The real stakes of Apple’s battle over remote work
“Apple expects employees to return to their desks at least three days a week when its offices reopen. And although the Covid-19 delta variant has made it unclear exactly when that will be, Apple’s normally heads-down employees are pushing back in an unprecedented way. They’ve created two petitions demanding the option to work remotely full time that have collected over 1,000 signatures combined, a handful of people have resigned over the matter, and some employees have begun speaking out publicly to criticize management’s stance.”
First, let’s understand Apple’s side of the story: “One of the most critical reasons Apple is fighting to get people back in the office is that its leaders think being in the office is good for business.
“Innovation isn’t always a planned activity,” Cook told People magazine this spring. “It’s bumping into each other over the course of the day and advancing an idea that you just had. And you really need to be together to do that.”…
At many offices, particularly at a giant tech campus like Apple’s headquarters, there’s a sort of formula for encouraging workers to talk to each other, even if they don’t work in the same department or on the same project. Through architecture and design, which Apple has invested in heavily, management can channel workers into the same space with communal kitchens, centrally located bathrooms, and atriums.
That’s harder to recreate in the virtual world of Zoom calls, Slack, and email.”
On this specific point made by the Apple CEO, several Apple employees have given rebuttals to the authors of this article: ““I don’t think [management] is entirely wrong,” one Apple engineer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of Apple’s policy against employees speaking to the press without authorization, told Recode. “I think there are hallway conversations that I miss. But I think they overstate the value of it.”…
“There’s this idea that people skateboarding around tech campuses are bumping into each other and coming up with great new inventions,” said Cher Scarlett, an engineer at Apple who joined the company during the pandemic and has become a leader in, among other issues, organizing her colleagues on pushing for more remote work. “That’s just not true,” she said.”
Balanced against the modest benefits of collaboration in the office, those in favour of sustained WFH in the long-run point to a variety of benefits of not having to work in the office: ““We had a running joke where we had a ‘crying room’ at the office,” Parrish told Recode. “We are as a group happier, healthier, and just doing so much better than we ever were in the office. And that’s because we’re able to have our own spaces … we’re able to escape a little bit from some of the more toxic elements of work.”….
For many, remote work during the pandemic made their lives better. Skipping a commute or being able to duck out in the middle of the day to run errands or shepherd children gave people a better sense of work-life balance. For those who felt left out from office camaraderie and extracurricular activities, the ability to work from home has been less isolating….
One thing some cited, in addition to family and medical reasons, was the incredibly high cost of housing near Apple’s headquarters in Silicon Valley. For the first time, some workers were able to move farther away from the office to more affordable areas on the outskirts. For those who currently have no commute, it’s hard to imagine going back to driving a two- to four-hour round trip.
Parrish said that she is often on calls as early as 6 am and sometimes as late as 10:30 pm. She finds it much easier to take those calls from home.
“For a lot of people, remote work allowed them a kind of work-life balance that was absolutely impossible in the office,” said Parrish, who said she also has health concerns about returning to the office because her partner is immunocompromised. “I’m able to have a life outside my job again, and I’m not willing to give that up.””
If the world’s most profitable company with a fabulous campus and great facilities is having a tough time selling “work-from-office” to its employees in California, one doesn’t have to be a management consultant to see what this implies for lesser companies operating in densely packed cities with decrepit transport infrastructure.