Apple Delays Return to Offices Indefinitely as COVID-19 Cases Rise

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As the new Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 begins to surge across the U.S., Apple is once again postponing its plans to have employees come back to in-person work at its Apple Park campus — but this time, it’s not offering any predictions on when a return may be in the cards.

Although Apple began gradually opening Apple Park up last year, it did so only for senior executives, essential personnel, and others who wanted to come to work in the office. It wasn’t until this June that Apple announced its first mandatory return-to-work policy.

At the time, Apple optimistically expected that everyone would be able to come back into the office by September. CEO Tim Cook and other company executives mandated three days of in-person work each week, with employees able to work from home on Wednesdays and Fridays.

As part of this plan, Apple also conceded that employees could work remotely for up to two weeks per year, subject to approval by their team managers. Unfortunately, after more than a year of working from home, a relatively small but vocal group of employees protested the new policies — even though the policies were in-line with what Google had already announced.

Nonetheless, Apple stood its ground, firmly stating that in-person work was key to Apple’s aims and goals, both for creating more collaborative team experiences and likely also to help preserve the secrecy of its product development efforts.

Ironically, however, the work-from-home advocates within Apple haven’t yet had to face down the new policies, as the health pandemic continues to push back the plan to have employees return to Apple Park.

In late August, Apple announced that it was delaying the return to work plan until early 2022, and now with the new year only a few weeks away, it’s decided that even that’s too soon.

An internal email from Tim Cook announcing the move leaked out to several major media outlets yesterday, and Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman was able to get confirmation from an Apple spokesperson that the new mandate is, in fact, accurate.

From the memo, it looks like Cook and his team aren’t even guessing as to when employees may be able to return to work, simply staying that the return-to-office deadline is being moved from February 1, 2022, to a “date yet to be determined.”

We are delaying the start of our hybrid work pilot to a date yet to be determined. Our offices remain open and many of our colleagues are coming in regularly, including our teams in Greater China and elsewhere.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, in a memo to employees

In the memo, Cook offers up one additional surprise, noting that each employee will be receiving a $1,000 bonus intended to help with their home workspace needs. Cook says employees will be able to use this money “as [they] see fit” but notes that it’s being given “in support of our commitment to a more flexible environment.”

To be clear, Apple still isn’t backing down from its in-person work policy — it’s merely delaying the inevitable in light of rising cases of COVID-19. When employees eventually do return to work — whenever that ends up being — they’ll still be expected to be in the office on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, with the option of working from home on Wednesdays and Fridays.

As before, however, once Apple does decide on a return-to-work date, it’s promised that it will give employees at least four weeks’ notice before they’re expected to actually come back.

Retail Store Closures

Due to rising cases, Apple also returned to requiring that masks be worn inside its U.S. stores earlier this week, but now it looks like the company has been forced to close some of its stores temporarily.

So far, these closures appear to be purely reactive, coming as a result of exposures and outbreaks among employees, rather than a policy of closing stores in harder-hit areas, as it was forced to do last December.

In this case, however, three stores have been temporarily closed for at least a few days while Apple tests employees, consults with local health officials, and takes care of necessary sanitation and contact tracing procedures.

According to iPhone in Canada, the Apple Store Rideau in Canada’s capital of Ottawa, Ontario, closed its doors suddenly late last week due to a COVID-19 outbreak. “Numerous staff” apparently tested positive for COVID-19 at the store and are now quarantining at home. The store is currently scheduled to reopen on Saturday, December 18.

This closure was also reported by Bloomberg, which added that Apple has had to take similar measures with the Brickell City Centre store in Miami, Florida, and the Shops in Annapolis Mall store in Maryland.

It’s otherwise been mostly business as usual at Apple’s U.S. retail stores since all 270 of them reopened in March — at least as normal as anything can be in the face of the current global health crises. Even before the revival of the mask mandate this week, Apple has been limiting the number of people in its stores and engaging in enhanced sanitation procedures.

Naturally, Apple has also been complying with local health regulations in each of the jurisdictions where its stores operate. For instance, some areas of Canada and the U.S. have been enforcing mask wearing all along, so not much has actually changed in those areas.

While Apple has temporarily shuttered stores here and there due to outbreaks over the past year, this is the first time it’s been hit with so many in the same week. Last week, a store in Southlake, Texas, was temporarily closed, while Apple also faced down outbreaks in stores in Charleston, South Carolina, and Montreal, Quebec during different periods in August.

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