Meta and Alphabet spend big on AI after job cuts, Amazon tracks employees ahead of return-to-office policy

Plus, some harsh words for remote work.

Greetings, comms pros! Let’s look at some news stories from this week and see what lessons we can learn from them.

1 . Meta, Alphabet other tech companies look to spend big on AI post-layoffs

Not long after announcing a major round of layoffs, Meta is back in the news. Meta, along with Google’s parent company Alphabet, is poised to throw lots of money at the trend everyone’s talking about — artificial intelligence.

According to Bloomberg:

The AI arms race is on, and it’s being funded by the dollars saved through firing employees.  The word “AI” was uttered more than 200 times on earnings calls by Meta Platforms Inc., Alphabet Inc. and Microsoft Corp., which all delivered their results this week.

“We remain committed to delivering long-term growth and creating capacity to invest in our most compelling growth areas by re-engineering our cost base,” Alphabet Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat said in an interview this week. That’s corporate speak for: We’re taking money away from things that we don’t think will make us a more valuable company and giving it to the things that will.

If you didn’t think the rise of AI was here, you should now. AI is poised to alter the way that we work, and it’s also set to create major changes to how communications function. As comms pros, we should always keep an eye on emerging trends, but this one is different. With AI set to shake many long-held conceptions of how communicators approach their work to its core, you should look at how these companies are looking at AI as a potential trend that could soon expand beyond the tech sector.

2. Amazon employees are worried about the company tracking badge swipes ahead of return-to-office mandate

Amazon is calling its office workers back to their desks next week — and some employees are concerned about being tracked or retaliated against if they don’t or can’t comply with the mandate right away.

According to Insider:

The company has made it clear in a Q&A issued last month that unless an employee has received a rare exemption to work remotely, they must come to the office. The internal communication, seen by Insider, suggested that employees may need to move closer to their assigned offices, or even consider changing jobs or teams within Amazon to roles that use offices nearer to their homes, rather than lobby for permanent remote status.

One of the contentious issues among employees is how Amazon plans to use employee badging data to track them. While it can be common practice for companies to track badge data to understand office usage, some Amazon employees are worried that Amazon would use it to punish those who don’t adhere to the three-times-a-week return-to-office policy, according to Slack messages seen by Insider.

We’ve written quite a lot here at Ragan about the value of hybrid and remote work arrangements, citing studies that show how they can benefit health and wellbeing. But tracking your employees to see if they’re following your new rules? That might not be the right way to do things, raising a series of potential legal and reputational questions.

If employees feel like their opinions on remote work aren’t being heard, there should be a constructive dialogue — not something that evokes Big Brother. It’ll be interesting to see if other companies that are instituting return-to-work policies are taking a similar path or learning something and deviating from employee tracking.

3. Industry leaders have harsh words for remote work

Most communicators encourage work arrangements that support the needs of employees, but not everyone likes the benefits of remote work.

Outspoken real estate figure Sam Zell, known for his colorful language, called remote work “bull*****”, claiming that “one of the biggest lies in the world is that people working from home are more productive than people working in the office.” Sure, he’s not a neutral observer — he’s made his money through commercial real estate — but these comments are still notable.

According to Yahoo Finance:

He added, “I don’t know how a young person who wants to be recognized—who wants to be rewarded for superior effort—can do so if the person who makes the decisions about them doesn’t see them at work.”

In the Pew survey, 53 percent said that working from home does hurt them in terms of how connected they feel to co-workers. Thirty-seven percent said it neither hurt nor helped, while only 10 percent said it helped. In terms of opportunities to be mentored, 36 percent said remote work hurt them. Only 10 percent said it helped, while 54 percent said it neither helped nor hurt.

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said in January at Davos that remote work “doesn’t work for young kids or spontaneity or management.”

Sure, there are some parts of being in the office that lend themselves to culture building, but that doesn’t mean there’s no place for remote work. Remote work enables teams to connect across the country and the world to connect, provides opportunities for more workers, and expands the talent pool for organizations.

Is there a conversation to be had about the balance between work-from-home arrangements and in-office situations? Sure — but that doesn’t mean that remote work has no place at all. It’s here, it’s not going away, and people leasing office space (like Zell) need to come to terms with that.

  1. How about some good news?

Have a great weekend comms all-stars!

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.

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