Apple Again Delays Return to Office

Posted on May 17, 2022 by Paul Thurrott in Apple with 14 Comments

One week before it would have required most employees to spend three days at the office, Apple has backed down, citing rising COVID cases.

Apple announced in early March that it would require most employees to spend at least three days each week in the office by May 23. That demand set off a revolt with Apple’s employee base, with over three thousand of them, going by the name Apple Together, publishing a public letter asking Tim Cook and the executive staff for some flexibility.

“We are not asking for everyone to be forced to work from home,” the letter notes. “We are asking to decide for ourselves, together with our teams and direct manager, what kind of arrangement works best for each one of us, be that in an office, work from home, or a hybrid approach. Stop treating us like school kids who need to be told when to be where and what homework to do.” (That Apple’s paternalism, as I call it, extends from its customers to its employees should not surprise anyone.)

Today, Apple sent a memo to all employees telling them that a COVID resurgence will delay the come to the office requirement “for the time being,” and that the firm will reduce the number of days eventually required from 3 to 2. This will start with a pilot program that will expand in the coming weeks, and anyone “uncomfortable coming into the office” will have the “option to work remotely.” Employees who do return to the office will need to wear masks in common areas and elevators, and Apple said it will continue to monitor COVID cases to determine the new timing.

That’s more flexible, for sure, but as the Apple Together letter explains, Steve Jobs once observed that “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Maybe it’s time for Cook to listen a bit more.

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Comments (14)

14 responses to “Apple Again Delays Return to Office”

  1. nine54

    And Jobs would put those people on special teams and sneak them into private rooms to work on secret projects around which they were sworn to silence. It's more about trust than telling people what to do. Having people working remotely makes Apple's leadership uncomfortable. It's just not in their DNA.

    Not to mention Apple must feel pretty silly having its $5B spaceship campus sitting there mostly unoccupied.

    • wright_is

      I also heard elsewhere, that they have contracts with the local authorities to have minimum occupancy levels, otherwise they have to pay penalties. Not sure how that works exactly, but probably a guarantee for other local businesses, that they will have foot traffic.

      There is a real problem, if you are working on secret projects. The devices you work on are kept in locked down areas, the documents can't leave the room and are locked in safes when not needed/at the end of the day, nobody else can stroll into the area by mistake.

      If you are working from home, how are you getting access to those locked down devices and documents that can't leave the room, let alone the campus? What happens if you leave them laying around at home or you forget to lock your computer, before you leave your home office work area and spouse, kids, visitors etc. can access your computer?

      For general employees, working on non-secret projects, the rules aren't as hard and there could be more room for them to work at home, but that also leads to resentment among those that cannot work from home - because they are working on physical models of new devices or the information is too sensitive to leave the project area.

      I work at a production facility and many of the back office staff have been working from home, but the production staff don't have that luxury, they had to come in every day, regardless - critical manufacter of disinfectant, chemical components for sanitary and cosmetics etc. so they didn't even get put into lockdown, unless they were actually infected.

      That let to stress between those in production and in the offices ("who just sit on their butts all day long", to now "sitting on their butts in front of the TV all day long").

      In general, we kept a rotation system in place for all back office staff, each department had a physical presence, but they were rotated out, in the IT department, we were each on-site 5 days a month (4 people). But we are going back up to 50% presence next month and, if the numbers stay low, 75% in July.

      • retcable

        One would think that a never-ending pandemic would render those office occupancy requirements moot, at least for some period of time that we are not privy to. And it's not Apple's fault that their new headquarters building has been sitting mostly empty for 3 years now because of that never-ending pandemic. Hopefully in a few years, when there are finally effective vaccines, treatments, and cures for this vile disease that things can get back to "normal" once again, whatever the definition of that word will come to mean by then.

      • red.radar

        I have a very similar account. The software/firmware and administration employees were allowed to work remotely but the production and hardware engineers had to be onsite.

        It has created some inequity and inefficiencies which has bread animosity. FW engineers are getting technicians and fellow HW engineers to do their onsite responsibilities and collaboration has been more difficult because everything requires a meeting to get scheduled so a Teams Bridge can be established. It has also created massive information silos. I learned a lot about issues by listening to conversations from other engineers. Work life balance is also suffering because now I have to stay connected longer in the day because some work better at night. I am trying to eat dinner and get my kids to bed but a few people are still pinging for meetings.

