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How Amazon’s Latest Return to Office Plan Could Impact Local Restaurants

The tech giant says its goal is to have most of its workers back in the office by the fall

The Amazon Spheres in downtown Seattle shown from a low-angle lens on a sunny day, with foliage visible within the buildings
The offices around Amazon’s main Seattle campus have been mostly vacant for the past year.

On Tuesday, March 30, Amazon revealed a few new details about its return to office plan. After extending its initial work from home policy until June 30, the company has told all employees it expects to eventually phase out the guidelines on remote work, with the aim of bringing most people back to the office later in 2021.

“The timelines for returning to the office will vary by country, depending on the infection and vaccination rates, and we expect our return to the office to be gradual,” Amazon said on the company’s official blog. “In the U.S., as vaccines become broadly available in the next few months, we expect more people will start coming into the office through the summer, with most back in the office by early fall.”

Amazon didn’t reveal what this means specifically for the tens of thousands of employees who usually occupy the Seattle area offices, which have remained mostly empty for the past year (a spokesperson for the company said the official blog post was “all the information we can provide”). But the timeline for workers returning will affect restaurants and bars around the downtown Amazon campus, which have been dealing with challenges from the pandemic for over a year.

When COVID-19 first impacted the city in March 2020, Amazon was among the first companies to institute a work from home policy. Almost immediately, small businesses in the vicinity saw a precipitous drop in revenue, and it was difficult to recover, even once restaurants were allowed to reopen in a limited capacity. Several places in Belltown and South Lake Union have closed permanently, including Tom Douglas’s iconic Dahlia Lounge. Amazon says it has provided more than $15 million to over 900 local small businesses in the Puget Sound region between its relief fund and additional rent forgiveness for restaurants housed in its buildings. But the longer-term picture for businesses that rely on the presence of office workers within the Amazon hub is still unclear.

It’s significant then that the tech giant now says its plan is “to return to an office-centric culture as our baseline.” Other mega tech corporations with offices in the region, such as Microsoft, Facebook, and Uber, recently announced details of their own return to office plans, but appear to build in more flexibility for both remote and in-office work. If Amazon wants most of its workers back to the office by the fall, it may be that the blocks around restaurants downtown will start bustling sooner rather than later.