Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Working from home: The future of business is remote

AWS chief Andy Jassy: COVID-19 experience could change the way we hire

After relying heavily on video conferencing through the pandemic, Amazon Web Service's CEO says the company will probably focus less on the geographic location of prospective hires.

Amazon's corporate hiring may in the future focus less on the geographic location of job candidates, Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy said this week. After successfully leveraging video conferencing through the COVID-19 pandemic, the company could rely on it more in the long term, he said. 

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Video conferencing changes "where I think that all of us, including myself, can get our work done and where we'll hire people," Jassy said during a virtual AWS event. "We've historically had this thesis that you want a critical mass of people in a certain location, but I think we've learned through this process you can have smaller groups of people who, if they're committed to working with their teammates, can very capably participate no matter where they are in the world."

In addition to changing its hiring practices, Jassy suggested the company could permanently put less emphasis on traveling to meet with partners and customers. 

"You also see a lot of the meetings we have with customers -- particularly ones far away from us, across the country or in other countries -- people often over-rely on going to see them in person to have face to face conversations," he said. A phone call, he said, is "different than being able to look them in the eye and see how they're reacting to what you're saying." 

Yet during the pandemic, "we've had so many more conversations with people we see less frequently. It's really changed the ability to create more human contact with partners all over the world."

Amazon's distribution centers and its data center regions are already widely dispersed, but its corporate office locations have been the center of significant controversy in recent years. The quickly-growing tech company employs more than 45,000 people at its headquarters in Seattle, and its presence there has significantly shaped the growth and character of the city. 

In 2018, hundreds of cities across North America practically tripped over themselves to catch Amazon's attention as it mulled over where to build its "HQ2" -- a second headquarters. Ultimately, Amazon chose to split its HQ2 between two locations, indicating it was already attuned to the benefits of a geographically dispersed workforce. 

Like most other major companies, Amazon has told its corporate employees to work from home during the pandemic. It recently told employees they will have the option to keep working remotely at least until early October. Google, Facebook and other tech companies have made similar announcements

Meanwhile, some economists say that increased teleworking will have a lasting impact on cities, bringing down demand for housing and retail options in city centers. Amazon has already to some degree acknowledged that, launching a $5 million COVID relief fund for small businesses within close physical proximity to its headquarters.