Employees want Apple management to ‘think different’ about office work

Discussion
Source: Apple recruitment video
Aug 26, 2022

Apple has ordered its employees back to the office, and many are not happy about it.

A group of employees are circulating an internal petition arguing that the flexible work-from-home policy in effect for the past few years is resulting in “exceptional work,” according to Gizmodo (reporting on news originally appearing in Financial Times). The petition came about as a reaction to CEO Tim Cook’s recent announcement that Apple employees must appear in person in the office at least three days a week, effective September 5. The petitioners argue that such a blanket demand fails to account for those who work more effectively from home full time or with flexible schedules.

An unprecedented number of people throughout the U.S. have been working from home due to social distancing requirements imposed at the beginning of the pandemic. Some enterprises’ plans for full or partial returns to the office, including Apple’s, were put on hold in the summer of 2021 when the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus brought about a new wave of infection and led to the reinstatement of some social distancing measures.

But with the pandemic once again at a low ebb, the question of who, when and how frequently employees will be expected in the office is looming large.

A poll by Advanced Workplace Associates in February found that only three percent of white collar workers wanted to return to working in the office full time, Fortune reports. Eighty-six percent reported wanting to work from home at least two days a week, which would seem to fit the guidelines Apple is trying to impose.

Nevertheless, in the months leading up to the announcement of the current strategy, Mr. Cook admitted to not having all the answers on how best to manage the transition.

In June, Mr. Cook referred to the initiative to return to the office as “the mother of all experiments,” according to Apple Insider. He expressed a preference for in-office work because of the “serendipity” he believes occurs in workplace meetings, although he said that Zoom meetings were not inferior to in-person ones, simply different.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will companies with either full-time remote or hybrid work schedules have an advantage in recruiting and retaining white collar staff versus those with office-only policies? How should Apple respond to the blowback from employees over the revocation of full-time work-from-home privileges and more flexible schedules?

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Braintrust
"While face-to-face collaboration enlivens some workers, others flourish with privacy, space and few disruptions."
"Apple spent billions of dollars to create a city within a city working environment based on the needs of the associates."
"...my “back-in-the-day” experience tells me that companies with most of their time in the office will perform better."

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19 Comments on "Employees want Apple management to ‘think different’ about office work"


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Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

If Apple is being heavy handed, what are the rest of us to do? We allow our staff to work from home three days a week and come to the office the other two days. One of our employees who needs to be home all days due to a medical issue works from home at all times and that staff member does excellent work. We have not seen a drop off in productivity and in fact productivity has increased. I am surprised that Apple is taking this position.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

While I believe that full time remote or hybrid will be de rigueur for the next five years, we know for certain that trends can change, and radically, given certain unexpected conditions. It is all a question of adaptability to the existing business climate. Something else may replace both remote and part time in five years…

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust
Richard Hernandez
Director of Commerce
29 days 6 hours ago

I understand the comfort of working remotely, but if you started in the office, most businesses were probably planning to go back to it post-pandemic. Additionally, they are only asking for three days a week. Apple spent billions of dollars to create a city within a city working environment based on the needs of the associates.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

So what? They spent billions on all kinds of failed experiments. Needs change.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I imagine companies with full-time remote or hybrid work schedules will have an advantage in recruiting. But my “back-in-the-day” experience tells me that companies with most of their time in the office will perform better.

Tim Cook calls what I have experienced “serendipity.” That a company’s great ideas and cooperation come from people being together. Each person stimulates another’s idea — over a cup of coffee, over lunch, a drink after work, sticking one’s head in a colleague’s office, or even passing in the hall.

I am also concerned about how new employees who work at home get to know their colleagues personally. Today I have good friends with whom I worked with for over 50 years ago. That doesn’t happen remotely.

David Spear
BrainTrust
This topic is one of the most challenging issues facing senior leadership teams. Can wide swaths of individuals work effectively from home? Certainly, the pandemic proved this, but I do believe some of the best ideation and collaboration occurs in-person, at whiteboards, or during a mid-morning coffee break in the cafe while talking to colleagues. It’s tough to replicate this on a web call when everyone is multi-tasking (and if you don’t think people are multi-tasking, then I have some swamp land to sell you). As a recent example, I took a business trip to Seattle and met with a software partner and we collaborated for four solid hours at the whiteboard. To a person, everyone in the room was amazed at the quantity and quality of the ideation that occurred and everyone agreed that this never would have happened on a Zoom call. It felt good. It felt normal. It felt like we were back. Does this mean everyone must be in the office five days every week? No, but I do think a… Read more »
Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Yes, flexible work policies will give companies an edge with recruiting and retention. While face-to-face collaboration enlivens some workers, others flourish with privacy, space and few disruptions.

