Amazon Prepares to Bring Employees Back to Canadian Offices and the Impact on Downtown Retail: Interview

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Investment in local communities is an important part of retail giant Amazon’s success story in Canada.

For example, 30,000 Canada-based third party sellers from all 13 provinces and territories – many of which are small and medium-sized businesses – grossed more than $1 billion on Amazon.ca in 2019, growing 40 per cent year-over-year.

Tamir Bar-Haim

But the company also has more than 4,300 corporate and tech employees in its tech hubs in Toronto and Vancouver – employees who support the local businesses in their communities.

“We have three offices in Toronto on Bremner, on York Street and Scotia Plaza and several offices throughout the downtown core in Vancouver,” said Tamir Bar-Haim, site lead at Amazon’s Toronto Tech Hub and Managing Director and Head of Global Expansion for Amazon Advertising.

He said Amazon has valued being present in those local communities and its employees, prior to COVID, were integral in supporting local businesses operating near those tech hubs such as restaurants and retail outlets.

“With our teams largely working from home over the last year plus, the opportunity to get back into the community and fill these vibrant spaces has been one of the things our team members are most looking forward to,” he said.

“Amazon has invested over $11 billion into the economy in Canada since 2010 across our corporate offices, fulfillment centres and more. And the ripple effect there has helped create a lot of jobs in the community. That includes 67,000 jobs in other companies across hospitality, physical retail, etc..

Amazon Canada Office in Toronto – Photo by Dustin Fuhs

“We actually recently surveyed our employees in Toronto just to ask them what are you looking forward to visiting most once the restrictions list? Taverna Mercatto is a great Italian restaurant that’s right at the bottom of our Bremner office. iQ Food is another great lunch spot. Pilot Coffee is another good one that’s a favourite of mine. For us, meeting customers in some of these local community locations is probably one of the best parts of working at Amazon right downtown in the core and that’s certainly what our employees are most looking forward to in terms of getting back to the office.”

With the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, all of the Amazon employees in Canada who worked in a role that could be done at home were encouraged to do so. At some point, with the guidance of health and government authorities, employees will be returning to the office environment.

“There’s no set dates at this point. Like many other businesses we’re watching the situation very closely and waiting to see when some of the public health guidelines start to lift,” explained Bar-Haim.

He said Amazon’s business has grown tremendously over the last several years and its employee base has increased and it’s a very important part of the retailer’s business to invest and give back to the communities that it serves.

“Just during the pandemic we’ve donated millions of dollars to causes that support right now needs like hunger, homelessness and disaster relief. We’ve given to 248 different non-profit organizations just in the last year and I’m really proud of how we’ve contributed back to the community,” said Bar-Haim.

“When we look at small and mid size businesses they’ve always been a core anchor of Amazon’s business. Just last year we released our first SMB impact report for Canada and it showed that Canadian SMBs sold more than 60 million products in Amazon stores in the 12-month period  . . . that’s up from 35 million products a year prior.

“We continue to support small businesses in a number of different ways both directly through our employees, through our giving to charitable endeavours but also just enabling small and mid size businesses to grow and reach customers all around the world.”

The company will also continue to invest in its tech hubs.

The Post, Vancouver. Rendering: QuadReal

“We found that both Toronto and Vancouver there’s just phenomenal tech talent. The workforce is diverse. It’s well-educated. There’s incredible universities that train some of the brightest minds and we just found that these folks are a great fit for Amazon where they have a terrific opportunity to build their careers but also work on global projects that can impact customers around the world,” said Bar-Haim.

“We’re certainly growing quite a bit across those hubs. We have more than 1,600 open roles available today. Our focus right now is Toronto and Vancouver.

“When the public thinks about Amazon, they don’t often realize quite how much we’ve invested in our technology hubs both in Toronto and in Vancouver. The fact that we have so many talented employees – 4,300 across these two sites – we’re not only building and servicing products in Canada but actually building global solutions for scale. We think that’s really unique and we’re really proud of it and it’s important to keep our great Canadian talent here at home and challenged and given opportunities to grow and develop.”

Bar-Haim said the company has spent a great deal of time internally reflecting on what the future of work is going to look like for Amazon.

“The future vision for us looks to be a model that balances both the flexibility for our employees to work from home but paired that also with the opportunity for regular in-person collaboration at our tech hubs,” he said. “We very much believe in the benefits of in-person interaction and we think it’s important as we innovate for our customers that we put our employees in a position they can brainstorm, they can collaborate, they cross-pollinate different ideas.

“And our employees have been very receptive to that.”

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