Apple joins the Great Return to (hybrid) work

Having made a ton of cash offering products to support remote work, Apple has announced its corporate employees must begin returning to the office April 11.

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Having offered up a variety of products to support remote work, Apple has announced yet another date for its corporate employees to return to the office: April 11.

But the return will not be full-time, reflecting that — as so many people predicted — hybrid work is here to stay.

What Apple wants its employees to do

Apple CEO Tim Cook broke the news to staff in a memo: “In many locations, officials have started lifting pandemic restrictions in accordance with the guidance of public health experts. And based on the latest data, we are optimistic that this progress will continue into the spring,” Cook wrote.

  • Staff will return to work on a staggered basis.
  • By April 11 they will be expected to work at least one day a week in the office.
  • That number goes to two days a week three weeks later.
  • And it is set reach three days a week by late May.

“While many of you have been coming in regularly for quite some time, we are now looking forward to welcoming those of you who shifted to working remotely back to our corporate offices,” Cook said.

The company also recently resumed in-person classes at Apple stores for the first time since the pandemic first appeared.

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A hybrid compromise, but is it enough?

Apple isn’t going all-in on returning to normal. Employees will be expected at work in person Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays (not much flexibility there) and will be able to work remotely for up to four weeks a year under the plan.

Apple isn’t alone in thinking the fast-mutating COVID-19 threat is receding. All over the world, governments are reducing their focus on protection as they prioritize getting their economies back in shape. There have been more than 950,000 US deaths from COVID-19 so far, according to Johns Hopkins University. World Health Organization data shows just under 6 million reported deaths globally.

We don’t yet know what will happen next winter, but vaccines have provably reduced serous infection, and everyone hopes that protection holds.

Apple stopped short of demanding unvaccinated people get vaccinated, and is not going to enforce a mask mandate.

What are other companies doing?

Across Silicon Valley, most companies seem committed to returning to work, but with varying degrees of flexibility. For example:

  • Google wants employees returning to work on April 4, with three days in the office and two remotely.
  • Microsoft opened its offices Feb. 28, but made it possible for employees to reach their own working arrangements with management.
  • Twitter’s offices are scheduled to reopen March 15, but on a very flexible model in which employees can work remotely forever if they wish.

Of the four, Twitter’s approach seems the most flexible.

Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal told staff: "Wherever you feel most productive and creative is where you will work, and that includes working from home full time forever.”

Apple MDM vendor Jamf has also adopted an ‘office as a service' approach. Salesforce describes its own employee-centered approach as "success from anywhere."

You could argue that the jury is out on what approach will work in future, but across every industry companies recognize that refusing to make some change may be damaging to them.

Employee choice matters a lot

There is plenty of resistance to a mandatory return to the office. For many, this is simply because employees find their work/life balance improves when working remotely, including better productivity and task focus; for some of the most vulnerable or immune-compromised employees, it’s still a risk they want to avoid. Many firms recognize this, which is why even though work-from-home levels are now declining, they remain far above what they were pre-pandemic.

The Great Resignation shows employees will vote with their feet and embrace more flexible workplaces. They want to live where they want and work how they want, and companies are under pressure to deliver on this ambition to attract the best staff. This is reflected in hiring practices as an increasing number of high-paying jobs will become fully remote by the end of the year.

Stripe CEO Patrick Collison recently observed that 74% of his company’s Q4 hires were outside Silicon Valley. “I think the rate at which tech industry is going global is still under-appreciated, and that this will be a big tailwind for the world over the next decade,” he wrote.

For employers, that’s one of the biggest positives of the new workplace. Remote work means they can seek out the best people on an international basis. It also means the best people can also seek the best employee experience.

It remains to be seen whether Apple’s arguably inflexible approach to remote working will deliver enough of what employees want, or will cause workers to seek more autonomous roles outside the company.

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Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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