Apple staff complain about returning to the office post-Covid 19

epa08502361 Handout image released by Apple showing Apple Park where the 2020 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) at Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California, USA 22 June 2020. WWDC, in its 31st year and held virtually for the first time, runs through June 26. EPA/BROOKS KRAFT / APPLE / HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY, NO SALES
Some Apple employees don’t want to come back to the company’s main office pictured here in Cupertino, California (Credits: EPA)

As vaccine rollouts continue and Covid rates go down, many companies are beginning to bring employees back to offices.

Last week, tech giant Apple announced employees will start returning to the office three days a week.

And, a mere two days later, those employees wrote a letter to CEO Tim Cook saying that, actually, they’d rather not.

Specifically, the letter (which was obtained by media in the US) asks for Apple to consider a hybrid, flexible approach to work in the future.

The employees point out that since moving to a remote system due to Covid, Apple has achieved a record-breaking year of sales, pushed out new versions of its biggest operating systems and released a slew of new products.

‘Over the last year we often felt not just unheard, but at times actively ignored,’ the letter says.

‘Messages like, “we know many of you are eager to reconnect in person with your colleagues back in the office,” with no messaging acknowledging that there are directly contradictory feelings amongst us feels dismissive and invalidating…It feels like there is a disconnect between how the executive team thinks about remote / location-flexible work and the lived experiences of many of Apple’s employees.’

epa08812372 In this still image from the keynote video of a special event provided by Apple, Apple CEO Tim Cook marks a historic day for the Mac and Apple in a special event at Apple Park in Cupertino, California, USA, 10 November 2020. EPA/BROOKS KRAFT / APPLE INC. HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
The letter was addressed to Apple CEO Tim Cook (Credits: EPA)

Around 80 employees were involved in writing and editing the letter addressed to Cook.

Work on it reportedly started in a Slack channel for ‘remote work advocates’ consisting of roughly 2,800 members.

The letter makes a number of formal requests, involving a company-wide survey to ascertain the appetite for flexible working and the option for ‘remote and location-flexible work decisions to be as autonomous for a team to decide as are hiring decisions.’

The authors of the letter cite reasons echoed by remote workers in other companies for going flexible. Not dealing with a commute or a full-time office location gives them more time with their families and it also works out better for the environment.

However, you can understand Apple wanting staff to use the ‘spaceship’ HQ it spent years building in Cupertino. After all, the 2.8m sq ft property in Santa Clara is valued at $4.17bn – roughly £2.9 billion.

That makes it not just one of the most expensive HQs in the world, but one of the most expensive buildings in the world period.

Other tech heavyweights, like Facebook and Twitter have decided their employees can continue to work from home forever, even after the pandemic ends.

At the height of the pandemic, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), almost half of us here in the UK were doing some work at home.

It remains to be seen how the return to office life will happen as the grip of the pandemic loosens.

The full letter on remote working from Apple's employees

epa08812369 In this still image from the keynote video of a special event at Apple Park in Cupertino, California, USA, 10 November 2020, Apple's senior vice president of Software Engineering Craig Federighi showcases how Big Sur and Apple??s advanced software technologies are optimized for M1. EPA/APPLE INC. / HANDOUT HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering Craig Federighi showcases how Big Sur and Apple’s advanced software technologies are optimized for M1. (Credits: EPA)

Dear Tim and Executive Leadership,

Thank you for your thoughtful considerations on a hybrid approach to returning to office work, and for sharing it with all of us early this week. We appreciate your efforts in navigating what has been undeniably an incredibly difficult time for everyone around the world, and doing so for over one hundred thousand people. We are certain you have more plans than were shared on Wednesday, but are following Apple’s time-honored tradition of only announcing things when they are ready. However, we feel like the current policy is not sufficient in addressing many of our needs, so we want to take some time to explain ourselves.

This past year has been an unprecedented challenge for our company; we had to learn how to deliver the same quality of products and services that Apple is known for, all while working almost completely remotely. We did so, achieving another record-setting year. We found a way for everyone to support each other and succeed in a completely new way of working together — from locations we were able to choose at our own discretion (often at home).

However, we would like to take the opportunity to communicate a growing concern among our colleagues. That Apple’s remote/location-flexible work policy, and the communication around it, have already forced some of our colleagues to quit. Without the inclusivity that flexibility brings, many of us feel we have to choose between either a combination of our families, our well-being, and being empowered to do our best work, or being a part of Apple. This is a decision none of us take lightly, and a decision many would prefer not to have to make. These concerns are largely what prompted us to advocate for changes to these policies, and data collected will reflect those concerns.

