Last Thursday, Amazon announced that it will no longer require all its employees to work in the office full time starting this fall. Instead, an all-staff memo explained how the company will balance the request for flexibility with in-person work culture: Workers will spend at least three days a week in the office and have two remote-work days determined by supervisors. For those Amazon employees that want to work fewer than three days in the office, they can apply for an exception.
That adds up to a significant change in the behemoth’s famously intense work environment. But in the DC area, there’s another question: What does it mean for us? Amazon brought its HQ2 to Washington following a lengthy wooing process that secured benefits for the company and involved projections of massive benefits for the local economy. A 2018 report by the Virginia Chamber Foundation stated that HQ2 will have a $15 billion economic impact on the DC area and create 62,000 new jobs by 2030. The report also said it was likely that the total impact would be more than twice that figure thanks to a domino effect on local businesses, including restaurants and bars.
So does the prospect of Amazon staffers working from home two days a week amount to a 40 percent cut in the amount of foot traffic for businesses in the neighborhood around HQ2? Not necessarily. People might take more advantage of their three days in the office to go out for lunch—something that might not be so easy at home. And walking-distance businesses can also take comfort in Washington area economic guru Stephen Fuller’s prediction that HQ2 might wind up with 40,000 employees rather than the 25,000 that was originally predicted.
Beyond the immediate neighborhood, the regional impact of a change in Amazonian work rules should be minimal, according to Fuller, founder of The Stephen S. Fuller Institute at George Mason University. “There’s no reason to think that this work policy change will alter a lot,” he said, pointing out that employees will still have to live in the DMV area to commute to work a few times a week. If fewer workers are supporting dining and retail during the day, those same people might meet with friends up more frequently in the evenings or spend more on grocery shopping for at-home meals. “The spending will still occur, but somewhere else,” he said.