In a leaked recording, Amazon's HR boss told employees why the company hasn't rushed into permanent remote working: 'We are learning as we go' (AMZN)

Amazon SVP of Human Resources Beth GalettiREUTERS/Al Drago

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Eight months into letting office employees work from home, Amazon is still learning what's working and what's not. 

That was the message from Amazon's HR chief Beth Galetti, who shared her thoughts on remote work during an internal all-hands meeting held late last month.

During the meeting, a recording of which was reviewed by Business Insider, Galetti said more Amazon employees are choosing to come into the office lately, finding it more productive to do so.

At the same time, new hires working from home are sometimes having more difficulty onboarding, she said.

"We're learning as we go," Galetti said. "We are looking forward to applying what we're learning — and help us work even more effectively in the future."

Galetti said it's still "way too early" to make any long-term commitments to remote work — some employees say it's easier to work on complex problems when they're physically in each other's presence. In any case, she said employee safety is a top priority, and that the offices now have temperature screening, social distancing, and masks available for those who want to go in.

"In recent months, we've actually been seeing an increasing number of people start to come into the office," Galetti said. "We're learning that there's some types of work that work really well in a quiet, distraction-free environment. For some of us, that's our home. For some of us, that's definitely not our home."

Galetti's comments show how Amazon is taking measured steps to its long-term remote work strategy. Amazon first told its office workers to work from home in March as the pandemic started to spread across the US, and has most recently set a return date for June 30, 2021 — but hasn't announced any permanent work-from-home plans yet.

It's a decidedly different approach than some of its tech peers, which have made working remotely a permanent part of their workplace.

Facebook, for instance, anticipates up to half of its workforce will work from home forever going forward, while Microsoft is taking a more "hybrid" approach, allowing employees to work remotely for almost half of their work week. Twitter and Square, meanwhile, said all of their employees can work remotely in perpetuity. They are part of over a dozen companies that have also chosen to make permanent adjustments to their office work policies — a change that more than half of American workers support.

In an email statement to Business Insider, Amazon's spokesperson confirmed Galetti's comments, adding it would be "premature" to make any long-term decisions before knowing how and when the pandemic will end. Amazon hopes to "return to more normal office operations" once local governance allows it and vaccines become more available, the statement said.

More flexibility for some employees

Some employees, particularly those in research and development roles, told Business Insider that they prefer going into the office, even with the ongoing pandemic. Access to certain equipment and sensitivity to their work information also make it easier to do things in the office, they said.

For certain employees, however, Amazon's remote work plans may be more flexible and longer-term than what's been officially announced. 

As Business Insider's Ashley Stewart previously reported, Amazon has allowed some employees in Seattle to clean out their desks, and gave others the option to permanently switch to a "virtual employee" designation — a position that prior to the pandemic was mostly reserved for employees who lived far from the Seattle headquarters. The designation also comes with no geographically adjusted pay cuts, unless your employment originated in high-cost cities, like New York or San Francisco, one person said. That's different from polices at other tech companies policies that usually require broader compensation adjustments between old and new residences.

"I'd be shocked if we ever return to the office," one employee told Business Insider.

During the all-hands meeting, Galetti said that new hire onboarding has been particularly challenging, as people could find it more difficult to settle into their new jobs while working from home. Having a more distributed workforce also requires more work in terms of preserving and cultivating Amazon's unique culture, she said.

To help recent employees, Amazon has started virtual new hire orientations, and now makes sure every new hire gets their work-related equipment, like computers, on their starting day. It also offers a virtual onboarding plan with details about Amazon's culture and individual teams, and access to other resources, including video guidelines from the company's most senior leaders. New employees also have an opportunity to connect with an "onboarding buddy," who helps assimilate to the new workplace, she said.

"If there's an area I'm most worried about, it's our new hires," she said. "It's really challenging to onboard new to a company — to Amazon — during the pandemic."

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