This line from Quiet by Susan Cain sprang to mind: “… many people – especially introverts like [Apple co-founder] Steve Wozniak – need extra quiet and privacy in order to do their best work.”

Apple should listen to workers’ concerns, and monitor any changes in performance, productivity and morale.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

There are varied perspectives on the return to work operating model. With the digital acceleration that emerged out of the pandemic, it’s clear that the remote and hybrid model has proven to be a very successful one. There are tools and capabilities that enable corporate executives to be quite effective remotely.

However companies like Apple have invested significantly in their office and collaboration space. Apple has every right to set expectations regarding how many days per week their employees must go to the office. As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s clear that the modern workforce has grown accustomed to a flexible work model, especially with the ability to work from anywhere.

We should expect Apple and other corporations to continue shifting their models as emerging young talent seek more flexible work arrangements. As someone who used to be in an office five days a week or travel four days a week to a client site, I am embracing the new ways of working.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

This issue is far trickier than we’d like. First, the claim of unprecedented effectiveness by allowing WFH would be impossible to measure. Second, it could be a leverage point for troublemakers. But also, a broad rigid policy is not an effective response.

This is a situational issue. Each company must make its own way in establishing a policy and approach to WFH which is effective in their unique situation.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

You know, RSR has been a virtual company since its inception. In other words, I have worked from home for 15 years (well, not working much this year, but you get the idea). I never felt like we missed out on anything, and I truly believe that it’s very misguided to force people to waste a couple hours of their lives commuting to an office, which most likely has open seating to boot. Give me my privacy! Look how well it worked for IBM to force its people back to offices (not).

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

This article portends a trend that will be the norm for remote working.

Mohamed Amer, PhD
BrainTrust

Exactly, Paula! Paradoxically, one of, if not the, most admired tech companies in the world is pushing a back-to-the-office policy when technology continues to facilitate effective and productive remote work. Sure, they’ve invested billions in new campuses, but that should not become the decision logic for its most valuable assets, people. Apple, and others, need to stop treating the location as part of the business’ core ‘how’ process; instead, refocus time and effort on building 21st-century capabilities: agility, flexibility, and collaboration fueled by new tools and work practices.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

An interesting statistic would be how many of Apple employees took advantage of the WFH opportunity to move to where the cost of living was far less so that now their commute would mean a far longer drive or a plane ride.

My expectation is most white-collar positions will be easier to fill if the company offers a hybrid schedule and that will result in better retention rates.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

You can’t give people something, then take it away and hope for the best. All other things being more or less equal, the more flexible the work schedule, the potentially more attractive the job. Apple’s mistake is confusing a cultural issue with a condition of employment. It seems to me – and I’ve worked on a remote or “mobile” schedule for the majority of my career – that some people do, in fact, perform better out of an office. Others need the structure, the social contact, and — yes — the politics. Once Apple (involuntarily) sent folks home they should have understood that a significant percentage of them wouldn’t want to come back to the office, at least on a full-time basis. Clearly they didn’t and that’s why what should have been settled by a flexible HR policy now looks like a corporate insurrection. Apple should defuse, reconsider, establish KPIs for remote workers, and make coming to work more advantageous than staying home. Not really the biggest problem they’ll face, but clearly badly mishandled.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I wonder if raises and promotions will naturally give those that go to the office an advantage over those that stay at home. I think those who are regularly in the office have a significant advantage over those who are not.

Mohamed Amer, PhD
BrainTrust

The easy path of “out of sight, out of mind” applies when most people are in the office, and few are remote. But when the location split is less skewed, the raise and promotion decisions require more thoughtful consideration and less bias. Time will tell.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Matt’s question embraces a rather dramatic range of possibilities, since “one day a year”(out of the office) could qualify as “hybrid”; indeed, it’s likely that most companies were that already…at least technically. But more in the way of what I think is meant – primarily remote for most workers – I remain skeptical: some people, and some jobs, are fine that way, but a lot aren’t. And (far more) to the point: people’s abilities to self-evaluate, and to “see the whole picture”, frankly aren’t very good. We’ll see.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Why would Apple management expect that issuing a rule about remote work would be successful for the company that espouses the need to think different”?

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust

I have watched this with interest and wondered if given the tight employment market and current levels of staff turnover in many technology companies, that this could be seen as a reason to leave Apple for somewhere more flexible.

There is a lot of discussion around this with companies highlighting flexibility as as benefit. At the same time there are comments in the UK media that as winter arrives with the dramatic increase in the price of home heating, some employees may return to the office rather than heating their home.

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Braintrust
"While face-to-face collaboration enlivens some workers, others flourish with privacy, space and few disruptions."
"Apple spent billions of dollars to create a city within a city working environment based on the needs of the associates."
"...my “back-in-the-day” experience tells me that companies with most of their time in the office will perform better."

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