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Amazon all in on back-to-the office

Soon to become Vancouver’s largest office tenant, Amazon expects its workers to spend at least three days in the office each week, bucking a tech-industry trend
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Amazon has pre-leased all of the office space at the Post, the QuadReal complex in downtown Vancouver.| Chung Chow

Had the pandemic not upended the global economy, Shopify Inc. workers at a 70,000-square-foot downtown Vancouver office tower might have been prepping for a one-year anniversary party this fall. 

Instead, the rapid shift to remote work saw the Canadian e-commerce company quickly walk back plans last year for a 1,000-person tech hub at Four Bentall Centre on Dunsmuir Street, with Shopify explaining it would instead become a “digital by default” company. 

Homegrown tech firms like Traction on Demand have been launching satellite offices in more bucolic locations where the cost of living is lower, while foreign VFX firms such as DNEG (Double Negative Ltd.) and Zoic Studios have been promising employees the option to work from home if they choose to do so.

Amazon Web Services, the cloud-computing subsidiary of  tech-retail giant Inc. has taken a different approach towards Vancouver — one that a new regional economic development organization is seizing on.

Rather than scaling back on its 2018 plans to add 3,000 workers to the city, Amazon announced almost exactly a year ago it would add another 3,000 tech workers to the team. That was followed this past summer when AWS revealed it would hire another 1,800 Canadian workers to be split between Vancouver and Toronto. Inc. is allowing its corporate and technology employees to continue working remotely, even after the coronavirus pandemic restrictions start to lift, but expects them to spend most of their time in the office. The retail giant said those employees must work three days in the office each week. In addition, they can work remotely from a domestic location for only four full weeks each year.

Amazon has pre-leased all 1.1 million square feet of office space at the Post, the complex that is being built above the old Canada Post building on West Georgia Street in downtown Vancouver, which completes in the third quarter of 2022. The company will then become the largest office tenant in the city, with 1.5 million square feet.

Whether or not Amazon workers actually show up at the office, the giant’s massive step into Vancouver has excited Jacquie Griffiths, executive vice-president of Invest Vancouver.

“There's a great value proposition in the region in terms of our talent, in terms of the environment that we have, in terms of the ways in which we really are building out as it relates to tech,” Griffiths said.

Her economic development organization, has announced plans to partner with Amazon Web Services on a talent development program it said would prep “thousands” of workers in the region for tech jobs.

"My team looks forward to working hand-in-hand with Invest Vancouver, secondary and post-secondary institutions, industry and non-profits to address the gap in cloud education and provide targeted education opportunities," Coral Kennett, head of educational programs for AWS Canada, said in a statement.

Last month, economists at RBC described B.C.’s labour market as the “tightest” in Canada.

The high demand for tech talent has seen companies making significant promises to workers in a bid to attract and retain them, including generous work-from-home options.