Apple employees aren’t ready to give up on remote work just yet.
In a letter sent to company executives this week, a group of Apple workers voiced their opposition to the company’s return to office strategy, accusing the company of de-valuing worker flexibility and implementing a policy “driven by fear.”
“Office-bound work is a technology from the last century, from the era before ubiquitous video-call-capable internet and everyone being on the same internal chat application,” the letter reads. “But the future is about connecting when it makes sense, with people who have relevant input, no matter where they are based.”
The letter specifically took aim at Apple’s “Hybrid Work Pilot” announced earlier this year which would see most employees work three days per week in the office with two remote days. Apple had previously offered more flexibility in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, but has since made repeated pushes to get workers back into physical offices.
Employees writing in the letter pushed back against Apple’s two major rationales to support its return to office strategy — ”serendipity” and “in-person collaboration.” On the first point serendipity, the employee’s claim the company’s expansive network of offices and “siloed” culture already presented a barrier prior to pivoting to remote work. The employees went on to acknowledge the value of in-person collaboration but said that they didn’t believe it was necessary for most employees on a daily, or potentially even weekly basis. Instead, some of that time could be better spent allowing employees to engage in deep, unrestricted thought.
“The Hybrid Working Pilot is one of the most inefficient ways to enable everyone to be in one room, should the need arise every now and then,” the employees wrote.
Employees also called into question Apple’s reasoning for allowing some workers to operate remotely while others work in office despite seemingly performing similar tasks. Above all else, the employees urged Apple to give them more choice in how they decide to work.
“We are not asking for everyone to be forced to work from home,” the letter reads. “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 notably comes amid signs of an uptick in worker activism at the company. Late last month, Apple retail store workers in Atlanta became the first of its kind to vote in favour of forming a union. Workers at a Maryland Apple store followed suit this week and have taken steps to unionize.
Apple did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
A Rough Road Back to The Office
Apple repeatedly pushed back its 2021 return-to-office deadlines in the wake of a year filled with unpredictable COVID-19 variants. The company finally settled on its Hybrid Work Pilot strategy earlier this year and began bringing some workers back under its roof in February. Under a recent timeline noted by Bloomberg, “eligible teams” may work three days per week — Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays — in-office, with the option to work remotely two days starting in late May.
That decision fell short of some workers’ expectations and actually provides less flexibility than some of Apple’s Big Tech peers like Microsoft and Meta. Google, meanwhile recently said it will require employees to work three days in office but claimed last year it approved around 85% of the remote work or relocation requests it had received.
A vocal group of workers have spent months speaking out against Apple’s return to work strategy, claiming, with some telling Bloomberg they questioned whether or not requiring workers to work in person would actually lead to productivity gains some executives had hoped. (Apple recorded multiple record quarterly earnings in the two years since the start of the pandemic).
Other employees reportedly writing on corporate message board Blind were less diplomatic in voicing their displeasure.
“I don’t give a single fuck about ever coming back to work here,” one Apple employee wrote according to The New York Post. “I already know I won’t be able to deal with the commute and sitting around for 8 hours.”
The Apple workers’ frustrations around return-to-office plans comes amid a time of profound change among white collar work more generally.
More than two years have passed since the onset of the pandemic and any expectation of workplace habits returning back to pre-pandemic norms have proven untenable. Wages are rising, workers are shopping around, and a significant portion of the workforce continues to work remote despite local health restrictions easing. To put that into perspective, a recent Pew Research poll found that 59% of U.S. workers who say their job can be mostly done from home said they are still working from home all or most of the time. That’s slightly down from 71% who said so in 2021, but far more than the 23% who worked remotely prior to the pandemic.
There’s also reason to believe threats of quitting from workers at Apple and other tech firms may carry real weight. According to a recent Gartner survey of 18,000 employees around the world found just 29% of current IT workers have a high intent to to stay with their current employer. More so than before, workers in tech are open to jumping ship over workplace conditions. In their letter, Apple workers warn employees leaving the company over its return-to-office strategy could have unintended consequences that affect the makeup of its workforce.
“Being in the office at least 3 fixed days of the week will change the makeup of our workforce,” the employees wrote. “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.”
Apple workers, more so than some other Silicon Valley firms, find themselves in a unique crossroads since some employees almost certainly fit in that category while others work hands-on designing the phones, wearables and chips, responsible for propelling the company past a $US3 ($4) trillion valuation. With this in mind, Apple’s unlikely to settle on any one-size fits all solution to remote work, a reality the writers acknowledge in their letter. At the very least, workers, both at Apple and elsewhere, are expressing a fervid interest in having their voices taken into consideration for return-to-office strategies.
“Here we are, the smart people that you hired, and we are telling you what to do: 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.”
Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.