greater need for compromise in the workplace

The era of remote work created the misconception that if you’re not ‘hands-to-keyboard’, then you’re not productive.

Using video technology for business. Inage (C) Tim Sandle
Using video technology for business. Inage (C) Tim Sandle

Many employers across the U.S. are firmly pushing workers to return to the office while dismissing any employee opposition. But often employees are not backing down. 

Just last month, hundreds of Amazon employees walked out of work to protest the company’s return to office policy. While Farmers Group, an insurance company, recently announced employees will be required to be in the office three days a week, sparking mass worker outrage. Farmers’ employees have posted more than 2,000 comments on an internal social-media platform expressing frustrations with the new policy. 

In order to create a successful return-to-office (RTO) policy, business leaders need to find a middle ground with workers to adopt a flexible and collaborative approach to fulfil both business and employee needs. This compromise allows for increasing autonomy and work-life balance while fostering collaborative workplace culture. 

As a business leader, Tate Hackert, President and Co-founder of ZayZoon values collaboration and takes a unique approach to employee listening. Hackert explains more to Digital Journal.

Digital Journal: What does the Amazon employee walkout indicate about employer and employee power dynamics?

Tate Hackert: There is an obvious struggle occurring between the employer and employee. Strikes are a clear example of employees’ demands and a result of increasingly broken communication – feeling unheard, a strike is used as the ultimate strategy that becomes too hard to ignore.

When it comes to disputes around RTO policies, compromises are needed from both the employer and employee. Change is difficult, and our visceral response is to fear change and push-back. In a large organization, especially one without incredible communication, trust can deteriorate and the intent of a leader’s decisions can be questioned.

DJ: How should companies approach and communicate RTO policies?

Hackert: Employers need to communicate their intent and intended outcomes better. The “why” behind their decision. They also need to recognize habits that were formed in the past 3 years and change will be faced with fear, rightly or wrongly. But a company isn’t run by a committee. A company needs strong conviction in its decisions. 

After ample feedback gathered and robust communications, it needs to be recognized that some decisions will be met with frustration, anger and even strike, and that’s ok – as long as proper upstream steps were taken – you can’t please everyone.

DJ: What’s driving the return-to-office push now?

Hackert: The era of remote work created the misconception that if you’re not ‘hands-to-keyboard’, then you’re not productive. It also created a tech culture that is obsessively data-driven, but it’s important to note that measuring intangibles is not easy. In order to achieve stellar business outcomes, businesses need constructive collaboration. They need to debate the things that matter and discuss short and long-term trade-offs.

Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg declared 2023 the “year of efficiency” and, told employees that it’s easier to build trust in person and those relationships will help teams work more effectively. Without that trust and vulnerability, constructive debate is impossible to achieve. In-person work is a much-needed counterbalance to the data-driven shift in the tech ecosystem and is one tactic that feeds into the broader theme of ‘the year of efficiency’.

DJ: How is the current financial landscape impacting the shift toward prioritizing employee collaboration? 

Hackert: Years of inexpensive capital have made way for irresponsible spending and inflated salaries in the tech community. Companies raised incredible amounts of money and used perks and benefits that rival tropical 5-star all-inclusive experiences to bring in new recruits as quickly as possible. People invested in top-line metrics in hopes of long-term outcomes without worrying about the short term. But now, rising interest rates are making capital more expensive. Investors are looking for a compelling reason to invest in long-term outcomes because they can make quite captivating returns in the short term. This is largely driving the sudden shift in tech companies focusing on their bottom line and not just vanity growth metrics. 

A year of efficiency means counting pennies and recognizing the severity of death by one thousand cuts. It’s a ton of hard decisions, building alignment, and a major reset to behaviour.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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