As far as its customers are concerned, Apple is one of the largest telecommuting companies. It has mastered virtual events, which are smoother and faster than the boring old clap celebrations, and its online launch briefings provide journalists with more flexibility and less travel than in-person meetings. The company can provide technical support by phone, online chat, or repairs by mail, and operates an easy-to-use web store. It would be easy to buy and operate an entire home of Apple products without ever setting foot in an Apple Store.
So why doesn’t Apple offer the same flexibility to its employees? Over the past several years, the company has shown that it can work effectively remotely, so why does it keep asking employees to come into the office?
Apple employees express unhappiness about being sent back to the office for nearly as long as the company pays them. Last summer, Tim Cook announced that employees would have to come to work in person three days a week — and specific Three days: Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays for all – By fall, they’ve responded with an open letter calling for more flexibility and better communication.
“Apple’s flexible remote work/location policy, and communication around it, has already forced some of our colleagues to resign,” the letter warned. “Without the inclusion that flexibility provides, many of us feel we have to choose between a combination of our families, our own well-being, empowering us to do our best work, or being part of Apple.”
Those plans have been delayed, but the general trend of travel hasn’t happened: The three-day-a-week policy is now expected to go into effect on May 23, according to Ars Technica, and employee concerns are stronger than ever. On May 7, it was mentioned That Apple’s director of machine learning has left the company, citing its return-to-work policy, and arguing that “more flexibility would have been the best policy for my team.” Another open letter claimed that Apple’s hybrid work policy “does not recognize flexible working and is motivated only by fear. Fear of the future of work, fear of worker independence, fear of losing control.”
It’s hard to hold on to talent at the best of times, even when it’s Apple; And these are not the best of times. Ignoring consistent employee complaints for so long is a surefire way to alienate some of your best employees.
Why does Apple management care about personal work practices? It might be a matter of trust: Can we trust you to work properly when your supervisor isn’t staring over your shoulder? Can we trust that you won’t take a prototype home and then leak it to social media? But let’s just skip that charitable and focus on ‘chance’. This is, roughly, the idea that people from different departments would bump into each other in the canteen, talk, and create something like an iPod.
As the most recent open letter points out, this is a romantic, old-fashioned way of looking at work with little prominence for a large, modern workplace like Apple Park. “We are not so lucky to overcome the connection silos and make the multifunctional connections that are vital to Apple’s business, but rather on purpose,” the message explains. Members of different departments will discuss their projects with each other if you ask them to do so and create a Slack channel for this. It’s definitely a better bet than hope to use the elevator itself, and best of all it can happen remotely.
I will admit that a virtual meeting is still different from an in-person one. There are social cues you don’t pick up in text chat or even via video, and some people – myself included – feel more relaxed and ready to contribute when talking to someone in the same room. But this will diminish in importance as employees become more accustomed to the virtual chat. As technology continues to improve, imposing inflexible and mandatory office attendance three days a week will be even more burdensome.
Necessity has forced hundreds of companies to learn how to work remotely, and none have been better equipped than Apple to make the system work. From MacBook Pro to iPad Pro, AirPods and Studio Display, Apple has the perfect selection of devices to suit employee needs depending on the portability and power they need; Already have their own marketing sites as ideal tools for remote work. It has its own messaging and video chatting apps, internal security and software expertise to keep everyone working together. If Apple can get me and six other journalists into a video chat with a product demo team, get us to sign remote nondisclosure agreements and send review samples the next day, it should be able to handle some internal meetings.
Apple may think it’s special for there to be a culture that thrives on serendipitous personal discussion, but as the company’s employees point out, that wasn’t true even before the pandemic, and it certainly doesn’t have to continue into the future. Indeed, Apple is unique for having a talented and almost uniquely committed workforce and the technological resources needed for them to operate effectively from anywhere. But if you don’t listen to their grievances, that workforce will take its talents elsewhere.