Amazon is showing a tiny amount of flexibility in it’s rigorous scheduling and systematic workplace processes. They will now be offering 30 hour work weeks – but only for a small amount of people, within a certain division.
Even as the news of this new phase in flexibility was being announced, it quickly became apparent that there would be little genuine opportunity for independent or flexible work within the Amazon Group.
Firstly, in order to qualify for the reduced hours, workers would have to take a pay cut in line with their reduced workload. In other words, this is less about real flexibility than it is about a fair exchange of hours and dollars – when you leave the office, you stop getting paid. There are also a plethora of other conditions that employees must meet before Amazon will consider them eligible for reduced hours.
For many years, Amazon has seemed to be at the cutting edge of all practices – from warehousing through to cloud computing and infrastructure development. Now however, as expert technicians become more autonomous, choosing their own hours and being offered the flexibility to work from wherever they choose – Amazon is being, not only slow to act, but also incredibly one-dimensional in its approach.
While this may not seem like a critical issue, in order to maintain the upper hand within its more competitive divisions, Amazon will be forced into a competitive hiring corner, where reputation comes second to respect through trust and autonomy.
Critical to this is its ability to hire top-notch programming and technology talent, a recruitment sector which is already very tight, and is only likely to get more so as specialist areas become even more specialised.
As the world moves towards new platforms such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence, Amazon puts itself in a dangerous position. Experts in these critical areas will not want to work with a business that doesn’t value their autonomy, flexibility and contribution over working hours. It’s understandable, and a requirement that Amazon should continue to regulate working hours within its warehousing and industrial divisions, where being present is a pre-requisite for effectiveness. However, if it doesn’t adapt quickly to other areas of its business, where someone being in the office is far from mandatory, they are set to lose battles that haven’t even started yet.