        I think if you have to work on site you should get a salary boost or the governement should allow us to deduct our daily travel expenses.

        • wright_is

          We get a certain amount of money per kilometre we drive to work back in the tax return.

          Likewise, when we are in home office, we get money back for the space DEDICATED to home office (work PC, no home use in that area) and also for using our own broadband.

    • Stabitha.Christie

      Not to mention Apple must feel pretty silly having its $5B spaceship campus sitting there mostly unoccupied.”

      I keep seeing this comment brought up and it really has to be one of the dumber takes out there. Apple Park holds 12k people. There are almost 40k employees in Cupertino/San Jose and 150k world wide. The notion that all of those people are returning to their respective office so Apple can fill a single building that less than 10% of their workforce uses is just goofy.

      • nine54

        The majority of those employees (probably 65-75%) are in the retail business, so of course they will be geographically dispersed. And I'm guessing that some percentage of the employees in the Cupertino area also are in retail. Otherwise, where are the rest of the 28K employees working if only 12K are at Apple Park? Pretty sure they weren't working from home before the pandemic...

        But I think your point is that Apple has always had office space in the Cupertino area to accommodate ~10% of its workforce. That is fair. And my point is 1) that that previous office space didn't cost $5B to build or require over a year to settle on door handle design lol. 2) Even before the pandemic, many companies--especially in tech--had been embracing a distributed workforce in varying degrees. Outside of retail of course, Apple clearly had no intentions of doing that.

        The company can't be faulted for not predicting the pandemic. However, as other companies reduce or at least reevaluate their real estate footprints to support a more hybrid model, Apple's decision decisions leave it with fewer options.

        • Stabitha.Christie

          The people that in the San Jose area that don’t work at Apple Park work at other offices in San Jose. For example, Apple’s previous HQ in Cupertino was Infinite Loop. It’s a six building campus and Apple still uses it. Apple also rents about all the available office space in Cupertino.

          Further Apple has a two sizable campus in Austin Texas that have 5000 people and they are adding a third for another 15000. They have also added one in Raleigh last year or the year before that is 3000 people. Then they have campuses in San Diego, Portland, Boulder, Seattle …..

          So your estimates about the retail percent are bit off.

          As for your two points:

          1) that that previous office space didn't cost $5B to build or require over a year to settle on door handle design. Your right it didn’t cost 5 billion. So what? It’s still in use. Apple Park was built to handle an expanding workforce not to relocate the existing group. They needed the space.

          2) Even before the pandemic, many companies--especially in tech--had been embracing a distributed workforce in varying degrees. Outside of retail of course, Apple clearly had no intentions of doing that.

          That isn’t true. As pointed out above Apple has sizable offices all over the US, there is also a lot internationally as well. Further they have had remote (at home work) for some time. Go look at job postings. They have a remote work section.

          So again. Suggesting that Apple is having all of these people return to their respective offices because they have one building that cost 5 billion is just silly.

  2. lvthunder

    Why would I (or anyone really) want to go into an office where masks are required? No thanks. I'd rather stay home and be comfortable.

    • mattbg

      Only in common areas and elevators…

      • lvthunder

        So what. If it's not safe to have my face exposed why would I want to be there in the first place? Or are we going to all become like some Muslim women and wear stuff over our faces all the time? It's an office. Not a place where you encounter a ton of random people.

        • mattbg

          Well, masks are annoying (and possibly stupid), but... this is how it is as my workplace and it's not that bad. Also, a lot of people ignore the rule and nothing bad happens.

        • agilefrog

          I've always admired Japan where you wear a mask if you have a cold and are going out in public, not because its mandated, but because it's just a decent and respectful thing to do. Here in the west however mask wearing has become a toxic political issue, which says a lot about the state of our society. Oh, and i don't think dragging religion into this is particularly helpful.

  3. Stabitha.Christie

    This is only for the San Jose/Cupertino offices because the local government has upped the risk level. The other offices are proceeding to the three day thing as planned.

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