Days after Apple reported record revenue for Q2 FY22, a group of about 200 Apple employees calling themselves Apple Together are pushing back against the tech giant for its return-to-work strategy, says CNET. The group wrote an open letter, called “Thoughts on Office-bound Work,” to the company’s executive team. In the letter, Apple Together says they oppose the company’s Hybrid Working Pilot, which orders most employees to return to work at the office at least three days a week, starting May 23. Some employees may need to be in the office even more frequently, depending on the teams they work with.
“You have characterized the decision for the Hybrid Working Pilot as being about combining the ‘need to commune in-person’ and the value of flexible work. But in reality, it does not recognize flexible work and is only driven by fear. Fear of the future of work, fear of worker autonomy, fear of losing control,” says Apple Together.
Six key points of concern
The group called out six key points on which they disagree with Apple’s strategy: serendipity, in-person collaboration, flexibility, commute time, diversity, and impact on the company’s culture.
Serendipity: In one of Apple’s email communications with employees, the company said they achieve serendipity when they bump into colleagues in the office. The group said that Apple is siloed online and in-person, so returning to the office is not a strong argument. They believe Apple has purposely segregated groups, going so far as to have siloed workspaces on Slack, according to Apple Together.
In-person collaboration: Though the employee group agrees that there are benefits to in-person collaboration, they think technology has allowed employees to collaborate anytime anywhere. They also don’t feel that being in-person is always the most creative environment. In fact, there are many distractions facilitated by open floor plans.
Flexibility: The employees do not agree that three fixed days in the office and two work-from-home (WFH) days offer sufficient flexibility. This is especially true of the teams where employees have to be in the office four or five days a week.
“We are not asking for everyone to be forced to work from home. 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,” the letter says.
Commute time: The group states the obvious on this key point. Commuting can be viewed as a waste of time and resources. This takes away from work-life balance while also being more costly. Working from home eliminates the wasted time and energy, and allows employees more flexibility as they define it.
Diversity: Apple Together believes that returning to more rigid rules and required in-office days will change the company’s demographic.
“It will make Apple younger, whiter, more male-dominated, more neuro-normative, more able-bodied, in short, it will lead to privileges deciding who can work for Apple, not who’d be the best fit,” says the group.
Changing the culture: The group said the most important reason not to return to work using the Hybrid Working Pilot model is that it is bad for the company, Apple employees, Apple products and Apple customers.
“We tell all of our customers how great our products are for remote work, yet, we ourselves, cannot use them to work remotely? How can we expect our customers to take that seriously? How can we understand what problems of remote work need solving in our products, if we don’t live it?” the letter says.
Apple Together concluded their letter by saying they have continued to deliver on the brand promise they’ve made to customers. They themselves have been flexibility and resilient, and have been able to get the job done without being in the office. They believe their own managers trust them and they should, therefore, not be required to return to work as Apple is requiring.
“Please get out of our way, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, let us decide how we work best, and let us do the best work of our lives,” concluded the group.
Apple has implemented a phased approach to return to work. The week of April 11, for example, employees had to return to work one day a week. This week, they need to work two days a week, increasing to three days a week by May 23. Apple has been criticized for this approach by employees who said they would quit if forced to return, reports Fortune.
In a survey conducted by anonymous social network Blind, 67% of Apple workers said they were dissatisfied with the return-to-work policy. Fifty-six percent said they will leave the company because of the in-office requirement.
It is not clear if Apple has responded officially to the employee letter or if they will make changes to address some of the group’s concerns. What we do know is that this is unchartered territory, and Apple is not the only company to face it. Many large companies, particularly tech companies who’ve been able to adapt to work-from-home situations out of necessity, are making up the rules as they go. This is particularly frustrating for employees whose work and home lives were uprooted by the pandemic. They’ve adapted, overcome and been productive, and now they are being asked to adapt again.
The employees want to retain the control they’ve acquired and nurtured over the last two years, and they have an advantage. The world has changed, technology has evolved to keep up, and people no longer feel beholden – or even loyal – to employers who are not willing to consider a new way of doing business. If Apple is not willing to bend even a little, employees can go elsewhere. Apple could lose some very good talent to competing companies. They will need to make their decision carefully.