Over the last year we often felt not just unheard, but at times actively ignored. Messages like, ‘we know many of you are eager to reconnect in person with your colleagues back in the office,’ with no messaging acknowledging that there are directly contradictory feelings amongst us feels dismissive and invalidating. Not only do many of us already feel well-connected with our colleagues worldwide, but better-connected now than ever. We’ve come to look forward to working as we are now, without the daily need to return to the office. It feels like there is a disconnect between how the executive team thinks about remote / location-flexible work and the lived experiences of many of Apple’s employees.

For many of us at Apple, we have succeeded not despite working from home, but in large part because of being able to work outside the office. The last year has felt like we have truly been able to do the best work of our lives for the first time, unconstrained by the challenges that daily commutes to offices and in-person co-located offices themselves inevitably impose; all while still being able to take better care of ourselves and the people around us.

Looking around the corner, we believe the future of work will be significantly more location and timezone flexible. In fact, we are already a distributed company with offices all over the world and across many different timezones. Apple’s organizational hierarchy lends itself towards offices that often follow the same structure, wherein people in the same organization are more likely to be co-located in an office. At the same time, we strongly encourage cross-functional, cross-organization collaboration, and our organization’s many horizontal teams reflect this. Such collaboration is widely celebrated across our organization, and arguably leads us to our best results — it’s one of the things that makes Apple, Apple. However, orgs are rarely co-located within walking distance, let alone in the same building, meaning our best collaboration has always required remote communication with teams in other offices and across timezones, since long before the pandemic. We encourage distributed work from our business partners, and we’ve been a remote-communication necessary company for some time, a vision of the future that Steve Jobs himself predicated in an interview from 1990. This may explain how mandatory out-of-office work enabled tearing down cross-functional communication barriers to deliver even better results.

Almost all of us have worked fully remote for over a year now, though the experience arguably would have been better less one pandemic. We have developed two major versions of all our operating systems, organized two full WWDCs, introduced numerous new products, transitioned to our own chipsets, and supported our customers with the same level of care as before. We have already piloted location-flexible work the last 15 months under much more extreme conditions and we were very successful in doing so, finding the following benefits of remote and location-flexible work for a large number of our colleagues:

  • Diversity and Inclusion in Retention and Hiring
  • Tearing Down Previously Existing Communication Barriers
  • Better Work Life Balance
  • Better Integration of Existing Remote / Location-Flexible Workers
  • Reduced Spread of Pathogens

We ask for your support in enabling those who want to work remotely / in location-flexible ways to continue to do so, letting everyone figure out which work setup works best for them, their team, and their role — be it in one of our offices, from home, or a hybrid solution. We are living proof that there is no one-size-fits-all policy for people. For Inclusion and Diversity to work, we have to recognize how different we all are, and with those differences, come different needs and different ways to thrive. We feel that Apple has both the responsibility to recognize these differences, as well as the capability to fully embrace them. Officially enabling individual management chains and individual teams to make decisions that work best for their teams roles, individuals, and needs — and having that be the official stated policy rather than the rare individual exceptions — would alleviate the concerns and reservations many of us currently have.

We understand that inertia is real and that change is difficult to achieve. The pandemic forcing us to work from home has given us a unique opportunity. Most of the change has already happened, remote/location-flexible work is currently the “new normal,” we just need to make sure we make the best of it now. We believe that Apple has the ability to be a leader in this realm, not by declaring ‘everyone just work from home for forever,’ as some other companies have done, but by declaring an official broad paradigm policy, that allows individual leaders to make decisions that will enable their teams to do the best work of their lives. We strongly believe this is the ideal moment to “burn the boats” — to boldly declare ‘yes this can be done, and done successfully, because there is no other choice for the future.’

We have gathered some of our requests and action items to help continue the conversation and make sure everyone is heard.

  • We are formally requesting that Apple considers remote and location-flexible work decisions to be as autonomous for a team to decide as are hiring decisions.
  • We are formally requesting a company-wide recurring short survey with a clearly structured and transparent communication / feedback process at the company-wide level, organization-wide level, and team-wide level, covering topics listed below.
  • We are formally requesting a question about employee churn due to remote work be added to exit interviews.
  • We are formally requesting a transparent, clear plan of action to accommodate disabilities via onsite, offsite, remote, hybrid, or otherwise location-flexible work.
  • We are formally requesting insight into the environmental impact of returning to onsite in-person work, and how permanent remote-and-location-flexibility could offset that impact.

We have great respect for Apple and its leadership; we strongly believe in the Innovation and Thinking Differently (from “the way things have always been done” and “industry standards”) that are part of Apple’s DNA. We all wish to continue to “bleed six colors” at Apple itself and not elsewhere. At Apple, our most important resource, our soul, is our people, and we believe that ensuring we are all heard, represented, and validated is how we continue to defend and protect that precious sentiment.

This is not a petition, though it may resemble one. This is a plea: let’s work together to truly welcome everyone forward.

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