Andy Jassy wants workers to come to work.
“It’s probably not going to work out for you,” he told those who won’t.
The Amazon CEO is not alone.
The COVID pandemic and lockdowns kept the laptop class at home. Now top executives are ordering people back into the office.
As someone who runs a small organization, I can sympathize.
You don’t need a PhD in organizational management to recognize that gathering in a common workplace pays dividends.
In fact, arguing for the superiority of in-office teams over Zoom-linked employees is like making the case that it’s nearly always better for spouses to live in the same city, preferably in the same dwelling.
It’s a truth more evident than any reason you can give.
Only those who have special reasons to want to avoid coming to an office (a soul-crushing commute, a small child at home, a hostile workplace) can insulate themselves from the staggeringly obvious fact that face-to-face relations lubricate professional ones.
Or that the most important conversation is almost always the one you don’t plan to have.
Or that successful managing and motivating subordinates requires taking their emotional temperature, which can’t be done remotely.
Or that distance erodes employee loyalty.
I could go on, and I will.
Young people are especially naïve about remote work. They can’t see that someone working from home will never enter the C-suite.
Indeed, over the last three years I’ve counseled many young people to go back to the office as soon as possible.
A bright young person at JPMorgan Chase’s corporate headquarters is currently far more likely to be noticed by upper management.
The present delusions about the “virtual office” are creating a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for anyone who is ambitious.
Some reply by insisting they want “work-life balance.”
It’s a healthy ambition, and I reply by pointing out that the great advantage of going to the office is that you also leave it.
Working from home corrupts the helpful dividing line that separates work from domestic life.
And people are the larger part of what makes life worth living.
Those who work from home must subsist on a narrow range of daily interactions.
Those who go to the office enjoy a wide range, especially in the hustle and bustle of New York City.
But it won’t be easy to get people back into the office.
Throughout the Year of the Plague, and even longer, very nearly every corporate leader contributed to happy talk about remote work.
Entire conferences (on Zoom, naturally) were devoted to singing praise songs about working from home.
In some quarters the fantasy endures. The Aspen Institute’s 2023 festival in, well, Aspen featured a session titled “After the Office: Reinventing Where and How We Work.”
Most of this talk was simply propaganda deemed necessary for lockdowns’ legitimacy.
Defeat the virus and enjoy the new, flexible, you-centered corporate America that’s happier and more productive. A win-win!
The laptop class bought the sales pitch. Those with long commutes hardly needed convincing.
Young professionals in Brooklyn rented Airbnbs in Mexico City, a kinda fun and cool way to make a living.
Meanwhile, corporate America dithered.
It was nearly impossible to reverse course without admitting, even only implicitly, that compelling everyone into isolation during the pandemic and leaving business districts empty for months on end was a disastrous overreaction.
CEOs were chanting “Stay safe!” and pretending to believe the win-win for a long time.
Now Jassy and his pals are reading from a different script. “Hey, kids, we were just kidding about the bright new future of work. In truth, the old 9-to-5 really is better for the bottom line.”
Can you blame the accountants and coders who moved to Reno, Nev., for being pissed?
It’s like Dick Cheney saying, “We always kinda knew the whole invasion of Iraq thing was a big mistake.”
These kinds of admissions are not a recipe for building trust and loyalty, to say the least.
I wish Jassy the best. But it’s hard to lie to people (and, more often than not, to yourself) and then, as you reverse course, get the same people to do something they don’t want to do.
I avoided this problem in my own small office by ordering everyone back to work in August 2020.
I dare say that if Jassy and his crowd had not been so eager to align themselves with Dr. Tony Fauci and his ilk, perhaps they’d have done the same, which would have saved all the cajoling and threatening (now more and more explicit) to get people to come to work.
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.
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