Employees’ group rejects Apple’s return to office plan

Apple HQ, Cupertino, California

A group of Apple employees have written to CEO Tim Cook arguing that the company’s return to the office policy needs a radical rethink.

Cook last week informed the company’s 137,000-strong global workforce that they would have to return to the office from early September. Employees would be expected to spend about three days a week at the office and the other two at home.

However, in an open letter to Cook published on the Verge website, the employees wrote: “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 letter pointed out that workers delivered “the same quality of products and services that Apple is known for, all while working almost completely remotely”.

It went on to say: “Without the inclusivity that flexibility brings, many of us feel we have to choose between either a combination of our families, our wellbeing, and being empowered to do our best work, or being a part of Apple.”

The employees said a disconnect had developed between the executive team’s view of home and flexible working and that of the employees.

Addressing a communication from senior leaders that employees must be “looking forward to reconnecting with colleagues in person”, the letter stated: “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 added “Our best collaboration has always required remote communication with teams in other offices and across time zones, since long before the pandemic.”

The employees ask for support to enable those who want to work remotely 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”. The letter makes the link between flexible working and the need for inclusion and diversity, stating: “We have to recognise how different we all are, and with those differences, come different needs and different ways to thrive.”

About 80 employees took part in drafting the letter, which arose from a Slack channel with more than 2,800 members.

Among the authors’ requests for Apple was that teams should be autonomous when it comes to remote and location-flexible work decisions. They said they wanted an audit of the environmental impact of returning to work on site and a clear action plan “to accommodate disabilities via onsite, offsite, remote, hybrid, or otherwise location-flexible work”.

The letter emphasised that the authors had “great respect for Apple and its leadership” and they “strongly” believed in the innovation and the culture of thinking differently that were “part of Apple’s DNA”.

Last week Cook told employees that despite Apple’s smooth transition to remote working, it had been an unsatisfactory replacement for in-person collaboration.

Workers must return to their desks for at least three days a week, he wrote, with some employees being given the option to work the remaining two days remotely.

Teams that requires “in-person” work will return for four or five days. Managers will need to approve remote work requests, he wrote.

“For all that we’ve been able to achieve while many of us have been separated, the truth is that there has been something essential missing from this past year: each other”, he told staff.

He added: “I know I’m not alone in missing the hum of activity, the energy, creativity and collaboration of our in-person meetings and the sense of community we’ve all built.”

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