Apple’s return to office policy - Good or Bad.

Shyam Nagarajan / Reading Time: 3 mins

Apple has been a company that works under a cloud of secrecy. It has traditionally had a hostile attitude towards work from home and distributed work. On June 2 though some of that changed. In an internal memo Tim Cook put out the company's expectations from its employees on how he plans to have a hybrid work model at Apple. The hybrid remote work model proposed was more prescriptive than others that have come out from other tech giants. A section of employees have shown their resentment to this model and some have gone on to call Apple a company that lacks empathy. One thing that has come out is that it is super hard and probably impossible to come up with a policy that everyone likes. Here is my read on the policy and the reactions that have come from far and wide.

What did Tim Cook's memo really say:

  • We have missed physical interactions at Apple and the magic of collaboration has been lost due to remote work
  • Come to the office and work on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. You are free to work from anywhere on Tuesdays and Fridays.
  • On a yearly basis you can also work remotely for 2 weeks subject to manager approval

If Apple had a choice and if the writing on the wall on remote work was not strong enough Apple would have not relaxed on coming to the office for work. If the pandemic had just ended with a few months of lockdown, then Apple for sure would have demanded that all of its employees report back to the office for work. The 2 days of work from anywhere is a concession that Apple was forced to provide, lest they could end up losing some of their top talent.

My biggest reading from the policy and its reactions thus far is that the office is no longer about a place where you go to sit by yourself and work. Office in the post-pandemic world is all about collaboration with your team in-person. Tim Cook puts this across in many ways in his memo. In fact I will go on to say that he was trying to sell the office only by stating how he and everyone missed seeing each other and working together.

"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"

If this statement is universally true then the offices of the future could look very different from the ones where we see rows upon rows of cubicles and heads glued into the laptops in front of them.

One thing I liked about Apple's policy is that it did not mince words. It was direct and definitive. Don't we all expect our leadership to be direct and definitive? Rather than keeping things in the open and for the employees to guess on the direction that Apple wants to take, the memo clearly stated that it prioritises in-person work more than remote and also that it specifically wants people to be at the office on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Google on the other hand had the same intent of having employees at office on three days a week but did not go onto specify which days of the week. It left it to its teams and team leaders to figure this out themselves.

As a remote work and work from anywhere evangelist my main concern that I had on the policy was that it truly restricts the magic of work from anywhere to happen. The policy in a way ensures that the employees of Apple stay grounded in the valley and could not relocate to other parts. If the policy was less restrictive, then people could have relocated to quieter neighbourhoods and even worked from coworking spaces near their home. The policy also did not apply to all the roles across the company, then again those employees who had more flexibility could have relocated to other parts of the country.

One thing is for sure, hybrid work is going to come to us in more colors than that of a rainbow. For example we work with NotionPress where they are using GoFloaters as their on-demand office and have seen tremendous improvement in team bonding and productivity. Companies would be experimenting with different models and then will figure out what works best for them. No company can claim that they have the perfect model of work.

Category: Hybrid Work